“I Have Seen the Lord”

Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection, Alexander Ivanov

The figure of Mary Magdalene has always loomed large in the tradition of the Church because, even though the Bible says relatively little about who she is, what scripture does say speaks volumes.

What we know for certain is that Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9).  Pope Benedict explains that this means she had been completely under the sway of the Evil One.  That is what evil does – it takes hold of us, seeking to control our lives.  It diminishes the will, impairs our judgment, clouds the ability to tell right from wrong, and leaves us in misery.  Jesus freed Mary of all that by driving out the demons.  She then became one of his closest followers.  With love and gratitude, Mary Magdalene remained near him during his Passion and, except to faithfully observe the Sabbath, she did not leave him even after he was dead and placed in the tomb.  She did not want to let go of him.

When, after his resurrection, Jesus called her by name, Mary immediately recognized him and she went in haste to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:16-18).  For this she is called the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Mary illustrates what a disciple is – one who, in the experience of human weakness, is healed by Jesus and closely follows him; one who with apostolic zeal goes to announce his merciful love which is stronger than evil and death.

In the Catholic west, Mary Magdalene is traditionally thought to be the same Mary who was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, as well as the unnamed woman whose sins were forgiven by Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee (John 11:1-2; Luke 7:36-50).  The Protestant west and the Eastern Church tend to believe that these are three different women.  But whether Mary Magdalene is the sinful woman or not, we can easily envision her falling to her knees, kissing the feet of Jesus and anointing them with her tears in appreciation for the inner peace that comes from being freed from the domination of evil.  Those who experience the Sacrament of Penance often show this same kind of gratitude and relief for being freed from the evil of sin and healed of the discord between their hearts and God.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great notes in a homily how, after the others had left, Mary Magdalene remained, still seeking Jesus – “while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.”

This does not mean never making mistakes because we all sometimes stumble and fall during the journey of life.  What it does mean, Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasized, is persevering in faith – always getting up after we have fallen and seeking after Jesus.  It means going to meet Jesus in the confessional, getting on our knees and opening our penitent hearts to him so that he might free us from the domination of sin and evil and restore our dignity.  Then, having been given a new life like Mary Magdalene, it means going to our brothers and sisters and joyfully proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord!”