My Friend, Mary Magdalene

I won’t deny it: I am friends with many saints, not just a few. But there are some saints with whom I have a very particular relationship and who have mentored me throughout my life. One of these is St. Mary Magdalene.

I discovered her when I was a teenager, reading the Gospel attentively for the very first time. I had read the Gospel stories before and heard them at Mass, however with little understanding and probably little attention. But when I entered the convent as a young teenager, the Gospels suddenly became alive for me, drawing me into the life of Jesus and his followers.

There was just one problem: As I read through Matthew and Mark, it seemed like the “chosen ones” were men – with the exception, of course, of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then I began reading Luke’s Gospel account and there she was, a woman among women followers: Mary Magdalene. Yes, I had encountered her in Matthew and Mark, but not like this! Here it was clear: she followed Jesus and ministered to Him – in many ways just like the apostles. “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming 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 many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Lk 8:1-3).

Finally! Women who traveled with Jesus and the twelve as He went through cities and villages, and the first among them was Mary Magdalene. I began to look for her in the Gospel accounts. I started praying to her, carrying on conversations with her, asking that she teach me to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

I wondered about the seven demons (I knew I had a few of my own!), but those had been driven out by Jesus and that was the only part of the story that I needed to know, which is why the Gospel doesn’t elaborate. Jesus drives out demons and heals: all demons, all illnesses.

As I collected and pieced together the bits and pieces of data that the Gospels provide on Mary Magdalene, I stood amazed before this strong woman disciple of Jesus. After Luke’s introduction, the next mention of her is again with Jesus’ Mother and the other women at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), when most of the men – John excepted – had abandoned their Master. I can only imagine the strength it took to remain there, listening to the taunts and the blasphemies, taking in the barbaric torture and the agony of Jesus, hearing His heartrending last words. Still she did not flee. Her presence and the presence of the women, Mary Most Holy, and the youngest disciple were one of the few consolations Jesus had in His darkest hour.

Mary Magdalene is still there as the Lord’s body is removed from the cross and laid in the tomb (Lk 23:50-56). And even when most of the others go home, Mary Magdalene takes up her station opposite the tomb and keeps vigil (Mt 27:61).

When my own father’s life ended suddenly and tragically through suicide (because of depression caused by a cancer medication), this dear Saint was with me throughout the suffering and the grief. With Mary Most Holy she stayed with me, silently comforting and showing me how to grieve. She had always been a “best friend” saint, but now she became a “soul-sister” saint. 

Mary Magdalene was the first to discover the empty tomb (Jn 20:1-2). More loss. Now she had nothing physical to hang on to, not even a tomb where she could go and pray. Her tears (Jn 20:11-13) showed me that I could honor my own bereavement and the deep loss I felt, with the tears I tried so desperately to keep back.

Mary Magdalene’s tears showed me that I could honor my own bereavement and the deep loss I felt, with the tears I tried so desperately to keep back.

Through her own story, my sister-saint showed me something else: namely, that Jesus is with us amid our suffering, even when we don’t recognize Him (see Jn 20:14-16). He is gentle and tender, listening, caring, moving according to our rhythm and readiness, reaching out and calling us by name. He says our name like no other can say it. The very sound of His voice brings comfort and healing.

It wasn’t the first time Jesus had healed Mary Magdalene and it probably wasn’t the last. Each healing brought with it a call (see Jn 20:17-18). This time the call was astounding! Jesus commissioned Mary to be the Apostle to the apostles, bringing them the stupendous news of His resurrection and His forthcoming ascension! It was totally unimaginable – a woman as the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection and the Apostle sent to the Twelve!

This is the woman who has inspired and mentored me throughout the whole of my long religious life. I encountered her 58 years ago in 1963, my first year in the convent. She has been a faithful friend and confidant ever since – in sorrow and in joy, in mission and in my relationship with Jesus. Mary Magdalene is like a prism reflecting for me the life and presence of Jesus, her Lord and mine.  

I believe that it’s not we who choose the saints, but the saints who choose us. Which saints have chosen you? May they accompany you throughout this graced Lenten season.

United in Jesus our Master and Lord
and in His saints,

Sr. Mary Leonora, fsp

God at the Center: Guest Post

I want to talk about a journey, our journey to God. In some ways, that’s what Lent is: a journey through 40 days of anticipation to the cross and then through to the resurrection.

In the early Middle Ages Christians were encouraged to make a special journey, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One of the reasons for the Crusades was to protect pilgrims. But most people didn’t have the means or the ability to make such a difficult journey, and so a substitute had to be found.

