Tuesday, July 31

St. Ignatius of Loyola for Kids - July 31

From the Loyola Kids' Book of Saints by Amy Welborn.



Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.
But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.
Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.
And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”
Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.
While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.
When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!
That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?
saints

Monday, July 30

Brideshead Revisted

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

-Amy Welborn

amy welborn





Note:This is another of those 540-word Liguorian pieces. Obviously, lots more could and should be said. Someday I'll do something a bit longer for OSV. For more Waugh information, see the links at the end.
Very few authors made the Modern Library's 1998 "100 Best Novels of All Time" more than twice: James Joyce, William Faulkner, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and -- Evelyn Waugh.
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) is usually remembered for brutally satirical novels that lay bare subjects as diverse as the shallow, rootless generation of wealthy young people drifting through English society between the two world wars (most notably in Vile Bodies); the American funeral industry, portrayed in The Loved One,; and journalism, featured in Scoop and A Handful of Dust,both featured on the "100 Best" list.
In Waugh's third title on the Modern Library list, Brideshead Revisited,all of his considerable literary gifts are on display: his satirical eye, a superb prose style, perfect dialogue. In addition, Brideshead reveals another element of Waugh's vision: his
Catholic faith, which he embraced as a convert in 1930.
Brideshead Revisited is the story of narrator Charles Ryder's long and complicated relationship with the Marchmains, and aristocratic Roman Catholic family. Their home, Brideshead, a sprawling estate built over centuries in a riot of styles, stands at the center of the tale. It symbolizes not only the diverse, conflicted family it houses, but also the family's Catholicism and their varied of ways of living it out.
While a student at Oxford, Charles meets Sebastian, the family's youngest son. Charles' intense friendship with Sebastian, an eccentric, charming, but obviously deeply pained yougn man, opens Charles' eyes to a world infinitely mroe itneresting and stimulating than anything his own family had ever offered.
Meeting Sebastian's family affects Charles even further. The time he spends at Brideshead helps him discern his vocation as an architectural artist, and his continuing exposure to the Marchmains' faith begins to challenge his closely held secular view of life.
But this faith turns out to be as complicated as the varied responses of the Marchmains to their Chruch and their God. Lad Marchmain's piety will not allow her to divorce her husband, even though Lord Marchmain never returned from the Continent after World War I, remaining in Italy, living with a mistress. Younger sister Cordelia's enthusiastic religiosity gifts her with an expansive, loving heart,unconstrained even toward her elder sister Julia, who marries a divorced man outside the Church.
Charles' increased intimacy with the Marchmains in turns affects the friendship between the two young men. There is something about his family that drives Sebastian to despair and a need to flee, from himself more than anything else. And flee Sebastian does -- into alcoholism and then to North Africa, where he spends the rest of his life.
But the intimacy Charles had with one member of the Marchmains is continued with another. Years after his initial acquaintance with the family, the married Charles begins an affair with Julia. It's in the context of this affair of Lord Marchmain's return to Brideshead to die that the crucial issues of the novel and of life itself are brought to painful climax. We may run from God with all our strength, it seems, but in the end, God patiently waits nonethless.
Amy Welborn
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Sunday, July 29

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor photo


Here's a link to an article I wrote about my literary hero years ago. 

An excerpt:



You could be forgiven if you begin to suspect at some point during your search for Flannery O’Connor’s grave that, at an incautious moment, you have somehow slipped right into the middle of a Flannery O’Connor story. 

After all, so far in this small town of Milledgeville, Georgia, about 35 miles east of Macon, you have passed a youth prison and a state mental hospital, homes to hundreds of troubled, unusual characters. You are surrounded by the plain fact of the south, from the ghostly, castle-like remains of the first state capital to the sight of an African-American UPS man emerging from the “Strictly Southern Heritage Gallery and Gift Shop,” a downtown business packed with Confederate memorabilia, including flags and bikinis made from flags. The store, a sign notes, is closed "Sundays and Southern holidays."

And when you finally reach it – kindly hauled in the caretaker’s rundown pickup truck on the suffocating summer day from one end of the cemetery, where you thought she might be, to the other end, where she is – you stand there, next to a stranger. "They still don’t want to claim her, do they," he comments wryly, reflecting on the complete lack of any directions to the grave of one of the 20th century’s most revered and intensely discussed writers, laid ot rest here 35 years ago last August. You nod in agreement and wonder who placed the broken plastic olive-colored Madonna above the name on the flat marble slab. And if you are finally conscious now of your place in the O’Connor universe, you will know to brace yourself; for any moment, grace may strike –and, no question, it will hurt.  - Amy Welborn

Saturday, July 28

Diary of a Country Priest

Note:This piece is one of a series on great Catholic fiction writers that I penned for Ligourian Magazine several years ago. My word count limit was - get this - 540 words. Unbelievable. Well, it was good money for the number of words,I'll say that. So if you're annoyed by the brevity of this piece, at least you know why it's so short now. Of course, there is much more to say on this book, as well as the very interesting life of Bernanos himself.

In the late 19th and early 20th century a philosophical perspective called positivism ruled the intellectual climate in France. Positivists like Emile Durkheim and Auguste Comte claimed that all one can know about human life is what can be observed and that the laws of behavior and society discerned from these observations should be used to organize human life.
Into this scientifically-based and utterly materialistic mileu stepped, one by one over the decades before and just after the First World War, a group of writers who formed what we now call the French Catholic Literary Revival. Francois Mauriac, Charles Peguy, Julien Green and Leon Bloy rejected positivism and reclaimed a vision of human beings essentially defined, not by scientific law, but rather by our relation to God and struggle with evil. One of the finest writers of this group was George Bernanos, author of Diary of a Country Priest.

Diary of a Country Priest, first published in 1936, is just what the title suggests: the fictional journal of a young curate in rural France. The premise may seem simple, but in Bernanos’ hands it emerges as a rich work in which the reader encounters the injustices of French society, the emptiness of an intellectual system that rejects God, the failure of the Church to fully embody Christ’s love for the poor, and above all, the power of a life dedicated to God.

The young priest whose life absorbs us in this novel has come from a background of poverty through seminary into this, his first parish experience, to which he is utterly dedicated. Besides conducting his sacramental duties, he commits himself to visit every family in his parish. He teaches catechism classes and attempts to organize a club for young men. He visits the sick, buries the dead, lives at a substistence level and is bedeviled by a serious illness that is ultimately diagnosed as stomach cancer, but not before it is mistaken for alchoholism by gossipy villagers.

Aside from these daily ministrations and struggles, Bernanos offers us his view of French church and society through the conversations the priest has with a variety of people, ranging from the atheist physician Delbende, the troubled child Seraphita who spreads rumors about the young priest at every opportunity, the more relaxed older priest de Torcy and most powerfully the deeply wounded local countess, who harbors bitter anger at God for death of her son.

What makes Diary of a Country Priest a novel that is read just as much for its spiritual value as well as its literary quality lies in the complex, realistic life of faith Bernanos constructs for his main character, a faith which stumbles in darkness at times, but is on the whole fervent, selfless and Christlike, even in the hostile reactions it sometimes evokes.



