On Tuesday, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, officially called “Penitent” in the Sacred Liturgy. Despite the existence of many dramatic conversions in the history of the Church, she is the only saint on the calendar classified as a Penitent. How glorious is this distinction enjoyed by the Sister of Lazarus and Martha! Mary Magdalene is a beautiful saint for the Month of the Precious Blood because she trusted so deeply in the power of the Divine Mercy of that Precious Blood to re-create her heart. She was a great, even notorious, sinner, from whom, we are told, Jesus cast out seven demons.
The gospel for the feast day is the account of Mary’s repentance from the seventh chapter of St. Luke. Jesus was dining in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and Mary, known as a sinner in the town, entered to encounter the Lord. Luke tells us that, remaining behind Jesus, she knelt and washed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, covered them with her kisses, and anointed them with expensive ointment from an alabaster jar. After teaching Simon the Pharisee about the beauty and power of her love and repentance, Jesus said simply to Mary: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you: go in peace.”
Mary’s penitence was born of the ardor of her love for Jesus. This love was inspired in her by the Holy Spirit. The Church proclaims on her feast the prophecy of this ardent love from the Song of Songs: “I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves. So I looked for him but did not find him…’Have you seen the one my heart loves?’ Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go…” Here Mary represents the whole Church Penitent, each one of us who have sinned. It is no accident that Jesus will call her “Woman” in the garden after His Resurrection. This appellation, used most properly of the Blessed Mother, signifies that the one being addressed is a “New Eve,” a personification of the whole Church.
Mary is changed forever from this encounter with Divine Mercy. Jesus becomes close friends with her and with her sister, the virgin Martha, whose feast is celebrated on her octave (July 29), and with her brother Lazarus. The collect for the feast of Mary Magdalene refers to her prayers moving Jesus to raise her brother after he had been dead for four days. Mary is so changed by her encounter with Mercy that she becomes entirely given over to divine love. She knows no other life than that of one who waits upon the Lord in all circumstances. This totality of her love causes her to remain faithful to Him as He suffers His Passion and Death, consoling Him with her Penitent’s tears at the foot of His Cross. It also allows her the privilege of being the “apostle to the Apostles” as the first to witness Jesus Risen from the Dead.
In Mary, transformed by the Loving Virtue of the Precious Blood, is fulfilled the second part of the prophecy from the Canticle of Canticles proclaimed at her liturgy: “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”
Fr. Joseph Previtali