3 lessons I learned from St. Mary Magdalene

Commonly depicted with long, wavy hair and an alabaster jar of ointment in her hand, St. Mary Magdalene is often mentioned in the same breath as that ugly word, “sin.” But in a world that tries to define her by her past, Mary Magdalene has much to offer when it comes to learning what true surrender into the arms of our savior really looks like.

Mary Magdalene befriended me a few years ago and quickly rose to the top of my favorite saints list. Curious to learn everything I could about her, I sought out books about this misunderstood woman in the Gospels. And I quickly realized just how misunderstood she was, as I had to use great discretion with what I chose to read. Our secular world loves to make juicy, inaccurate headlines out of her witness in Scripture. I finally landed on “Saint Mary Magdalene: Prophetess of Eucharistic Love” by Father Sean Davidson. And this book really sealed the deal on needing Mary Magdalene in my corner.

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Through this book, I learned that in addition to being cured of seven demons (cf. Lk 8:2) and appearing at the foot of the cross (cf. Jn 19:25) and at the tomb (cf. Jn 20:1), sacred tradition has also taught (though some details differ throughout history) that Mary Magdalene was the sinful woman forgiven (cf. Lk 7:37), the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany (cf. Mt 26:7), and the sister of Martha and Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:2).

Connecting the dots and diving deeper into her story in Scripture, I often found myself with my eyebrows raised. After all, Mary Magdalene does make some pretty bold moves. Dumping a jar of ointment on Jesus’ head as he sits at the table with his disciples? Using her tears and hair to wash his feet? Neglecting responsibilities to sit at his feet and listen to him speak? Staying by his torn and tattered body hanging from the cross in what looked like pure and utter defeat? Showing up at the tomb when all hope seemed lost?

Mary Magdalene turned some heads, to say the least. But as I continued to meditate with these stories of one of Jesus’ most faithful followers, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her “all or nothing” attitude. From the instant she received Jesus’ miraculous healing, she never left his side, never looked back, and never did anything for him halfway. With total surrender and ultimate trust in her savior, she went “all in” for Jesus. And she has taught me some valuable lessons in how to do the same.

1) Show up, anyway

“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark…” (Jn 20:1).

We see Mary Magdalene in some of the darkest, most desolate places possible: at the foot of the cross and at the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.

Showing up to the tomb “while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene was not only showing up in the dark of the morning hours, but also in the darkness that lingered from what seemed like Jesus’ gruesome and bitter end.

Seeing her show up in the darkness of her suffering inspires me to show up in prayer and in my relationship with the Lord during my dark times, too.

Scripture describes how, after showing up to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary “remained sitting there, facing the tomb” (Mt 27:61). Sitting there, facing the tomb can be a pretty desolate place to be if you don’t know what’s on the other side. Not being able to see past that really big stone between you and your miracle can feel hopeless. But showing up anyway is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in persevering in the spiritual life.

Mary Magdalene has taught me that showing up in my relationship with Jesus isn’t circumstantial, it’s vital. So even in the dark, even when I feel like I’m just sitting in front of a wall of stone, I’m going to show up anyway. And when I’m tempted to focus on what looks like a lifeless tomb from the outside, I’m encouraged by Mary Magdalene to refocus my trust on Jesus’ presence on the inside.

2) Bridge the gap

“She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak” (Lk 10:39).

If there’s one person in Scripture you’ll always find at the feet of Jesus, it’s Mary Magdalene. Whether it’s anointing his feet, sitting at his feet, worshiping at his feet, or grieving at his feet as he hung from the cross, she never really leaves much room between her and her savior. Contentment for her meant letting his presence consume her, and she stirs in me a deeper desire to make his true presence my everything as well.

In a world that tries to put as much room as it can between us and the person of Jesus, there’s no better way to bridge that gap than in the holy Eucharist. And I’d like to think if Mary Magdalene were alive today, she’d be first in line at Mass to receive her Lord — body, blood, soul and divinity.

The Church gifts us with a miraculous and intimate way to become one with Our Lord. To be so close and so united to him, that distance apart is but an old memory. And because of the grace poured out in the Blessed Sacrament, contentment for us can be more than letting his presence consume us. We can actually consume his presence.

As a cradle Catholic, it’s a gift I spent far too many years taking for granted. And as I grow in my relationship with the Lord, I’m learning that staying close to Jesus means staying close to the sacraments.

Mary Magdalene’s desire to stay as close to Jesus as possible, no matter the setting, is graciously affirmed by Jesus himself in Luke 10:42. “There is need of only one thing” has become a life verse for me, and my prayer is that everything I do pours forth from a heart that is first fixated to Christ’s in the holy Eucharist.

3) Announce his name

“Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and what he told her” (Jn 20:18).

It took great bravery, courage, and obedience to go and announce Jesus’ resurrection to his disciples. Mary Magdalene did just as he said, without fear of how she would be perceived, which ended up being pretty crazy. In Luke 24:11, the disciples receive her so-called news as if it were an “idle tale” (NRSV) or “nonsense” (NABRE), and they did not believe.

Does announcing Jesus’ name to others, only to be met with unbelief, sound familiar? To me, it sounds an awful lot like trying to evangelize in today’s world. But Mary Magdalene’s fearless witness of announcing his name to others, even when inconvenient, scary or uncomfortable, convicts me to announce his name out into our broken world even more.

Mary Magdalene inspires me to share more often with others how “I have seen the Lord” in my marriage, in my family, in my workplace, in my suffering, in my joy, and in my everyday life. Because in a life lived with Jesus at the center, there is plenty worthy of announcing. And she has helped me realize that leading others to his resurrected presence starts by just saying his name.

Announcing how “I have seen the Lord” may be easier in some situations than others. But I’m moved by her steadfast spirit to go, as he said, and announce his name with confidence. I don’t have to worry if I’m met with unbelief, doubt, or rejection. My job is to “go and tell” (cf. Mt 28:10). So I’ll focus on doing my part, and I’ll leave the rest to him.

St. Mary Magdalene made it clear through her actions who was her priority. She entrusted herself to Jesus wholeheartedly, holding nothing back, no matter the circumstances at hand. And she is a beautiful and inspirational example of what unswerving devotion to Jesus looks like. I cherish her holy friendship, and I know she’s my biggest cheerleader as I strive to go “all in” for Jesus, placing everything I have on a bet that never disappoints.

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