The final touch that heightens the personal drama in the priest’s soul is that he believes himself, if not a total failure, at the very least a terribly poor instrument of God’s grace. But what the reader discerns through the unaffected words is that even as he cannot see it himself, the effect of his witness and suffering on others is profound and powerfully embodies the words he speaks on his own deathbed: “Grace is everywhere…”

Amy Welborn

Friday, July 27

Amy Welborn Interview

Amy Welborn has an interview in America Magazine about grieving and loss:

What are you some graces you’ve received in your grieving?

The grace of prayer. That is, others praying for me. I can’t tell you how many messages I received in the weeks and months following Mike’s death about people praying for him and for us. Masses were said, Communions received, rosaries prayed. When we returned from his funeral, there was a message on my voicemail from an acquaintance. She had just given birth and had offered her labor up for Mike’s soul and for us. The kindness and generosity I encountered in that time was breathtaking.
And, honestly, I think it worked. Who knows how prayer “works?” It’s a question even the most brilliant spiritual writers find difficult to answer. All I can say is that at this point, we have come through this experience, and everyone seems healthy and at peace, and have been for a long time. I attribute it to the generous, thoughtful and even sacrificial prayers that hundreds of people offered. It taught me that whenever I am asked to pray for someone, whenever I feel a nudge to do so regarding a difficult situation I’ve heard about—just stop what I’m doing…and pray.



"amy welborn"

Thursday, July 26

Catholic Teens and Jesus

Prove It: Jesus

amy welbornI’ve Always Wondered….
  1. …Is What the Gospels Say About Jesus True?
  2. …What Are the Basic Facts About Jesus?
  3. …What Did Jesus Really Teach?
  4. …Did Jesus Really Perform Miracles?
  5. …Why Was Jesus Executed?
  6. …Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?
  7. …When Is Jesus Going to Come Again?
  8. …Was Jesus Really God?
  9. …How Could Jesus Be Both God and Human?
  10. …Why Did Jesus Come at All, and What Does It Mean for Me Today?
Excerpt from Prove It: Jesus

A resource for teen catechesis and Catholic youth ministry

Wednesday, July 25

Catholic High School Religion Textbook

This series of apologetics works for Catholic teens and young adults encompasses the diverse questions Catholic teens have in their own hearts about faith, and those they are asked by others.

Prove It: God I Don't Believe in God Because....
amy welborn
  • ...No One Can Prove He Exists
  • ...Science Shows That the Universe Exists Without a God
  • ...People Could Have Just Made the Stuff in the Bible up
  • ...It’s So Difficult to Find Him
  • ...People Have So Many Different Ideas About Him
  • ...There are So Many Hypocrites in Churches
  • ...People Do Such Horrible Things in the Name of Religion
  • ...It’s What I Believe and I Don’t Need Anyone Else to Tell Me What to Believe!
  • ...I Want to Be Free to Be Myself
  • ...I Don’t Need Him
  • ...Innocent People Suffer

More information here.

Prove It Books by Amy Welborn

Tuesday, July 24

St. Charbel - July 24

July 21: Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church
July 22: Mary Magdalene
July 23: Bridget of Sweden
July 24: Charbel Maklhouf
July 25: James, Apostle
Using the saints to teach religion...you can't beat it. 


The Loyola Kids' Book of Saints

 Over 40 saints' lives,written at a middle-school reading level.

I. Saints are People Who Love Children St. Nicholas,St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla
  Amy WelbornSaints Are People Who Love Their Families St. Monica,St. Cyril and St. Methodius, St. Therese of Lisieux,Blessed Frederic Ozanam,

Saints Are People Who Surprise OthersSt. Simeon Stylites,St. Celestine V,St. Joan of Arc,St. Catherine of Siena

Saints Are People Who Create St. Hildegard of Bingen,Blessed Fra Angelico,St. John of the Cross,Blessed Miguel Pro

Saints Are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray St. Benedict,St. Dominic de Guzman,St. Teresa of Avila,St. Louis de Monfort

Saints Are People Who See Beyond the Everyday St. Juan Diego, St. Frances of Rome, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Padre Pio

Saints Are People Who Travel From Home St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Solano, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

Saints Are People Who Are Strong Leaders St. Helena, St. Leo the Great, St. Wenceslaus, St. John Neumann

Saints Are People Who Tell The Truth St. Polycarp, St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, Blessed Titus Brandsma

Saints Are People Who Help Us Understand God St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Patrick, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Edith Stein

Saints Are People Who Change Their Lives for God St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Camillus de Lellis, St. Katharine Drexel

Saints Are People Who Are Brave St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, St. George, St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Isaac Jogues, The Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne, St. Maximilian Kolbe

Saints Are People Who Help the Poor and Sick St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Martin de Porres, Blessed Joseph de Veuster

Saints Are People Who Help In Ordinary Ways St. Christopher, St. Blaise, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bernard of Montjoux

Saints Are People Who Come From All Over the World Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Paul Miki, Blessed Peter To Rot, Blessed Maria Clementine Anuarite Nengapeta

Buy this at Aquinas and More Catholic Goods
Barnes and Noble
Amazon

Monday, July 23

St. Bridget of Sweden - July 23

July 21: Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church
July 22: Mary Magdalene
July 23: Bridget of Sweden
July 24: Charbel Maklhouf
July 25: James, Apostle
Using the saints to teach religion...you can't beat it. 


The Loyola Kids' Book of Saints
 by Amy Welborn
 Over 40 saints' lives,written at a middle-school reading level.

I. Saints are People Who Love Children St. Nicholas,St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla
  Amy WelbornSaints Are People Who Love Their Families St. Monica,St. Cyril and St. Methodius, St. Therese of Lisieux,Blessed Frederic Ozanam,

Saints Are People Who Surprise OthersSt. Simeon Stylites,St. Celestine V,St. Joan of Arc,St. Catherine of Siena

Saints Are People Who Create St. Hildegard of Bingen,Blessed Fra Angelico,St. John of the Cross,Blessed Miguel Pro

Saints Are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray St. Benedict,St. Dominic de Guzman,St. Teresa of Avila,St. Louis de Monfort

Saints Are People Who See Beyond the Everyday St. Juan Diego, St. Frances of Rome, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Padre Pio

Saints Are People Who Travel From Home St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Solano, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

Saints Are People Who Are Strong Leaders St. Helena, St. Leo the Great, St. Wenceslaus, St. John Neumann

Saints Are People Who Tell The Truth St. Polycarp, St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, Blessed Titus Brandsma

Saints Are People Who Help Us Understand God St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Patrick, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Edith Stein

Saints Are People Who Change Their Lives for God St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Camillus de Lellis, St. Katharine Drexel

Saints Are People Who Are Brave St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, St. George, St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Isaac Jogues, The Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne, St. Maximilian Kolbe

Saints Are People Who Help the Poor and Sick St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Martin de Porres, Blessed Joseph de Veuster

Saints Are People Who Help In Ordinary Ways St. Christopher, St. Blaise, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bernard of Montjoux

