Today’s sermon is on how Jesus Christ on the cross fulfills the law of charity: Love in the shape of a cross.
Today’s sermon is on how Jesus Christ on the cross fulfills the law of charity: Love in the shape of a cross.
St. Joseph, late one night is talking to Mary, amazed at something that Jesus, their five year old, now asleep, said during the day. Over candlelight at table, Joseph shares his bewilderment. “Who is this child?” he asks… “a soon to be prophet?” Mary’s eyes well up at what she’s known for some time now. “Yes, and greater,” she gently replies. “Greater? You mean like the Messiah, God’s chosen one?” Joseph trembles. Mary smiles with tears coming down her face. “Yes.” She replies quietly but strongly. “And more.” “Greater still?” asks Joseph. “Who could be except Adonai, the Almighty One Himself?” Mary lets out a half-cry, half-laugh lasting only a half-second. She looks at Joseph, smiling, with tears now pouring down her face. “God Himself?” whispers Joseph. Mary lovingly gazes into her most chaste husband’s eyes.
“One will be sent in the flesh,” thundered the most beautiful Trinity to the angels and all the courts of heaven eons ago. In perfect harmony they rejoiced. But later, they wondered if anyone but a lowly archangel like Raphael (still more glorious than a burning star) could dare condescend again to take flesh as Raphael did for Tobit. Their best guess for the new assignment was Gabriel. God said “Gabriel will go…but in spirit as preparation. One much higher than he will become flesh.” “But how?” the angels wondered, “A cherubim’s eyes would melt the trees and mountains. No human warrior’s body could even instantaneously hold the power of a seraphim. Who will go in the flesh?” And they intuited through each other like laser beams, seared and alit by the thought of leaving the splendor of heaven for the dirt and sorrow of earth with man. And then the answer came from God:
“I will become man.”
After ages of silence, awe, wonder, war and adoration, a high angel said “The Lord’s voice flashes flames of fire. What warrior shall you absorb for your powerful and wise task?” And God replied “I shall assume the body and nature of a poor baby, and I will eventually be nailed to a tree to die quietly, without friends. This will be for mercy, for all.” All fell down in confused adoration that the essence of God would be humility.
I’m biased, but I think my little sister is the best writer I know. Before I knew what one was, she had a blog.
Talking on the phone to her last night, I started thinking a lot about Mark chapter 7:
And from there [Jesus] arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet He could not be hid. But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He said to her, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. ” But she answered Him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And He said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.—Mark 7:24-30
If you read my sister’s blog (and especially if you read the next section of Mark chapter 7, you’ll catch the connection.)
But back to the above account of the Greek woman and her encounter with Jesus: Someone asked me recently about Jesus’ apparent harshness. He answers the desperate woman, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
There’s no getting around the fact that Jesus called her a “dog.” Does He do this because of her roots in a culture opposed to pure Judaism? The Greeks tried to colonize the Jews, and some died for the faith (see 1 and 2 Maccabees.) Other Hebrews capitulated, denying their faith and becoming some form of a hybrid pagan-Jew, hence— a dog to the pure Jews.
But Jesus is not only a Jew; He is the Son of God. He is God Himself who made this woman in His image and likeness. Isn’t it going a little far to push her away? Isn’t this teasing too much? Is it mean? Is it good-natured inter-cultural ribbing or perhaps all-out racism?
This is my best guess at what is happening:
Jesus is reminding her that she has a lot stacked against her. She is a woman of a bloodline of traitors and she has a daughter with a demon. A half-breed is actually interrupting a Jewish rabbi for a favor. Jesus responds in kind as he definitively names the full-breed Jews to be “children” and the half-breed Syrophoenicians to be “dogs.” Basically, He reminds her that this is an irrational request.
Jesus is setting up a hurdle to show how unreasonable is her petition…and she takes the bait. She sees the hurdle of natural opposition, and banks on the one thing left: The supernatural. Why? The only possible explanation is that she knew He was not only a great rabbi, but an all-powerful Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One…the one we have been waiting for…the one she had been waiting for.
She recognizes that she is just a dog under the table, a dog hoping for what scraps of faith might fall from the table of the mighty Jews. But she and Our Lord both know something else is happening here: Jesus must painfully stretch her heart beyond natural limits to place within her family the supernatural grace He had always destined for them. Like a good coach laying more weights on a football players bar, Christ not only tests the strength of her faith, but actually increases it through the pain of begging.
