On the Feast of Mary Magdalene – July 22
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” The famous maxim first appeared in the letters of St. Augustine, when he wrote, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” Mohandas Ghandi later used it in his autobiography when he wrote: “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” But I can’t think of any figure who better exemplifies the essence of this phrase than Saint Mary Magdalene, whose feast the Church celebrate today.
What lessons can we learn from the life of Mary Magdalene? The Gospels reveal a woman marked by a past of demons, who encountered the forgiveness of Jesus and was forever changed. For Mary Magdalene, Jesus changed everything. Jesus was everything. His healing power in her life meant that she could no longer remain her old self, she was transformed, made new in the love of her Saviour. He set her free of the demons that possessed her so that she could pursue a path of discipleship, closely following Jesus and being part of the community of His friends.
What does this mean for us? I think each of us has experienced how easy it can be to become discouraged, disappointed, ashamed, and despairing when we see our own weakness. We can become mired in guilt, anger, and regret when we look at our own frailty and inadequacies. We spin a cocoon of negative emotion that has the power to paralyze us in our own selves. But Jesus never discourages us. He alone is perfect, and calls us to that same perfection. His power propels us onwards to the destiny for which we were created: an eternity of beholding His face, as Mary Magdalene did that bright Easter morning. Mary Magdalene shows us that there is something greater than our sinfulness, our shortcomings and the strife they cause. It is the Man she mistook for the Gardener, and His power to forgive and save us. We are miserable, but He is merciful, and His heart goes out to us. This is the very meaning of Mercy.
Mary Magdalene could have fixated on her demons and remained in the cycle of sin that was dominating her life. Instead, she reached out to Jesus, and allowed Him to reach out to her. She allowed his love to be more powerful than her sins, and her debilitating demons gave way to exemplary discipleship. She heard His call to: “Come, follow me.” And when you do, “Do not be afraid.”
For the Christian, our life-changing encounter with the merciful love of God through Jesus Christ is not just a one-time experience but a constant renewal brought about by the transformative power of Christ at work in our lives. This love is offered to us each day of our lives, and especially when we fail, fall, and flounder. Do we receive it? Do we accept it? Are we open to it? Do we trust in it? Do we allow it to renew us and urge us on? Does it leave us forever changed?
Mary Magdalene had not one demon but seven. Her story is relevant for us no matter what our demons may be. She was a sinner but more than that, she was loved. She allowed her life to become a response of love to the one who loved her first. Weeping she would remain with him at the foot of the the Cross, despairing as he hung dying for the world. “While it was still dark” on the first day of the week, burdened with tears and spices for burial she would venture early to His empty tomb, astonished to encounter Him anew. Especially as we approach the Jubilee Year for Mercy called by Pope Francis, let us encounter Him anew with her, trusting again in His mercy and proclaiming with her: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18) By Him may we be forever changed.