Saints Are People Who Come From All Over the World Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Paul Miki, Blessed Peter To Rot, Blessed Maria Clementine Anuarite Nengapeta

Buy this at Aquinas and More Catholic Goods
Barnes and Noble
Amazon



Sunday, July 22

Mary Magdalene - July 22


IgnatiusInsight.com: What do we know about Mary Magdalene and what are our sources for our knowledge of her?
Welborn: Our primary sources for knowledge of Mary Magdalene are in the Gospels. From them, in Luke 8, we learn that Mary of Magdala (a small town on the Sea of Galilee) had been exorcised of seven demons by Jesus, and left everything behind in gratitude to follow him, along with some other women, and provide for the disciples' needs. This could be doing domestic work for them, providing funds to support the ministry, or both.
We then see Mary, in every gospel, at the Cross, then as the first to discover the Empty Tomb.
There is an enormous amount of legendary material about Mary Magdalene in both West and East. It's fascinating and rich. One of the primary strains in the West has her traveling to Provence (an idea picked up by the radical feminist author of The Woman With the Alabaster Jar, Margaret Starbird, and then turned for her own ends) and, along with Martha and Lazarus, evangelizing the area; there is even some medieval art that depicts Mary preaching and baptizing. She was a favorite subject for medieval mystery plays and, of course, art.
But what we know for sure about her is contained in the Gospels.

Saturday, July 21

The truth about Mary Magdalene



Ironically, though, much of this interest in this great Christian saint is being fueled by texts other than the Christian Scriptures. The popular websites devoted to Mary Magdalene refer to her as “The Woman Who Knew All” (www.magdalene.org). One of the more popular treatments of Mary Magdalene, The Woman with theAlabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail, by Margaret Starbird, emphasizes Mary as “Bride and Beloved” of Jesus. And, of course, there’s The Da Vinci Code, the mega-selling novel that has brought these depictions of Mary Magdalene to a mass audience. Brown’s novel brings it all together in one convenient package: Mary Magdalene was the spouse of Jesus, bore his child, and was the person he really wanted to lead his movement. This movement, of course, was about nothing the New Testament suggests it is, but was rather a wisdom movement dedicated to help humanity reunite the masculine and feminine principles of reality.

Over the past twenty years, interest in Mary Magdalene has exploded. Books, websites, seminars, and celebrations of her feast day on July 22 have multiplied, as many in the West, particularly women, look to her for inspiration.
So in this context, Mary Magdalene was the “real” Holy Grail, since she was the vessel that carried Jesus’ child and his teaching. But she’s more: she’s a “goddess” — a mythical figure through whom the divine can be encountered.
It’s all very confusing. It’s also ironic, given the constant modern criticism that the claims of traditional Christianity are suspect because they can’t be “proven,” or because the texts upon which its claims are based are too ancient to be trusted. The modern devotion that so many seem to have to this figure of Mary is actually based, in part, on far less trustworthy sources and has no relation to the Mary we meet in Scripture.
So where does it start? Of course, much of this revisioning is rooted completely in the present, in a mishmash of conspiracy theories, false history, and wishful thinking that we will address in the last chapter. But the truth is that Mary Magdalene wouldn’t be the subject of interest from many of her contemporary fans outside traditional Christianity if it weren’t for some other ancient texts: the writings produced by Gnostic Christian heresies.

Secret Knowledge

Here’s the short version. From about the second through the fifth centuries, a movement that we now call “Gnosticism” was popular in many areas around the Mediterranean basin. “Gnosticism” is a word derived from the Greek word gnosis, which means“knowledge.” Although there were various Gnostic teachers and movements over the centuries, most of them shared a few common characteristics, succinctly described by Father Richard Hogan in his book Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present (Our Sunday Visitor, 2001):
“Gnostics claimed a special knowledge,a gnosis. Included in this special gnosis was an understanding that there was God Who created the spiritual world and a lesser anti-god who was responsible for the material (evil) world. Gnosticism represents a belief in dualism.There is a good and an evil. Evil is material and physical. Good is spiritual and divine.
“According to the Gnostics, a disaster at the beginning of the world had imprisoned a divine ‘spark’ in human beings, i.e., in the evil world of material Creation.This divine element had lost the memory of heaven, its true home. Salvation consisted in knowing that this ‘spark’ existed and liberating it from the human body.” (Hogan, p. 43)

The creation myths of Gnosticism that describe this imprisonment are quite complex and intricate. Just as intricate were the Gnostic visions of what salvation was about. The emphasis, naturally, was on knowledge, rather than faith, life, or love. The way to salvation involved knowing the truth about human origins and then knowing the way to progress, both in this life and the next, through the various layers of reality that were imprisoning that sacred spark.
Early Gnosticism, which predates Christianity, drew from many sources, including Platonic philosophy and Egyptian mythology. Christian Gnosticism used the Gospels and other Christian traditions, eliminating elements that were not consistent with Gnostic thinking. So, for example, Gnostic Christian teachers taught that Jesus was not really human — since the material world is evil. Valentinus, who lived around the year 150 in Rome, taught an extraordinarily complex story of Jesus being the product of the yearnings of Sophia — the personification of wisdom. Historian David Christie-Murray describes it in the following way:
“Christ,who brings the revelation of gnosis (self-consciousness), clothed himself with Jesus at baptism and saves all spiritual mankind through his resurrection,but had only a spiritual body. Men can now become aware of their spiritual selves through him and return to their heavenly origin. When every spiritual being has received gnosis and becomes aware of the divinity within himself, the world-process will end. Christ and Sophia, after waiting at the entrance of the Pleroma [the center of spir-itual, divine life] for spiritual Man, will enter the bridal chamber to achieve their union,followed by the Gnostics and their higher selves, their guardian angels.” (A History of Heresy[Oxford UniversityPress, 1989], p. 29)
This is just one example, but Gnostic Christianity is really simply a variation on this theme: Creation is evil. Jesus was not fully human. He did not suffer or die. Redemption cannot, of course, be achieved through such a means, for it involves the material body, which is sinful anyway. Salvation is not available to all, but only those with special knowledge. This way of thinking infiltrated many other systems of the time, including Christianity.
Those who tried to merge Gnostic thinking with Christianity produced writings, some of which survive, mostly in the context of quotations in the works of Christian writers arguing against them. In the late nineteenth century, some Gnostic Christian texts, not seen before, were discovered, and even more in the mid-twentieth century. The discovery of these texts caused a stir among some who believed that, more than giving an insight into a Christian heresy, these texts opened a world to what they believed could be the real story of Christianity that was concealed by orthodox Christian leaders.
Consequently, over the past century or so, these Gnostic texts have been rediscovered and reinterpreted. Some have taken their existence as proof that there was a whole other, and long-hidden, response to Jesus’ ministry, one with roots as ancient as those we see in the Gospels, and just as legitimate. The modern re-visioning of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ bride, as the special recipient of his wisdom, and as the foundress of an alternative mode of Christianity owes much to the fascination with these Gnostic writings.
Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your point of view — what we actually know of the history of early Christianity just can’t back up these exalted claims for Mary Magdalene or even of any substantive link between Jesus’ ministry and Gnostic Christianity and Gnostic writings.
The simplest way to put it is this: Gnostic Christian texts tell us a lot about Gnostic Christian heresies in the second through the fifth centuries. They tell us nothing about the historical figures of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, or the origins of Christianity in the first century.
So what follows is that these Gnostic texts tell us nothing substantive about the real Mary Magdalene, either, and that all those who use them in that way are engaging in, at best, misguided efforts, and, at worst, deceitful misuses of historical materials.
But it continues, nonetheless, and for a reason: this technique of suggesting that the Gnostic Christian texts reveal secret truths about early Christianity and who Jesus “really” was and what he “really” taught serves to undercut not only the New Testament but also the Church that produced it and is formed by it.
As I’ve done talk radio shows discussing this matter, I’ve heard it again and again: “All of these works were written so long after the events they describe — they’re all equally dependable and undependable. What version of Jesus you choose doesn’t matter, for there’s no way to know the truth, anyway.”
That’s just not true. Early Christianity was an enormously complex movement, about which we cannot claim to know everything.
But we do know — and any serious scholar will affirm — that Jesus did not teach Gnostic platitudes and did not marry Mary Magdalene, who then embarked on a life of teaching Gnostic platitudes of her own and emanating divine energy.
It just didn’t happen.
But because these Gnostic texts are so important in so many contemporary treatments of Mary Magdalene, we definitely need to look at them and understand what they’re really about.