She takes His bait of teasing, knowing that she had nothing to lose with a daughter with a demon. The Jewish man sets the high-hurdle. The Greek woman jumps over it. (He knew she would!) Love has to go beyond manners. Love has to go beyond what is polite. Love of a daughter has to go beyond the annoyed and annoying Apostles who are rolling eyes at her. Jesus and her both know this.
And then? Her faith immediately extinguishes the cultural firewalls—the firewalls which Jesus had a divine foreknowledge she would eradicate with her faith. He reminds her what is reasonable, and she reminds Him that God’s power goes beyond what is reasonable…exactly what He wanted her to teach the Apostles, and anyone who would ever read the Bible until the end of the world.
Jesus jokingly shows the calculations about what can be expected from God, and she responds with a faith beyond calculations—exactly what He wanted. Her faith blasts away the Apostles who had placed Adonai’s power in a cultural and safe little box. She teaches them the lesson they will bring with their miracles one day as they travelled to Spain, India and Ethiopia, carrying literal miracles that would speak His message:
What is impossible for humans is not impossible for God, even raising the dead.
The above picture is taken from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It is clear in this movie, and in most private revelations, that Mary (the Mother of Jesus) knew Mary Magdalene long before the crucifixion.
Granted, Scripturally I know of no other time when Mary and Mary are found in the same place, except John 19:25 (the three Mary’s at the crucifixion.) So my theory can’t be proved from Scripture. However, using common sense, we can be very sure that Mary and Mary didn’t simply introduce oneself to each the other at the foot of the cross. It can be assumed that this would be an inappropriate time for introductions; Mary and Mary had to have known each other long before the crucifixion.
Even though she has very few words, let’s look at who Mary (the Mother of God) knew in the New Testament. Of course, she is at the four most important events of salvation history, which gives us an idea of who knew her:
1) The Incarnation of God as a zygote (Luke 1:38)
2) The Death of Jesus (John 19)
3) The Resurrection (Sacred Tradition)
4) Pentecost (Acts 1 and 2)
But then, on a smaller scale, it’s surprising who Mary knew. Mary seemed to have a quiet presence in the life of everybody:
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples.—John 2:1
Mary seems to be the star of the invitation, where Jesus’ band of 12 fishermen were “also invited.” Of course, Jesus never committed any sin of gluttony, but maybe Jesus’ disciples ate too much at weddings or something, because John makes it pretty clear they were an afterthought!
The Apostles all knew Mary. Foremost was John the beloved, who was to live with the Blessed Virgin Mary after Christ’s Death (John 19:27) and assumedly after the Ascension. (Their home was uncovered in Turkey in 1891, using the private revelations of Bl. Emmerich—the same visions that guided the making of the movie, the Passion of the Christ.)
John’s brother James, whose feast day we celebrate today, was not left orphaned by Mary. As you know, Jesus sent James to evangelize Spain. However, at one point James was ready to give up after only gaining 8 disciples. Mary bi-located to him when he was praying at modern day Zaragoza, and (during the first approved Marian apparition) Mary told James not to give up, for the faith of that people would be as strong as the pillar that she was standing on.
There is a 17th century Spanish nun named Mary of Agreda who was given a private revelation of the entire life of Mary (the Mother of God.) It is put into several thousand pages of a book that you can buy, the Mystical City of God (not to be confused with the work of St. Augustine by almost the same name.) In the Mystical City of God, it is revealed to the nun of Agreda that Saul was always slated in God’s Providence to become the great Apostle of Jesus Christ to the nations.
However…this event was to happen much later that when it was originally “scheduled” by God, so to speak. What changed the course of history was the prayers of the mother of Jesus. After Pentecost, Mary saw in prophesy that Saul would become the chosen vessel, but she saw this was coming much later than when the Church needed such a weapon of love. Mary begged God the Father to speed up this conversion, and God the Father answered; Saul became Paul much earlier than he was slated to.
What does any of this have to do with Mary Magdalene?
A few days ago, as I was offering the Mass on the Feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, the above scene from the movie hit me: Mary holds Mary during the torture of Jesus. I realized at that moment that all the great saints of the New Testament were really close to the Mother of God. Even if you don’t believe in the private revelations that filled the movie of Mel Gibson or the Mystical City of God, common sense applied to Scripture reveals that the mother of Jesus intimately knew all the slobs and dignitaries of the New Testament.