That substitute was the labyrinth.

In 325 A.D. Christians placed a labyrinth on the floor of their church. Although Christians must have been using the labyrinth earlier, this is the first historical record we have of the Christian use of the labyrinth. Since that time labyrinths have been prayed, studied, danced, traced and drawn as Christians sought to use this spiritual tool to draw closer to God.

Using a labyrinth involves moving one’s body and opening one’s heart to Jesus. All you

have to do is follow the path and you will find the center. A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing oneself at the threshold, following the single path to the center, spending time in the center, following the same pathway out the threshold, and then responding to the experience.

Maze or Labyrinth?

We often use the words “maze” and “labyrinth” to mean the same thing, but they’re very different. A maze is a puzzle filled with dead ends, with the idea you’ll get lost a few times; a labyrinth has one circuitous path that brings you unerringly to the center.

A labyrinth is the ideal metaphor for our journey. It presents a long, sometimes frustrating path but if we stay on it, if we persevere, we reach the center. We reach God.

Why do it now? Just as on Monday we talked about incorporating fasting into our spiritual lives, so too can we incorporate labyrinth prayers into our prayer lives.

There are many ways to pray with a labyrinth. We’ll talk about them after the video.

Even if you don’t live near a full-sized labyrinth, you can still use one for prayer by simply printing it out on paper:

You probably can think of ways you can use this design in prayer. I’ll suggest a few more:

1)  Ask God a question as you enter the path. Then, as you walk slowly through the twists and turns, listen for an answer. Let your steps and your silence invite the presence and guidance of God.

2)  Start your journey to the center with confession (you may want to visualize your sins being left behind with every step you take). When you reach the center, journey out with affirmation (perhaps visualizing yourself picking things up or putting things on–like the righteousness of Christ, the smile of the Father, the purity of the Holy Spirit, etc.). Pause at the exit and give thanks for your cleansing journey.

3)  Recite a breath prayer as you navigate the labyrinth, perhaps praying a different prayer on each leg or quadrant of your journey. (Breath prayers are short phrases that lend themselves to repetition: Lord, have mercy. When I am afraid, I trust you. Not my will, but yours. Say the word. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Holy Wisdom, guide me.)

4)  Lay down your burdens as you walk to the center of the labyrinth (perhaps marking your labyrinth with the symbols of what you’re letting go). In the center, pause to thank God for taking your burdens on himself. Then count your blessings and give thanks on the journey to the exit.

The word “labyrinth” isn’t anywhere in the Bible, but themes of following God’s way,

spiritual journeys, and enjoying God’s presence—all central to labyrinth experiences—are throughout Scripture. Two additional verses that can be used while praying the labyrinth are, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy”

(Psalm 16:11), and Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:16).

Has anyone here ever had an experience with a labyrinth? Is it something you might like to try?

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Image Credit: Bas Gerring at Pexels

Caregivers give the only life they have

When I was a postulant in St. Louis, I noticed during the Eucharist at the time of intercessions at one particular parish, one parishioner would always ask help for caregivers. This happened every time, and so one day when I didn’t hear him, I immediately noticed he wasn’t there. I remember his practice as a continual reminder, not only of the importance of this mission of caring for others, but also that it isn’t possible to give our lives for our brothers and sisters without the grace of God.

When our first parents disobeyed God, the question he asked them was: Where are you? In the moment humanity broke relationship with God, the consequences of original sin began to influence their destinies; but even then God himself was always looking for us. We see it in the question he asked Cain: Where is your brother? And in these two questions we are touched by the eternal movement of the Father’s love, which always seeks us—and finds us, so we can also find our brothers and sisters.

“Where is your brother?” This reminds me of two sisters in my community in Portugal, blood sisters as well as sisters in religious life. The elder one has been extremely sick for a number of years and her care has fallen to the younger of the two, who has certainly brought her back from the brink several times through her extraordinary care.

None of us has reservoirs of life we can spare. Caring for someone is giving the only life we have—our own. When my caregiver sister gives her life, it comes with an immense personal sacrifice, with tiredness and pain (because she is not young, either), with giving up many things that she’d like to be doing in the apostolate and in community life. But she does it anyway, and does it every day!

This summarizes the immense beauty of caregivers—and also the immense weight of their mission. How many times do these people reach the end of the day and feel they gave their lives, up to the last breath? But also how beautiful is this mystery of life we receive from those we care for, because God dwells in each of us and he enables us to receive and give life until the last moment of our own lives.