Know Nothing


It’s somewhat challenging to describe Gnosticism because it wasn’t an organized movement, a religion, or even a homogeneous philosophical school. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to compare it to the self-help movement of our day. For some reason, in the last part of the twentieth century, this notion of the importance of self-esteem took hold in our culture and infiltrated almost every aspect of life, including religion.Two hundred years ago, Christian thinkers and preachers of any denomination would have been appalled at the suggestion that a goal of Christian faith is to help the believer feel better about herself or help her overcome insecurities and self-doubts. On the contrary, despite their differences, Chris-tians and Protestants alike would have described the goal of the Christian life as believing rightly and shaping your life in a way that meet’s God’s standards and spares one an eternity in hell.
Gnosticism was, of course, more complex and cosmic than this. But it’s a decent example to start with, for, like the self-esteem movement, Gnosticism wasn’t confined to groups that identified themselves explicitly as “Gnostic” and separate from other religions. It infiltrated and impacted almost everything it rubbed against, including Judaism and Christianity.
You can see the problems. Gnosticism wasn’t a minor movement. In most major cities of the Roman Empire during these centuries, Gnosticism and even Gnostic Christianity thrived. Most of our knowledge of Gnostic Christianity comes from its Christian opponents, great theologians like St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Clement of Alexandria, who all wrote against Valentinus, for exam-ple, and quoted copiously from his writings in doing so.
But independent copies of some Gnostic Christian texts do exist, and it’s these texts that form the basis of the modern, non-Christian devotion to Mary Magdalene.

Ancient Words


In the nineteenth century, several discoveries broadened scholarly comprehension, and eventually popular understanding, of Gnosticism. An ancient work of the Christian Hippolytus, Refutationof All Heresies, lost for centuries, was discovered in 1842 in a Greek monastery. This work, of course, quoted many heretics, including Gnostics. More important to many was the rediscovery (in the British Museum) and then translation of Pistis Sophia (into English in 1896), a probably third-century work in which Mary Mag-dalene — and Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the way — figure prominently in dialogue with Christ. Snippets of other Gnostic texts existed, but the real revolution in this area came in 1945 with the discovery in Egypt of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Coptic texts, bound in leather, and dating from the late fourth and early fifth centuries, that included many Gnostic works (as well as a partial copy of Plato’s Republic). Hidden in jars and stored in caves, it is thought that the library belonged to a Gnostic Christian monastery.

The Nag Hammadi collection contains fifty texts in thirteen codices (a form of book), three of which — the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Dialogue of the Savior — are of interest to those intrigued with Mary Magdalene. Other Gnostic texts believed to mention Mary Magdalene, and found outside the Nag Hammadi library, are the Gospel of Mary and the Pistis Sophia. These texts emerged from different periods and reflect different strands of Gnosticism. All are discussions between Jesus and various other figures, mostly about the nature of the soul, the after-life, and the end of time. Let’s take a brief look at how each of them treats the figure called “Mary.”

Pistis Sophia (third century)


This work consists of extensive dialogues between Jesus, who has been on earth teaching for eleven years since the Crucifixion, and others, including women. Mary, his mother, takes an enormous role, and several times a “Mary,” not explicitly identified as either his mother or anyone else, including Mary of Magdala, is mentioned and praised for her understanding, and is even the subject of envy by other disciples.

The Gospel of Philip (third century)


This work is made up of dialogues and sayings of Jesus in conversation with his disciples. It mentions the Magdalene, “who was called his companion,” along with “Mary his mother and her sister,” as three who “always walked with the Lord.” The passage, quite provocative to some, ends with the sentence, “His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”
This work also contains the passage describing Jesus as kissing Mary Magdalene often and the rest of the disciples disapproving,asking, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” Jesus’ answer is obscure, but implies that she is more enlightened than they are. Those who see this kiss bestowed by Jesus as an expression of a unique companionate relationship are missing the point in a big way. In Gnosticism, the kiss is symbolic. As one scholar points out: “The Logos lives in those whom he has kissed, hence the disciples’ jealousy, for they are not yet worthy of the kiss” (Jorunn Jacob-sen Buckley, quoted in The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages, by Katherine Ludwig Jansen [Princeton University Press, 2000], p. 27).

The Gospel of Thomas (third century)


This, the most well-known of all the Gnostic writings, is a collection of sayings, many of which are also found in the canonical Gospels, but with a heavy dose of the androgynous themes that contemporary readers find so appealing. A “Mary” is mentioned once (the other female character is a “Salome”), as Peter asks Jesus to make her leave. Jesus, in a passage that is not often quoted by modern fans of this gospel, says, “I myself will lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Gospel of Mary (third century)


This is another dialogue, this time beginning with Jesus but ending with a “Mary,” who is identified as the one Jesus loved “more than the rest of the women” and as the primary teacher, in a rather subtle competition, it seems, with Peter.


For more, read Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies 

Friday, July 20

The Truth About Mary Magdalene

From Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies by Amy Welborn. 