Here’s how I want to tie all of this together:
After doing Total Consecration to Mary for the first time several years ago, I had actually come to believe the words of St. Louis De Montfort, namely, that there were a few certain saints (like St. Bernard or St. Bonaventure) who chose Mary as the quickest and surest way to Jesus Christ. For a long time, I had taken this to be a development of doctrine of the middle-ages—a wonderful and valid one, to be sure—but a development of doctrine nonetheless.
But at the Mass a few days ago in honor of St. Mary Magdalene, as I thought of the above scene of Mary and Mary, I had this realization that Jesus’ mother is the dispersal vector of zeal for her Son for not only for the great saints of the middle-ages—but for all the tycoons of the New Testament. This would surely include the conversion of St. Mary Magdalene.
In light of all the great people and the events of the first century Church, we have to come to the conclusion that the Holy Theotokos—she who carries God as the God-Bearer—is the one who gently brings all the top dogs of the New Testament to her Christ Jesus. Even with Mary Magdalene, I imagine the mother of Jesus was the quickest and strongest way to her son. So it will always be, for you and for me, too.
Before I was a priest, I was a paramedic. I remember running a call with the SWAT team in Southwest Denver. It was a midnight drug-bust and we had to accompany the police in the event that someone become wounded in the raid. We entered minutes after the SWAT team…and it had a pretty anticlimactic ending. The police arrested only two people. The young man and woman were caught in a compromised position, so to speak…and it smelled filthy. I was surprised at the stench, and it wasn’t the smell of drugs that was off-putting. Later in seminary, I remember reading on my own about how certain saints (like St. Christina the Astonishing) could smell impurity on people. I’m not claiming that the SWAT team or I had that gift. I just mean that there is a natural and a preternatural link to the fact that impurity stinks, literally.
Today, on both the old and new Catholic calendars, it is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene (22 July.) She too was filthy and with demons before meeting Jesus. How interesting, then, that the Tradition Latin Mass Gospel of today recognizes the following woman as St. Mary Magdalene:
Then turning toward the woman, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in, she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”—Luke 7:44-50
There is a mention in another Gospel of the smell surrounding Mary Magdalane:
Mary anointed the Feet of Jesus, and wiped Them with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
This quote from John 12 was actually the morning prayer antiphon taken from John chapter 12. Thus, the ancient Western Church took the controversial women of Luke 7 and John 12 to be both the same person: St. Mary Magdalene.
But notice the word “filled” in the above italics from John 12:3. The word “filled” comes from the Latin impleta or Greek “ἐπληρώθη,” meaning that the whole house was filled with that smell of that spiked nard of extremely rich oil. What the ancient liturgy is telling us in placing those words in the morning-prayer antiphon is clear: No longer was the house filled with the stench of the sins of impurity.
Not only is Mary forgiven, but the smell of purity fills the entire house. The house is clearly analogous to the temple that is the body of St. Mary Magdalene. She now sits in the home, at Jesus’ feet, not only cleansed from her sin, but with a pacifying inebriation that comes from the anointing of a transformed soul. She is beautiful and clean, and everyone can detect this, except those who remain in spiritual pride. They remain in pride because they refuse to trust in the One they simply call “master.”
Remember also that oils were used to clean wounds. The stripped and half-dead traveller by the side of the road is approached by the good Samaritan who “binds up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”—Luke 10:34. In ancient culture, oil was used to clean wounds, assumedly because most bacteria could not survive when drowned in strong oil. Thus, Jesus doesn’t just take away the juridical imputation of sin, but at that point makes her strong again, inside and out, through and through, to the point that the overwhelming smell of spiced nard fills the whole house, the whole new life of Mary Magdalene.
This is not just post-modern presumption of God’s mercy. How do I know? Because within the ancient office of readings that we pray (the Divine Office) there is the equally astounding call-and-return a few hours later within the Psalms called “Tertia,” still referring to St. Mary Magdalene:
Who would have thought that the Messiah would spiritually wed the Magdalene? But the ancient liturgy today is clear: God-Incarnate, Jesus Himself, is calling a soul once-filthy to be His bride, for she is now filled with comeliness and beauty. So go forward, and reign in that anointing that fills the whole royal house with Christ your king, your spouse. Forget your past, for you now exist in comeliness and beauty.