THE NOW WORD ON MASS READINGS
for July 22nd, 2017
Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Feast of St. Mary Magdalene
Liturgical texts here
IT is always beneath the surface, calling, beckoning, stirring, and leaving me utterly restless. It is the invitation to union with God. It leaves me restless because I know that I have not yet taken the plunge “into the deep”. I love God, but not yet with my whole heart, soul, and strength. And yet, this is what I am made for, and so… I am restless, until I rest in Him.
By saying “union with God,” I don’t mean just friendship or peaceful co-existence with the Creator. By this, I mean the full and entire union of my being with His. The only way to explain this difference is to compare the relationship between two friends versus a husband and wife. The former enjoy good conversations, time, and experiences together; the latter, a union that goes far beyond words and the tangible. The two friends are like companions who ride the seas of life together… but the husband and wife plunge into the very depths of that infinite sea, an ocean of Love. Or at least, that’s what God intends in marriage.
Tradition has called St. Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the Apostles.” She is to all of us too, especially when it comes to seeking union with the Lord, as Mary does, in the following stages that aptly summarize the journey every Christian must undertake…
I. Outside the Tomb
On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved… (Today’s Gospel)
Mary, at first, came to the tomb seeking consolation, for it is “still dark.” This is symbolic of the Christian who looks not so much for Christ, but for His consolations and gifts. It is symbolic of the one whose life remains “outside the tomb”; one who is in friendship with God, but lacks the intimacy and commitment of “marriage.” It is the one who may faithfully submit to “Simon Peter”, that is, to the teaching of the Church, and who seeks the Lord through good spiritual books, sacramental graces, speakers, conferences, ie. “the other disciple whom Jesus loved.” But it is still a soul who does not fully enter that place where the Lord is, in the depths of the tomb where the soul has not only abandoned all love of sin, but where consolations are no longer felt, the spirit is dry, and spiritual things are tasteless if not repulsive to the flesh. In this “spiritual darkness”, it is as though God is utterly absent.
On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves — I sought him but I did not find him. (First reading)
That is because it is there, “in the tomb”, where one dies entirely to self so that the Lover may give Himself completely to the soul.
II. At the Tomb
Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
Blessed are they who mourn, Jesus said, and again, blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. cf. Matt 5:4, 6
O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. (Today’s Psalm)
That is, blessed are those who do not content themselves with the goods of this world; those who do not excuse their sin, but acknowledge and repent of it; those who humble themselves before their need for God, and then set out to find Him. Mary has returned to the tomb, now, no longer seeking consolation, but in the light of self-knowledge, she recognizes her utter poverty without Him. Though daylight has broken, it seems that the consolations she formerly sought and which previously assuaged her, now leave her more hungry than full, more thirsty than satiated. Like the lover seeking her Beloved in the Song of Songs, she no longer waits in her “bed”, that place where she was once consoled…
I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings I will seek Him whom my heart loves. I sought him but I did not find him. (First reading)
Neither finds their Beloved because they have not yet entered the “night of the tomb”…
III. Inside the Tomb
…as she wept, she bent over into the tomb…
At last, Mary enters the tomb “as she wept.” That is, the consolations she once knew from her memories, the sweetness of God’s Word, her communion with Simon Peter and John, etc. are now stripped from her. She feels, as it were, abandoned even by her Lord:
They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.
But Mary does not flee; she does not give up; she does not cave into the temptation that God does not exist, though all her senses tell her so. In imitation of her Lord, she cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” Matt 27:46 but then adds, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46 Rather, she will follow Him, where “they laid Him,” wherever He is… even if God appears all but dead.
The watchmen came upon me, as they made their rounds of the city: Have you seen him whom my heart loves? (First reading)
IV. Finding the Beloved
Having been purified of her attachment not only to sin, but to consolations and spiritual goods in themselves, Mary awaits the embrace of her Beloved in the darkness of the tomb. Her only consolation is the word of the angels who ask:
Woman, why are you weeping?
That is, the promises of the Lord will be fulfilled. Trust. Wait. Do not be afraid. The Beloved will come.
And at last, she finds Him whom she loves.
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
The God who seemed distant, the God who seemed dead, the God who seemed as if He could not care about her seemingly insignificant soul among billions of others on the face of the earth… comes to her as her Beloved, calling her by name. In the darkness of her complete self-giving to God (that seemed as if her very being was being annihilated) she then finds herself again in her Beloved, in whose image she is created.
I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves. (First reading)
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory, for your kindness is a greater good than life. (Psalm)
Now, Mary, who forsook all, has found her All—a “greater good than life” itself. Like St. Paul, she can say,
I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Phil 3:8-9)
She can say so because…
I have seen the Lord. (Gospel)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8)
TOWARD OUR BELOVED
Brothers and sisters, this path may seem to us as inaccessible as a mountain summit. But it is the path that all of us must take in this life, or the life to come. That is, what self-love that remains at the moment of death must then be purified in Purgatory.
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13-14)
Rather than see this Scripture as only a path to either “heaven” or “hell, see it as a path to union with God versus the “destruction” or misery that self-love brings. Yes, the path to this Union is hard; it demands our conversion and rejection of sin. And yet, it “leads to life”! It leads to “the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ,” which is the fulfillment of all desires. How insane, then, to exchange true happiness for the trinkets of pleasure that sin offers, or even the passing consolations of earthly and spiritual goods.
The bottom line is this:
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. (Second reading)
So why do we content ourselves with the “old creation”? As Jesus put it,
New wine is not put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. (Matthew 9:17)
You are a “new wineskin.” And God wants to pour Himself into complete union with you. That means that we must think of ourselves as “dead to sin.” But if you cling to the “old wineskin”, or if you patch the new wineskin with old skin (ie. compromise with old sins and the old way of life), then the Wine of God’s presence cannot be contained, for He cannot unite to Himself that which is contrary to love.
The love of Christ must impel us, says St. Paul in today’s second reading. We must “live no longer live for ourselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” And so, like St. Mary Magdalene, I must eventually decide to come to the edge of the tomb with the only things I have to give: my desire, my tears, and my prayer that I may see the face of my God.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)
You are loved.
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