Chapter 2:
‘WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?’
Luke is the only evangelist to mention Mary Magdalene before the Passion narratives, but once those events are set in motion, Mary is a constant presence in all of the Gospels, without exception. For the first few centuries of Christian life, it is her role in these narratives that inspired the most interest and produced the earliest ways of describing Mary Magdalene: “Myrrh-bearer” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”

At the Cross

In both Matthew (27:55) and Mark (15:40-41), Mary Magdalene is named first in the list of women watching Jesus’ execution.
Luke doesn’t name the women at the cross, but he does identify them as those who had “followed him from Galilee.” John also mentions her presence (19:25), but his account highlights the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ words commending her to John’s care.
After Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, Mary and the other women are still there. Matthew (27:61) and Mark (15:47) both specifically mention her as seeing where Jesus’ body was laid, and Luke again refers to the “women . . . from Galilee” (23:55), whose identity we are expected to understand from Luke’s early mention of their names in chapter 8.
Finally, as the Sabbath passes and the first day of the week dawns, the women still remain, and the Twelve are still nowhere in sight. Matthew describes Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not the mother of Jesus, but probably the Mary, mother of James and Joseph, whom he had mentioned in 27:56) coming to “see” the tomb. Mark and Luke get more specific, saying that the women have come to anoint Jesus’ body. John, interestingly enough, in chapter 20, ignores any other women, and focuses on Mary Magdalene. She comes to see the tomb, finds the stone moved and the tomb empty, and runs to tell Peter.
At least one early critic of Christianity seized on Mary Magdalene’s witness as discrediting. As quoted by the Christian writer Origen,the second-century philosopher Celsus called her a “half-frantic woman” (Contra Celsus, Book II: 59), thereby calling into doubt the truth of her testimony of the empty tomb.
What is striking about John’s account is that even though Peter and others do indeed run to the tomb at Mary’s news and see it empty, that is all they see. They return, and after they have gone away, Mary remains, alone at the tomb, weeping. It is at this point that, finally, the risen Jesus appears.
Of course, Jesus appears to Mary and other women in the Synoptic Gospels as well. In Matthew (chapter 28), an angel first gives them the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women then depart to tell the Twelve, and on the way they meet Jesus, they worship him, and he instructs them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.
In Mark (chapter 16), they meet the angel first as well, and receive the same message as Matthew describes, and are, unlike the joy described by Matthew, “afraid.” (Fear and lack of understanding on the part of disciples is a strong theme in Mark’s Gospel, by the way.)
Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen
Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen Jesus described. Manuscripts of a century later do contain the rest of the Gospel as we know it, continuing the story, emphasizing Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, and identifying her as the one from whom he had exorcised seven demons. She sees him, she reports to the others, and they don’t believe it. Jesus then appears to “two of them” (perhaps an allusion to the encounter on the road to Emmaus we read about in Luke 24) who then, again, report the news to the Twelve who, again, do not believe it. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are at table, and as is normal in the Gospel of Mark, their faithlessness is remarked upon.
Some modern scholars suggest that Mark 16:8 is the “real” ending of this Gospel, which would mean that it contains no Resurrection account. Others, including the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a preeminent scholar of the New Testament, argue that when one looks at Mark as a whole, it is obviously building up to the Resurrection,including prophecies from Jesus himself. Wright theorizes that the original ending was perhaps lost (the ends of scrolls were particularly susceptible to damage), and that what we have now is an attempt by a later editor to patch up that lost ending, but not in a way inconsistent with Mark’s intentions.
The theme of disbelief also runs through Luke. Interestingly enough, this Gospel doesn’t recount an encounter between the women (who are finally again specifically identified) and Jesus, but only the appearance of “two men” in “dazzling apparel,” who remind them of Jesus’ prophecies of his death and resurrection. The women, no longer afraid, go to the apostles, who, of course, dismiss their tale as idle chatter.
What’s clear in these Synoptic Gospels is, first, the strong sense of historical truth about the accounts. Rationalist skeptics would like to dismiss the Resurrection as a fabrication, but if it is, then the storytellers did a terrible job, didn’t they?
After all, if you were creating a myth that would be the origins of your new religion, would you write something in which the central characters — the first leaders of this same religion — were so filled with fear and doubt that they appeared weak?

If you were making up the story of the Resurrection from scratch, you would, as a person living in the first century, in the Roman Empire, and presumably as a Jew, only be able to think about this resurrection business in the terms and concepts available to you. And, as N. T. Wright has so ably demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003), even the first-century Jewish world, which did believe in a resurrection of the body, saw it in completely different terms — that it would eventually happen to everyone, at once, at the end of time (Wright, pp. 200-206).
And in general, when you read over the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, you are immersed in an account in which people are afraid, confused, in awe, and eventually profoundly overjoyed. There is a veil drawn over the core event — the Resurrection itself is never described because, of course, none of the witnesses saw it.
They saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. A clever fabricator and mythmaker would not have woven his account with such nuance, and would probably have offered a direct account of the event itself, perhaps even with a clear explanation of what it all meant. But that’s not what we read, and somehow, ironically, all of the confusion and human frailty is powerful evidence for the truth of the account.
Most importantly for us, a first-century mythmaker would not have featured women as the initial witnesses of these formative events. It is inaccurate to say that first-century Jews did not accept women as reliable witnesses at all. There was, of course, no unified system of law within Judaism, and what was practiced was dependent upon which rabbi’s interpretation of the Law was used. Some rabbis did, indeed, hold the opinion that women were not reliable witnesses, but others disagreed and counted a woman’s witness equal to a man’s.
However, the fact that a woman’s reliability as a witness was disputed, unclear, and not consistently accepted, would, it seems, discourage a fabricator from using women as his source of information that the tomb was indeed empty. It certainly wouldn’t be the first choice to come to mind if your aim was to present a story that was easily credible, would it?
“[And] so that the apostles [the women] did not doubt the angels,Christ himself appeared to them,so that the women are Christ’s apostles and compensate through their obedience for the sin of the first Eve. . . . Eve has become apostle. . . . So that the women did not appear liars but bringers of truth, Christ appeared to the [male] apostles and said to them: It is truly I who appeared to these women and who desired to send them to you as apostles.” (Hippolytus, third century, quoted in Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, by Susan Haskins [Berkley, 1997], pp. 62-63)
496px-noli_me_tangere_-_poussin_-_museo_del_prado

Noli Me Tangere

John’s account of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to Mary in chapter 20 adds more detail than the Synoptics. She comes to the tomb while it is still dark — recall how John’s Gospel begins, with the wonderful hymn describing the Word bringing light into the darkness — and she sees that it is empty, and then runs to get the disciples. Peter and another disciple come to the tomb, see it for themselves, but leave, since, as John says, they didn’t yet understand “the scripture” — perhaps the Hebrew Scriptures as they would be later understood by Christians.

Mary stays, though, weeping ( John 20:11). She peers into the tomb (the level of detail in this account is fascinating) and sees two “angels in white” who ask her why she is crying. She says, sadly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” ( John 20:13). She then turns and sees another figure; we are told it’s Jesus, but she doesn’t know until he speaks her name ( John 20:16)
One of the more well-known moments in this account comes in John 20:17, when Jesus says to Mary, in the famous Latin rendering of the words, “Noli me tangere,” which has commonly been translated, “Do not touch me.”This, however, is not the most accurate translation — either in Latin or English — of the Greek, which really means something like, “Do not cling to me” or “Do not retain me.”
So, no, Jesus is not engaging in misogynistic behavior here. Nor is he (as some modern commentators suggest) alluding to a supposed former intimate relationship between him and Mary. This is not about touching; it is about understanding who Jesus is and what his mission is. After all, Thomas is invited to touch the wounds of Jesus in John 20:27. No, Jesus tells Mary to let go of him, to look beyond the moment, to the future. After all, his very next words direct her to go to the apostles and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” ( John 20:17). Knowing Jesus for who he is, we cannot stand still. We have to move, get out, and share the marvelous news that in Jesus the barriers between humanity and God are dissolved.
Which, of course, Mary Magdalene does. All of the evangelists agree that she was the first to announce this Good News to the apostles, who, more often than not, responded with skepticism.
But such is the way it has always been. God always chooses the least in the world’s eyes, the unexpected and the despised, to do his most important work. To see this event only through the prism of politics, and to be inspired by it to think only about gender roles and such, is to be willfully blinded to the greater reality: Jesus lives, Jesus saves, and as we are touched by this truth, we are, at the same time, called to go out and share it.

