Saturday, July 22, 2017

Stop Holding on To Me

On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves – I sought him but I did not find him. 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. Song of Songs 3:1-2

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. John 20:1

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. Psalms 63:2

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw the stone removed. This excursion put in motion a series of actions on Easter Sunday morning – except that no one (yet) knew it was Easter Sunday morning. Like a good disciple and Cursillista, Mary Magdalene did not keep this moment to herself.  Being she had already made a friend with Peter and John, she ran to get them and bring them back to the tomb. But at this point, she still thought the body was stolen by either the Romans or the temple officials.

Although several others witnessed the empty tomb, she was the first to see Christ Risen. Her exclamation, "Rabbouni!" follows the second Epiphany. She saw the light of the world while it was still dark. Once the reality of the Resurrection was a reality in her experience, she passed it on. After being the first who witnessed the Resurrected Jesus, then she became the first who proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection to others. Does this make her the first Christian?  Perhaps. But she is clearly the “Apostle to the Apostles,” the first person in human history to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection.

Equally important to her status as an evangelist is her status as a seeker of the divine – echoed in the first reading from Song of Songs and Psalm 63.  I sought him whom my heart loves. 

The prize of seeking becomes finding.  Yet, seeking and finding are not the end.  Jesus commands her one more action:  "Stop holding on to me.”  Our role is to give away what we find and pass it on.

Pope Francis elevated the commemoration of the feast day for Mary Magdalene.  This puts her feast day on par with the other (male) disciples and marks her as the first evangelist.  God is always seeking us seeking God.  Is not that why you are here on this website or e-mail?  Is that not the whole reason to piety, study, and action – to seek God? And then when you find God, give God away to others?

How were your first female teachers who led you to Christ?  My first teacher was my mother, Ruth DeCristofaro.  Later, Sr. Francis Louise Sheridan, MSBT, became the “apostle” in my life shortly after college. She hired me after my graduation from Belmont Abbey College to help her co-workers resettle hundreds of Southeast Asian refugees after the fall of Saigon and the U.S. pullout from the Viet Nam War. Sr. Francis never stopped seeking God and giving the Spirit of God away to others in her service as director of Refugee Settlement as part of Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Charlotte. She directed the settlement of more than two thousand refugees.  Sr. Francis helped me realize the role of Jesus as a refugee and to see Jesus in the “gardeners” who came to our airports from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and refugee camps around the world.  After sharing her heart with so many for so long, how fitting is it that she died on St. Valentine's Day in 2015? 

What would have become of our faith tradition if Egypt closed its borders to unwed parents two thousand years ago? 
We are Christians. Sr. Francis taught me that we should welcome refugees just like we would welcome Jesus. These days, for those who did not know Sr. Francis and others like her, the role of Christians in welcoming refugees to our shores is as clouded as the role of St. Mary Magdala. 

Over the years, the role of St. Mary Magdala was confused by the church and male leaders who might have felt threatened by her true role as a leader to the leaders in the community of Jesus.  However, in a homily delivered by Prof. Mary C. Boys, SNJM, for this feast day, she reminded us that we “live in hope.” 
Just as today, we cannot imagine a Boston or New York City or ANY marathon without women, may the day come soon that we can’t imagine the Church’s apostles without women alongside men.  May we let the Apostle Mary of Magdala step into her rightful place in our church and in our world.  Let us celebrate her as wounded healer, as evangelist and witness to the Risen One. May the Apostle to the Apostles continue to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection. 

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