At that time, I had no idea that Mary Magdalene, “The Penitent”, had spent her last days in France. And I was only too happy to do as my friend recommended.
Once in Saint-Baume, we learned how fourteen years after Our Lord’s death, St. Mary Magdalene – along with Sts. Lazarus and Martha, Maximin (who baptized her), Sidonius, her maid Sera, and the relics of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin – got into a boat with no oars and let Providence arrange their escape from persecution in the Holy Land.
Mary Magdalene brings a unique perspective and personal understanding to Who the Godman was.
The little party of “friends of the Nazarene” crossed the Mediterranean and landed at the place called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in the South of France.
Lazarus went to Marseille and converted the whole of Provence, while Magdalene became his spiritual guide, living as a hermit in La Sainte-Baume ("Holy Cave") where she gave herself up to a life of prayer for the success of the missionary work of the Apostles throughout the known world.
After a long climb up the small mountain, our chaplain celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass for our group deep inside St. Mary’s cave, and we spent a couple of nights in a convent attached to the basilica of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume wherein is preserved one of the most precious relics in Christendom – the skull of Mary Magdalene.
I was reassured to learn that the relic had been analyzed by scientists in 1974, and that it was determined to be that of a woman who lived in the First Century, died at 50 years of age, had dark brown hair and was NOT from Southern France. There is no reason to doubt that this is indeed the head of Mary Magdalene.
She was the great sinner – not one of the first bishops, or pope, or a great theologian. . . but a sinner who loved Jesus enough to never doubt Him even during His bloody crucifixion.
I doubt any of us on that pilgrimage will forget the moment we first came face-to-face with the woman who had witnessed the death of Jesus Christ. In fact, the experience was so profound that I have remained devoted to Magdalene ever since. She is, in my opinion, a powerful patroness of Traditional Catholics who are trying to keep the faith during the crucifixion of the Mystical Body of Christ. It was Mary, after all, who walked with Our Lord, witnessed His passion and death, and never doubted Him...even in death.
“God is dead,” the Romans told her, but that didn’t stop her from following him all the way to the tomb, and neither should it stop us today when Peter has again denied Christ, Judas has betrayed Him, and even most of the Apostles have scattered.
Magdalene is not a doctor of the Church, but she brings a unique perspective and personal understanding to Who the Godman was. The theology “books” she studied were the actual life and Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ. And she loved Him so much that she was not scandalized by Him, even at the foot of the Cross.
Today as our families divide, our Mass is taken away, Peter is saving the planet and the apostles have hidden themselves again, we do not always know where to find Him, either.
Far from feeling betrayed by the Crucifixion, she wept bitterly simply because she could not find Jesus on the morning of the third day. “The Angel said to her ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to him ‘Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him’.’”
These are the words of a heartbroken friend. Perhaps this is why she was chosen by Our Lord to be the “apostle to the Apostles,” to be the one honored by God Himself to announce the Resurrection to the terrified eleven who had hidden themselves “for fear of the Jews....”
Such a singular honor, and yet she was the great sinner – not one of the first bishops, or pope, or a great theologian. . . but a sinner who loved Jesus enough to stand watch during His bloody crucifixion. Even the soldiers looked at her and must have thought: "This is one of his closest friends."
Today as our families divide, and our Mass is being taken away, and Peter is off "saving the planet" and telling he world he does not know the Man, and the apostles have hidden themselves again, we do not always know where to find Him, either. The tabernacles are often hidden away, with the altars having been removed to make room for pharisees in the sanctuaries.
We’re not heroes, but we hope to be penitents until the end, as was Magdalene, our arms wrapped around Tradition like Mary’s around the Cross.
“Where have they taken Him?” is a question we very much understand today.
How fitting, then, to turn to one who didn't lose faith in an even worse hour of darkness. What must it have been like for Magdalene at that moment when the Messiah breathed His last and darkness covered the earth?
Imagine the desolation!
Through her tears, Magdalene watched the Redemption play out to His very last breath. And then she picked herself up and prepared to honor the crucified "criminal", even in death.
Far from despairing on that first Good Friday, Magdalene followed Christ to the first Easter Sunday, thus earning the right to be called the first Christ-ian.
And so we turn to the closest friends of Jesus who understand what it means to be alone for Him, and yet to never lost hope.
How can we despair today, then, even when the Mystical Body of Christ seems to be expiring (in its human element) before our eyes? We always knew this day would come; it was foretold to us in Scripture, that we must prepare to follow His lifeless corpse all the way to the tomb.
Losing faith has never been an option.
Standing beneath the Cross after all but one of the apostles had fled, Magdalene must have had her critics, too: “Who does she think she is? Peter isn’t even there!” But it was love, not arrogance, that put her at the foot of the Cross when even Peter had fled.
And so it must be for us, love — not hubris — induces us to cling to the wood of the Cross -- love and fear, for nowhere in Scripture does it say that Mary was unafraid, and neither can we expect to be today.
This is why she is our patroness, because she never lost hope that the Third Day would indeed dawn, even during the horrific darkness of the Third Hour.
We cling to the wood of the Cross of Tradition out of fear that our faith will otherwise fail us even as it has failed so many souls who were far holier than we. If salvation was so difficult to attain in centuries past—when the Tridentine Mass was offered daily throughout the world, along with holy armies of monks and brides of Christ, thriving parishes, priests and seminaries—how precarious must our souls be now as we sift through these ruins of the great Catholic fortress.
The bulwarks of the old Faith that stood strong against Hell for two thousand years have fallen into decay. We’re not heroes, but we pray to be penitent believers until the very end, as was Magdalene, our arms wrapped around Tradition like hers around the Cross.
The passion of the Mystical Body of Christ is unfolding in all of its bloody horror and cruel rigor, right before our eyes. And in the darkness that is falling, we plead as Mary might have: “Dear Jesus, we are not strong enough to do this alone. Let us stay here with You. Do not leave us.”
And so we pray the prayer of Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner, all the way to the end.
To the extent that she was a great sinner, we know what it is like to be her, with our only hope in the world hanging from a Cross.
Thomas Aquinas reasoned his way to the Cross; St. Teresa prayed her way there; St. Joan of Arc obeyed her “voices” unto the Cross; the Cure of Ars and St. John of the Cross rode there on the backs of great virtue. But the hope we have is that the Mother of God will be moved by our love for her Son to make room for us in the shadow of the Cross, just beside Mary Magdalene.
And Mary suffered for Jesus, too. In the end, she was alone in the wilderness. She lived in a cave and was cut off from her home by a vast sea, just as many of us are today; alone and ridiculed by the world, cut off even from the parishes of our childhood.
Let us turn to the closest friends of Jesus who understand this darkness. Mary Magdalene knows what it’s like to be us. And, to the extent that she was a great sinner, we know what it is like to be her, with our only hope in the world hanging from a Cross. This is why she is our patroness, because she never lost hope that the Third Day would dawn even during the horrific darkness of the Third Hour. And neither will we.
St. Mary Magdalene, Pray for us.
Haec dies quam fecit Dominus; exultemus et laetemur in ea. Alleluia.
A new RTV Short — HOLY WEEK: The Love Story that Built Western Civilization