Mary of the Bible


Mary Magdalene’s future in Christian spirituality and iconography is rich, evocative, and even confusing, as we’ll see in subsequent chapters. But it all begins here, with powerful simplicity and themes that will resonate through the centuries.

Mary Magdalene, healed of possession, responds to Jesus with a life of faithful discipleship. As spiritual writers and theologians will point out, she’s like the Bride in the Song of Songs. She’s like the Church itself, called by Christ out of bondage to the evils that pervade our world, giving ourselves over to him in gratitude, waiting with hope by the tomb, even when all seems lost, and rewarded, in a small, grace-filled moment, when, in the midst of darkness, we hear him call our name.

Questions for Reflection
  1. What does Mary’s desire to hold on to Jesus symbolize to you? How do you experience this in your own life?
  2. Why is Mary referred to as “Apostle to the Apostle
  3. What can Mary’s fidelity teach you about your own relation-ship to Jesus?


De-Coding Mary Magdalene by Amy Welborn 

Thursday, July 19

The Truth About Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene's feast is July 22. Over the next several days, enjoy these excerpts from Amy Welborn's De-Coding Mary Magdalene. 

Feel free to use this in any way you like - even copy the pdf to use in a parish study or discussion group in the upcoming year.  There are discussion/reflection questions at the end of each chapter. So.

Chapter 1:
No, the Gospels are not straight history or biography in the contemporary sense. They are testaments of faith. But they are testaments of faith rooted in what really happened. The evangelists, and by extension, the early Christians, were not about making up stories for which they would later, oddly, give their lives. They were not cleverly presenting their inner psychological transformations in the form of concrete stories. They were witnesses to the amazing action of God in history, through Jesus. amy-welborn-book3They are testimonies of faith, yes, but faith rooted in the realities of God’s movement in the world.
The evidence seems, at first glance, frustratingly slim: an introduction in Luke, and then Mary’s presence at the cross and at the empty tomb mentioned in all four amy-welborn-book2Gospels. Not much to go on, it seems.
Before the legends, myths, and speculation, and even before the best-selling novels, there was something else: the Gospels.
The figure of Mary Magdalene has inspired a wealth of art, devotion, and charitable works throughout Christian history, but if we want to really understand her, we have to open the Gospels, because all we really know for sure is right there.
But in the context, the situation isn’t as bad as it appears. After all, no one besides Jesus is described in any detail in the Gospels, and even the portrait of Jesus, as evocative as it is, omits details that we moderns are programmed to think are important. Perhaps, given the context, the Gospels tell us more about Mary Magdalene than we think.

Trustworthy?

Before we actually meet the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves of exactly what the Gospels are and how to read them.
The word “Gospel” means, of course, “good news,” or evangel in Greek, which is why we call the writers of the Gospels evangelists. The four Gospels in the New Testament have been accepted as the most authoritative and accurate writings on Jesus’ life since the early second century. Even today, scholars who study early  Christianity, whether they are believers or not, know that when studying Jesus and the early Christian movement, the Gospels and other New Testament writings are the place to begin.
Sometimes in my speaking on this issue, I have fielded questions about the reliability of the Gospels. A questioner will say something like, “Well, they were written so long after the events, how can we trust them to tell the truth?”
In addition, even those of us who have received some sort of religious education might have been taught, implicitly, to be skeptical of the Gospels. We’re reminded, right off, that the Gospels are not history or biography, and that they tell us far more about the community that produced them than about Jesus himself.
In short, all of this gets distilled into the conviction that when it comes to early Christianity, all documents and texts are of equal value in telling us about Jesus. You can’t pick the best according to historical reliability, so you pick the one with the “story” that means the most to you. So, if the Gospel of Mark displeases you, you can go ahead and create your Jesus from what you read in the Gospelof Philip or the Pistis Sophia.
Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. As we will see in more detail when we get to the Gnostic writings, there is simply no comparison between the four canonical Gospels and other writ-ings. The canonical Gospels were not written that distant from the events described — forty or fifty years — and were written in an oral culture that took great care to preserve what it heard with care; the community’s history depended on it. When you actually read the Gospels, you see comments here and there from the evangel-ists themselves about what they were trying to do, and part of that involved, according to their own admission, being as accurate as possible (see Luke 1:1-4, for example).
It’s also good to listen to modern Gospel critics carefully. More often than not, those who disdain the Gospels are quick to claim some other text as “gospel,” as the source of truth. Their choice of what to believe usually has far less to do with historical reliability than it does with other factors.
So, no, not all historical texts are equally reliable. When it comes to Jesus and the events of the mid-first century, the canonical Gospels are really the only place to begin.
Now, on to Mary Magdalene.

Magdala

Luke introduces us to Mary Magdalene in chapter 8 of his Gospel:

“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preach-ing and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,and Joanna,the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:1-3)
So here she is: a woman from whom Jesus had driven seven demons, joined with other women, also healed by Jesus, who had left their lives behind to follow him.
Mary is mentioned first in this list, as she is in every list of female disciples, in every Gospel, similar to the way that in lists of the twelve apostles Peter’s name always comes first. The precise reason for Mary’s consistent preeminence is impossible to determine, but we can guess that it might have much to do with her important role related to the Resurrection, as well as to recognition of her faithfulness to Jesus.
These women “provided for them out of their means.” This might mean one of two things, or both: that the women assisted Jesus and his disciples by preparing meals and so on, or that they supported them financially. The second explanation is supported by the presence of Joanna, the wife of a member of Herod’s court, on the list. Perhaps some of these women were, indeed, wealthy enough to give Jesus’ ministry a financial base. (Some legends about Mary have played off of this, as we will see later, suggesting that she was quite wealthy and actually owned the town of Magdala.)
What stands out about Mary is that she’s identified, not by her relationship to a man, as most women would be at that time, but to a town. This indicates that Mary wasn’t married, and perhaps even that she had outlived her father and other male relatives: she was a single woman, able to give support to Jesus out of gratitude for what he had done for her.
Magdala was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, about four miles north of the major city of Tiberias. Today, it is a village with a few hundred inhabitants, some abandoned archaeological digs, and only the most inconspicuous memorials to its most well-known inhabitant.
“Magdala” is derived from the Hebrew Migdal, which means “fortress” or “tower.” It was also called “Tarichea,” which means “salted fish,” a name which reveals the town’s primary industry during the first century, the salting and pickling of fish. Excavations led by Franciscans in the 1970s revealed a structure that some think was a synagogue (others a springhouse), as well as a couple of large villas and, from later centuries, what might be a Byzan-tine monastery. Magdala is described by Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, as having forty thousand inhabitants, six thou-sand of whom were killed in one of the battles during the Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70), but most modern historians believe those numbers are far too high.
Jewish tradition suggests that Magdala was ultimately destroyed as a punishment for prostitution, and another strain holds that in ancient times Job’s daughters died there. Pilgrim accounts from the ninth through the thirteenth centuries report the existence of a church in Magdala, supposedly built in the fourth century by St. Helena, who discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem.
By the seventeenth century, pilgrims reported nothing but ruins at Magdala.

