Mary Magdalene

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2014/07/04 at 12:00 AM

 While many modern scholars point out that there is no direct evidence that the sinful woman mentioned by St. Luke in our Gospel story today is St. Mary Magdalene, Pope St. Gregory the Great did recognize her as such.

 Further interpreting today’s Gospel passage, Pope St. Gregory also taught that the 7 devils exorcized from Mary Magdalene symbolized the 7 deadly sins.
 Thus when depicted in art, St. Mary Magdalene is often shown dressed as a penitent with the alabaster jar of perfumed ointment we hear about in the Gospel today.
 While scholars debate the true character of Mary Magdalene and whether or not she was a reformed prostitute, following the lead of Pope St. Gregory the Great, Church Tradition has always cast Mary Magdalene as the ideal penitent.
 While perhaps the sinful woman in today’s Gospel is not Mary Magdalene, I have no doubt that, as a saint, Mary Magdalene wept over her sins all the same. For outside of Our Lady, we are all sinners; we have all fallen short of the glory of God.
 In fact, being moved to the profound contrition we see in the sinful woman in today’s Gospel is part of becoming a saint. The closer we grow in likeness to our Lord, the more clearly we recognize the horror of our sins and desire to repent of them.
 The saints understood very acutely that there is no such thing as a small sin, but rather that all sin is a terrible injustice against our infinitely loveable and merciful God.
 But while man’s sinfulness is a sad reality, our readings today give us some measure of hope that even the worst of sinners can be reformed and live lives that glorify our Lord.
 In our first reading today, Nathan the prophet confronts King David about his sinfulness. And David was no ordinary sinner: he was both a murderer and an adulterer!
 Yet we see in the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba that conversion is possible, even for the worst of sinners, and that even the worst of sinners can receive God’s mercy.
 What we learn from this story is that none of us – no matter how we’ve been blessed and favored by God – is immune to sin. David was God’s anointed. He was chosen by God to be Israel’s leader, and yet he committed two of the gravest sins man can commit!
 The prophet Nathan reminds us so very clearly of how our sins offend the Lord, especially when we consider the blessings He has bestowed upon us. Nathan lists for David all the ways God has blessed him and then asks why he done evil in His sight.
 But more importantly, this story teaches us that if we confess our sins, as did David, God forgives – even the most serious of sins like murder and adultery.
 As we know by faith, there is no sin greater than God’s mercy, and to think that your sins are beyond God’s mercy is not humility, but the very worst form of pride – a pride that, if not corrected, can lead a soul to despair in this life and damnation in the next.
 Following Pope St. Gregory’s proposition that the sinful woman in the Gospel is St. Mary Magdalene, and given what we know about David’s life after this run‐in with Nathan, our readings today also teach us that the greatest sinner can become a great saint!
 This truth is one of the very beautiful paradoxes of our faith! While we may have to suffer the natural and destructive consequences of our sinful choices, when God forgives us He holds no grudges.
 Nor does He continue to judge us according to our sins once we’ve repented, as does the Pharisee with the sinful woman in our Gospel story. When we repent God forgives and forgets. Like the father of the Prodigal Son, He embraces us and showers us with love.
 But even though we may experience God’s mercy and love by repenting of our sins, sin nevertheless damages us – especially our mortal sins. This past Lent and Easter I spoke at length about the burdens of sin – of how sin damages us and our relationships.
 For this reason we should never willfully commit sin, presuming that we can go to confession afterwards and that all will be well. Sin damages us, and presuming upon God’s mercy without being fully contrite will leave us bereft of forgiveness.
 Yet the destructive and enslaving effects of sin need not last forever. Healing is possible with God’s grace, but our healing is contingent upon our response to our sins and the unfailing offer of God’s mercy.
 After being called out by Nathan, David repented in sackcloth and ashes, and while the child born of his adultery died because of his sin, Bathsheba eventually bore him another son and David’s kingdom prospered. More importantly, David became holy.
 The sinful woman in the Gospel is also a great example of true repentance. She knows that her sins are grave and she weeps over them. She makes reparation through a grand display of humility and love.
 In truth, God expects something similar from us. He expects us to humble ourselves and make reparation as best we can, especially for our grave sins.
 Last Sunday I mentioned how our Lord raises us to life from the death of sin through the grace of confession. I also mentioned how we should strive for perfect contrition, i.e., being sorry for our sins because they offend our Lord rather than being sorry because we fear the hell our sins merit.
 Along those same lines, I encourage you this week to consider how you confess your sins and how you do your penance. Do you prepare adequately before your confession, and are you brutally honest when you confess your sins – or do you make excuses for yourself as you confess and try to cast yourself in the best light?
 And when you do your penance, do you do it quickly so as to get it over with? Or are you deliberate, recollected, and loving toward our Lord?
 Moreover, if you have committed a particularly grave sin in your life like abortion, murder, adultery, sterilization, or a prolonged use of contraception, then I encourage you to consider making on‐going reparation for those sins.
 If you are sorry for the sin and have confessed it, be at peace with the knowledge that God has forgiven it. But out of a great love for God and gratitude for His mercy, make a grand gesture of your contrition.
 Praying the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy every day in reparation for your sins, making a significant donation to a charity, or regularly denying yourself things that you enjoy are all great ways to do this.
 Brothers and sisters, the sinful woman in today’s Gospel was forgiven much because she loved much. May we show our love for our Lord by making humble reparation for our sins.
 And may we trust that our Lord’s mercy and forgiveness will cover whatever sins we’ve committed in this life, no matter how grave they may be.
16 June 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
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