Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene
(Exodus 16:1-5.9-15; John 20:1-2.11-18)
A peculiar painting of the gospel story today was recently featured in a leading Catholic magazine. Although the encounter of Mary Magdalene with Jesus is a favourite subject of Renaissance painters, the one by Lavinia Fontana stands out because it pictures Jesus wearing a gardener’s hat and holding a shovel. The author of the commentary on the painting says that Fontana actually wanted to express how Jesus is a like a gardener who cares for our souls.
He certainly seems to have taken care of Mary’s. Although she is sometimes spoken of as a reformed prostitute, all that is certain of Mary Magdalene’s background comes from Luke’s mentioning that Jesus cast out from her seven demons (Luke 8:2). After that she follows him in the company of other women and his disciples. Almost certainly she is among the women whom, Luke says, witness his death on the cross from afar (Luke 23:49). The evangelist John pictures Mary Magdalene among the women who stand with Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple at Jesus’ crucifixion and then in our reading today.
As Jesus cared for Mary Magdalene’s soul, he would cultivate ours as well. When we attend to his words in the gospel, he extricates our sins like weeds. When we follow his commands to assist the poor, he plants in us seeds that grow into eternal life. Finally, when we trust in his love, Jesus irrigates us with courage and tranquillity to face the vicissitudes of life.