Possessed

Mary — like Peter, Andrew, and the other apostles — walked away from life as she knew it, abandoned everything to follow Jesus. Why?
“. . . from whom seven demons had gone out.”
Exorcism is an aspect of Jesus’ ministry that many of us either forget about or ignore, but the Gospels make clear how important it is: Mark, in fact, describes an exorcism as Jesus’ first mighty deed, in the midst of his preaching (1:25). Some modern com-mentators might declare that what the ancients referred to as pos-session was nothing more than mental illness, but there is really no reason to assume that is true. The “demons,” or unclean or evil spirits, we see mentioned sixty-three times in the Gospels were understood as forces that indeed possessed people, inhabiting them, bringing on what we would describe as mental problems, emotional disturbances, and even physical illness. The symptoms, however, were, to the ancient mind, only that: symptoms. The deeper problem was the alienation from the rest of the human family and from God produced by this mysterious force of evil.
In the world in which Jesus lived, seven was a number that symbolized completion, from the seven days of creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3) to the seven seals on God’s book in Revelation (5:1) and the seven horns and eyes of the Lamb in the same vision (5:6). Mary’s possession by seven demons (also explicitly mentioned in Mark 16:9) indicates to us that her possession was serious and overwhelming — total, in fact. She was wholly in the grip of these evil spirits, and Jesus freed her — totally.
So of course, she left everything and followed him.
It’s worth noting now, even though we’ll discuss it more later, that nowhere in the New Testament is the condition of possession synonymous with sinfulness. The “sinners” in the Gospels — the tax collectors, those who cannot or will not observe the Law, the prostitutes — are clearly distinguished from those possessed. Some Christian thinkers have linked Mary Magdalene to various sinful, unnamed women in the Gospels because of her identification as formerly possessed. There may be reasons, indeed, to link Mary to these women, but possession is not one of them, because the conditions — possession and sinfulness — are not the same thing in the minds of the evangelists.

Disciple

The evangelists used the texts, memories, and oral traditions they had at hand to communicate the Good News about Jesus. Because they were human beings, their writing and editing bears the stamp of their unique concerns and interests. Just as you and a spouse might tell the same story, emphasizing different aspects of it to make different points — perhaps you want to tell the story of your missed flight as a warning about being organized and prepared, and he wants to tell it as a way to highlight the need to go with the flow — the evangelists shaped the fundamental story of Jesus in accord with what struck them as the most significant points of his life and ministry, what their audiences most needed to hear.
In the eighth chapter of his Gospel, Luke has finished introducing Jesus, and is ready to really help his audience understand what being a disciple means. He begins by describing who is following Jesus — the Twelve and the women — and then offers a general description of what Jesus’ ministry is about. Jesus then tells his first parable (the parable of the sower and the seeds, which is the first parable Jesus relates in all of the Gospels), then quickly calms a storm, performs another dramatic exorcism, raises a little girl back to life, and in the midst of it tells his followers, firmly, that his blood relations are not his family, but rather those who “hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
So that’s the context of the introduction of Mary Magdalene and the other women — not just to set the stage, to complete the cast of characters, because Luke, like all of the other evangelists, didn’t have vellum to spare to do such a thing. Every word he wrote had a purpose, and it was very focused — here, to set before us, in quick, strong strokes, what this kingdom of God was all about. What do we learn from the presence of the women?
First, we learn that women are present, period. Women were not chattel slaves in first-century Judaism, by any means, but neither were they often, if ever, seen leaving their ordinary lives to follow a rabbi. In fact, scholar Ben Witherington describes this conduct as “scandalous” in the cultural context (Women in the Ministry of Jesus [Cambridge University Press, 1984]):
“We know women were allowed to hear the word of God in the synagogue but they were never disciples of a rabbi unless their husband or master was a rabbi willing to teach them.Though a woman might be taught certain negative precepts of the Law out of necessity,this did not mean they would be taught rabbinic explanations of Torah. For a Jewish woman to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ traveling companions.” (Witherington, p. 117)
And not just any women, either. As we noted earlier, Mary Magdalene was once possessed by seven demons. In this culture, those possessed were ostracized — one man Jesus exorcised is described as living in a cemetery (Luke 8:27). Mary Magdalene, formerly at the margins of society, has been transformed by Jesus and is now welcomed as a disciple. The barriers of class, too, are broken, Luke hints, with the presence of Joanna, the wife of a per-son of stature. In God’s kingdom, Luke makes clear, the world we know is being turned upside down.
Just as every phrase and scene in the Gospels is carefully chosen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so are the parts of the Gospel related. We meet Mary Magdalene here, but we will not see her again for many chapters — until the Passion narrative begins. But when we do encounter her — again, with the other women — here’s what she will be doing: she will be standing near the cross, she will then be preparing Jesus’ body for burial, and later she will see and witness to the empty tomb, and encounter the risen Jesus.
Mary will be serving, still. She serves, watches, and waits, the only remaining link between Jesus’ Galilean ministry, his Passion, and the Resurrection. She is introduced as a grateful, faithful dis-ciple, and that she will remain, a witness to the life Jesus brings.

Already, there’s a sort of mystery: what were these demons? What exactly happened to Mary? The evangelists don’t tell us, perhaps because they and Mary herself knew that life with Jesus is not about looking back into the past, but rather rejoicing in God’s power to transform our lives in the present.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What do we know about Mary Magdalene’s life from the Gospels?
  1. What does her presence in Jesus’ ministry tell you about the kingdom of God that Jesus preached?
  2.   How has God acted in your life with power? How do you respond to that? How would you like to respond?

Wednesday, July 18

Amy Welborn in Living Faith

Amy Welborn is a contributor - five devotions per issue -  to the Living Faith daily devotional quarterly

For example today, July 18:

I don't have as many anxiety dreams as I used to. But when they occur, they share the same setting as they always have: I'm in the classroom, either as a student or a teacher, unprepared to either take or give an exam. Or I have to get to school and I just can't.

What a relief it is to realize--either in the midst of it or upon awaking--that it was, indeed, just a dream.



 July 3


A long time ago, my oldest son stumbled in the kitchen. A knife in the cutlery rack of the open dishwasher door stabbed his leg and he had to get stitches. Now, 20 years later, you can still see the scar. I glance at my forearm and a darkened crescent shape reminds me of the time I burned myself with an iron.

