By calling Mary Magdalene by name after his resurrection, Jesus shows us just how personal his relationship with mankind is, Pope Francis said Wednesday, adding that after this intimate encounter, Mary then becomes an apostle of hope for the world, announcing the Lord’s rising.
The Holy Father’s reflections were based on a passage from the Gospel of St John, which relates how St Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus after His Resurrection. Her visit to Jesus’s tomb, the Pope said, mirrored “the fidelity of so many women” who visit cemeteries to keep alive the memory of those who have passed away. “The most authentic bonds,” he said, “are not broken even by death.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience. He continued his catechesis on the virtue of Christian hope, focusing on the figure of Mary Magdalene at the tomb.
Mary was the first to arrive at the tomb, he said, noting that she is “one of the disciples who accompanied Jesus from Galilee, putting herself at the service of the early Church.”
The Gospel, he said, describes Mary “a woman of easy enthusiasm,” who after seeing the empty tomb runs back to the apostles disappointed by what she saw.
Pope Francis noted that Mary Magdalene’s first visit to the tomb was a disappointment: Seeing the empty tomb, she went to the place the disciples were hiding and told them that someone had stolen the body of Jesus.
Her first hypothesis was “the simplest she could formulate,” Francis said, explaining that her first announcement “is not that of the Resurrection, but of an unknown theft, perpetrated while all of Jerusalem slept.”
Then, when she returned to the tomb a second time, her steps are “slow and heavy,” as she is now suffering not only from the death of Jesus, but also because of the inexplicable disappearance of his body.
But, the Pope continued, “It was while she was standing near the tomb, with eyes filled with tears, that God surprised her in a most unexpected way.” She hardly noticed the two angels who spoke to her, and at first she did not even recognise Jesus, whom she took to be a gardener. Instead, Pope Francis said, “she discovers the most shocking event in human history” only when Jesus “calls her by name.”
“How beautiful it is to think that the first apparition of the Risen One – according to the Gospels – should occur in such a personal way!” the Pope said. How beautiful it is “that there is someone who recognizes us, who sees our suffering and disappointment, and is moved for our sake, and calls us by name.” Although many people seek God, he said, the “wonderful reality” is that God has sought us first, and sought each of us personally. “Each one of us,” Pope Francis said, “is a story of the love of God. God calls each of us by name.”
When Jesus said Mary’s name, her life was changed. “The Gospels describe Mary’s happiness for us,” the Holy Father said. “The Resurrection of Jesus is not a joy given with an eyedropper, but a cascade, a waterfall that fills our whole life.” Pope Francis called for everyone to reflect on that fact that, even with all the “disappointments and defeats” in our life, “there is a God who is close to us and who calls us by name, who says to us, ‘Arise, don’t cry, because I have come to set you free.’”
God, he continued, “is a dreamer: He dreams of the transformation of the world, and has realised it in the mystery of the Resurrection.”
Saint Mary Magdalene, who, before she met Jesus, was at the mercy of the evil one, became “the apostle of the new and greatest hope.” Her life was changed because she had “seen the Lord.” Mary’s experience is an example for us, too, whose lives are changed because we have seen the Lord. This, Pope Francis said, “is our strength, and our hope.”
This isn’t the first time the Pope has drawn attention to the importance of Mary Magdalene. Just last year, in June 2016, Francis signed a decree bumping the liturgical celebration honoring the Saint from a memorial to a feast, putting her on par with the apostles.
On the Church’s liturgical calendar, saints are honored with either a “memorial” a “feast,” or a “solemnity.” Solemnities rank the highest, with feasts coming in second and memorials in third.
While there are 15 other memorials on Mary Magdalene’s July 22 feast, hers was the only obligatory one to celebrate. After being elevated to the level of a feast, the celebration bears a more significant weight.
Below please find the English-language summary of Pope Francis’ catechesis for the General Audience on Wednesday, 17 May 2017:
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on Christian hope, we now reflect on Mary Magdalen as an apostle of the hope brought by the Gospel. Saint John tells us on Easter morning Mary had gone to the tomb of Jesus; she saw that it was empty, and returned to tell this news to Peter and the other disciples. Returning to the tomb, yet still not understanding what had happened, Mary encounters the Risen Lord, but does not recognize him until he calls her by name. This first appearance of Jesus after rising from the dead is thus something intensely personal. We know that just as he did with Mary Magdalen, so too Jesus calls each of us by name and fills us with joy at his presence. Our encounter with him brings freedom and opens up new vistas of life; it transforms our world and brings undying hope. The risen Lord tells Mary not to cling to him, but to go and tell the good news of his resurrection to the others. Mary Magdalen thus becomes the apostle of Christian hope. By her prayers, may we be encounter anew the risen Lord, who calls us by name, turns our sorrow into joy, and sends us forth to proclaim by our lives that he is truly risen.