Friday, July 22, 2016

Mary, Mary, I'm going to be contrary

In working on a piece about Mary Magdalene I did I quick search for the collect for the feast (because I was too lazy to walk downstairs and get my breviary).  This page from Fisheaters came up, and while it didn't have the collect on it, it did have some recipes for ointments on it, as something traditional to do for the feast of Mary Magdalene.  I put it aside, and came back to it after a day of writing thinking to stash the material for a possible retreat.

Alas I read it.  It starts out by trying to straighten out any "agenda-driven obfuscation" about the good saint.  Great.  If only it did.  Instead the author suggests any attempt to unwind St. Gregory the Great's conflation of three women into one is not careful exegesis, but an attempt to "undermine the authority of the Church and paint Her hierarchs as 'woman-haters'".

It is barely possible to connect Mary of Bethany, who is identified in John's gospel as the woman who anointed Jesus' feet [Jn 11:1-2], with the unnamed woman who comes to the house of the Pharisee and anoints Jesus' feet in Luke [Luke 7:37-50], by assuming this was a one time event and the same event described in Matthew and Mark [Mt 26:7-13; Mk 14:3-9], and that the Mary who had chosen the better part, living with her brother and her sister was also a notorious sinner.  We could all argue the point until kingdom come (at which point surely we can just ask Mary of Bethany).

But to say that Mary of Bethany is without a doubt Mary of Magdala stretches credulity. Fisheaters explains that because Luke mention a Mary of Magdala a few lines after his account of the sinful woman who anoints Jesus, she must be the sinner.  Really?  Do we think Luke just suddenly remembered her name after penning the previous story?  Why isn't Susanna the sinner?  Or Joanna?  By this logic, we must assume that Simon Peter is the demoniac of Luke's chapter 4.  Because that story follows directly, in the same style.  Possible? Sure.  Probable.  No.

And why is the sin committed by the woman Luke describes necessarily sexual?  The stated agenda of Fisheaters here is to keep the most prominent female figure in the Gospels (after Mary the Mother of God) associated with sexual sin.  If we did not associate Mary Magdalene with sexual sin, we would be "keeping them out of mind, ignoring the need of repentance for such acts." And if she were not, no one would ever think of them?  never repent?  Um.

As an aside, I'm puzzled by the assertions here and in other places that the Talmud use "Magdala" (see figure for what shows up in the old Catholic encyclopedia) to mean "curling women's hair" which is a euphemism for adulteress, and that is used as further support to assign Mary Magdalene the role of sexual sinner.  The Gospels refer to her in Greek as Mary of Magdala, suggesting a place name, which itself means "tower."

So here's the scoop:  Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection, remanded by Jesus to bring the Good News to the apostles. She remained faithfully at the foot of the cross.  She supported Jesus and his disciples in their travels. She was the embodiment of fidelity.  She was a tower of strength, as her name might suggest, while Peter was having a rocky time.  Was she a sinner?  Of course, aren't we all?

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