Whether we are children or adults, we relish battle scars. We compare them, check to see if they are still visible. They are evidence of adventures, mistakes, and they are signs of surprising strength. We recognize ourselves, in part, through our scars.



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 June 22:

When I was a child, I used to frustrate my parents--so they told me later--because when asked what I wanted for Christmas, I would shrug and say that I couldn't think of anything. I told them that whatever they gave would be all right.

I don't share this so you can file it away in my canonization file: "Even as a child, she eschewed the false glitter of the world..." Far from it! 


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 May 14:


I'm taking a stand in defense of paint. Specifically, paint drying. What is it we say when we want to express deadly dullness? "It's like watching paint dry."


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 April 30

I was in a boat on a lake in Central America and feeling guilty about it. My youngest son, asked where he'd like to go on a summer trip, had answered "Mayan ruins in Guatemala." So here we were. Who does that? "Ridiculous," I thought. What an overprivileged pair!



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 April 15:

The garage doors had been inoperable for months, mostly because I was convinced it would be an expensive repair. A handyman, here on another job, snapped a part into place, pushed a button--done.
I was both joyful and shamed because of the easy fix. I was elated at the simplicity and zero cost, but a little embarrassed that I'd not understood that the situation wasn't really that complicated after all.\

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 March 31:

I don't remember my baptism. There aren't even any photographs of the event. But it happened. And, indeed, as a tiny baby there in Bloomington, Indiana, I died and rose with Christ, and here I am.



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 February 25:



When my children see a wasp outside the house, I ask them to please not race away in fear. Do themselves, and the rest of us, a favor, I say, and follow it, at least with their eyes. For if there is a wasp floating about, it's likely because it has a home--one that's probably attached to our home somehow, under an eave or in a doorframe. If we follow it to its source instead of just running in fear, we might eliminate a lot of future problems.

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February 22 - the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

When I think about each of the important older people in my life (all deceased because I'm one of the older ones now), all are associated with a chair.
My father's preferred spot was his desk chair in his study. My mother spent her days in her comfortable chair in the corner, surrounded by books. My great-aunt was not to be disturbed as she watched afternoon soap operas from her wingback chair. My grandfather had his leather-covered lounger, its arms dotted with holes burned by cigars.



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 January 29:

Inside this church, it is warm and dry. Light filters through stained glass and shines on friendly, familiar faces. Led by the choir, we chant praise, joining our voices to the saints. The Lord comes among us.

As I pause at the church door on my way out, I'm met by the chill that lies outside. I know that I'll encounter strangers and much that's unfamiliar out there. It's far more comfortable inside.

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 January 7:

I would have just driven on by. But my son, always alert to the mysteries that nature holds, had been paying attention, so he was able to see. And so Magi, wise and observant of God's ways in the world, were led by the light to his son.

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December 26

 December 19:

During Advent, in these days leading to Christmas, my days and evenings are marked by familiar rituals of all kinds.

I pray at Mass, of course. And in the Scriptures, prayers and music, I am eased into the journey of waiting and hope. Candles glimmer from my mother's Advent wreath. We hang the wooden "O Antiphon" crafts my sons made years ago. The lights, the recipes, the scents of these days create a place that I know.




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November 17

Last Thanksgiving, a local restaurant offered a free meal. If you could pay, fine, and any money would go to a shelter. If you were unable to pay, that didn't matter. The doors were open, the table was set, and you were welcome to the feast.

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 November 5:

I am surrounded by people just trying to do the right thing. Sometimes we make the right decisions, sometimes the wrong ones. We correct our mistakes, try to do better and bear it all patiently, never forgetting our own limitations and our own missed calls.


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October 4:

He was called Il Poverello--the little poor one--and we very strongly and rightly associate St. Francis of Assisi with poverty. We love him because in him we see that it is, indeed, possible to live the call of Jesus, to follow in a radical way, with nowhere to rest our head, trusting in God alone on the journey.


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 September 24

As a word person, I have always loved word games, especially Scrabble. I was recently introduced to another game that is similar but different.




 August 23:

What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?- Matthew 20:14-15I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of a local park, preparing for a run. My door was open, and stuffed in the side pocket were some packs of children's religious materials I'd been sent as samples. I was going to leave them at church.


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August 22

Dreams are odd things: comforting, frightening, puzzling, revealing. Just as odd to me as their content is the way in which dreams reside within my memory. More often than I can say, I am stopped short mid-morning by a vivid and complete recollection of a dream I had forgotten until that moment.



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 July 3:

I live in a part of the country in which college football is...big! During the fall, entering and exiting stores, people who are strangers recognize their common bond and really do say, in passing, "Roll, Tide!" At the grocery checkout, class, ethnic and gender divisions disappear as deeply felt and informed predictions are made about next week or postmortems are offered on last week's matchups. I've experienced this surrounding college football. You may know of it from soccer or baseball in your community.

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June 25:

The little girl in the after-school tutoring program was confounded by the crossword puzzle. And so were the two adults trying to help.
None of us could make any sense of it. After almost a half an hour of frustration, I told the very patient child that she could do something else. She asked to play a game with me. The program's rule was that a book should be read first, but considering the torture of the previous half-hour, I bent that rule.





 June 2:

My youngest son is an animal fanatic, so we watch a lot of nature documentaries. It is amazing because it seems as if there is no end to the mysteries and fascinating, quirky elements of nature.
For example, the other day, we learned about the California ground squirrel. It protects itself and its family against rattlesnake predators by chewing snake skins to shreds and rubbing them on its fur. Presto! It no longer smells like breakfast, but instead like a fellow snake.
I watch this and I'm amazed, once again, by the mystery and wonder of God's creation.
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, May 7:

In the heat of summer, we headed to a large swimming hole. One of the ways you could reach the water was by jumping off a steep, cliff like bank.

For a time, we watched as one young woman stood on the edge, contemplating a jump. Her friends floated in the water below, encouraging her to follow. She vacillated, moving to the edge, then backing away. Again and again, they called her name.



April 27:

I have hauled my children to art museums and historic churches since they were small. As a result, they have become adept at recognizing saints since, traditionally, saints are depicted with easily recognized symbols: their attributes.

It becomes a game of sorts, a game that they also enjoy turning around on me--not allowing me to see the title of a painting and then seeing if I can identify the saint; Catherine of Alexandria and her wheel, Jerome with his lion, Anthony and the Christ Child and, of course, Peter with his keys and the rooster nearby.


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October 2

There's nothing unusual there--it's part of the early vocabulary of most toddlers, isn't it? But what strikes me is that he doesn't just say it when something "bad" happens. Any time there is any transition, it's what comes out: "Uh-oh!" It's cute, but I wonder, do I react the same way to potential or real change? Do I reflexively react with hesitation or even outright fear, or do I react with confidence that, with the help of God's power and love, I can move forward?




September 18:

Once a week, I volunteer in an after-school reading program. The children arrive at the parish following a day in a struggling school in a struggling neighborhood. The early readers may have a few words they are sure about, but when they hit an unfamiliar word, their reaction is always the same--their eyes move from the letters and start darting about the page. There must be a hint. They're looking for a sign.






"amy welborn"

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