The disciple is no greater than the Master. Jesus our Divine Savior gave his life for us, up to the last drop of his blood, to make us children of God, children of the same merciful Father. With the awareness that we are all sisters and brothers, let’s ask him every day to breathe his divine life into each one of us, so that in the different situations of our lives we can continue to look for our brothers and sisters in need, and give our lives for them until the end.

Sr Marta Gaspar

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

How I found comfort in the sorrows of Mary: Guest Post

For many years I was surprised by how many people came into our book centers and asked for the Chaplet to Our Lady of Sorrows. I personally never had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. I always thought I’d rather focus on the joys of Mary than on her sorrows! But as time went on, I too began to find comfort in the Sorrows of Mary.

Even as I type those words, however, it feels like an oxymoron: how can there be a feeling of comfort in sorrow? The answer is simple: because the sorrow is shared. It’s not that there’s a comfort because of the sorrow, but rather that through her own sorrows, our Blessed Mother is with me in my sorrows.

When I reflect on the sorrows of Mary I feel a deep connection to her as Our Lady of Sorrows, realizing that through the sorrows she carried in her life, she understands the sorrows we face today.

The sorrows in my life look very different from those of our Blessed Mother. I think for example of my parents’ divorce, or the loss of a friend to cancer. These sorrows affect me deeply and I think: these things should not have happened. That’s where part of my sorrow comes from. Ideally, my friend wouldn’t have died from cancer in his twenties. Ideally, my parents would not have gotten divorced. In a perfect world, these things wouldn’t have happened. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any sorrow. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and through the great sorrows that pierced Mary’s heart, she is able to be with us in our own suffering as a mother who deeply understands whatever we’re going through.

We’ll reach the place of no sorrow when we get to heaven, but until then, we are here to live both the joyful and the sorrowful moments of our lives, just as Mary did. And uniting ourselves to her in our joys and sorrows can give great comfort to us—the comfort that only a mother can give.

United in the sorrowful and immaculate heart of our Mother,

Sr Andrew Marie

Lockdown – There can always be a rebirth of love

I found this on my Facebook page. It reminded me of a video I saw yesterday of a neighborhood in Italy where people were standing on the balconies of their apartments, singing together, waving, laughing, enjoying the glory of the silent streets, the relaxed neighborhood, and the happiness of creating music together.

Lockdown
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.
–  Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM
March 13th, 2020

By His Wounds You Are Healed

Sr. Mary Leonora is one of those persons who lives her life as an artist. Great artists don’t create their own concept of what they wish to draw, but allow the subject of their painting to emerge from the colors they add, both dark and light, and lines both clear and smudged. I’ve known Sr Mary Leonora for many years now, and like an artist, she knows it is not about what she puts on the canvas, but what emerges under the guiding Hand of the Eternal Artist that creates of her life the beauty and hope the world so longs for. Having lived through great suffering in her life, there are a lot of dark colors the divine Hand has painted through the years, but she has touched up the sadder moments with colors that create a pathway of healing for the rest of us.
She has written:

Our culture is drawing more and more away from God while the need for healing is increasing. Where will we find healing, if not in the triune God who created and redeemed us? Yes, we can find healing for our bodies in doctors and the medical sciences. We can find at least some healing for our psyches and troubled minds from professionals. But where do we find healing and wholeness for our spirits, our souls, our hearts, when these have been abused and wounded? Who will heal our heart, if not he who created it? And who can heal the wounds of our spirit, if not he who let himself be wounded for our salvation?

Even though everyone’s story of woundedness and healing is unique and personal, I have noticed there are some common denominators in this journey, and I think these are what make up what I would like to call a spirituality of healing: a spirituality that focuses on Jesus and relates to him as the Divine Physician, who heals and transforms our wounds into channels of grace for ourselves and for others, leading us to wholeness and fullness of life.

I’m so happy to welcome Sr Mary Leonora to Touching the Sunrise and know that you will find the reflections she shares in these next couple of months both helpful and healing.

 

The Spirituality of Healing: 

In His Wounds, We Are Healed

by Sr. Mary Leonora, FSP

I’m back to continue our reflection on the spirituality of healing. You probably remember that in my last article I defined the spirituality of healing as “a spirituality that focuses on Jesus and relates to him as the Divine Physician, who heals and transforms our wounds into channels of grace for ourselves and for others, leading us to wholeness and fullness of life.” I would like to begin to unpack what I mean by that, beginning with focusing on Jesus. Holy Week seems the perfect time for it.

Why? First, because in this week we fix our attention on Jesus, on His sufferings, death and resurrection. Second, because I have lived first hand the amazing healing power of his wounds. St. Peter, quoting the prophet Isaiah, says that by Jesus’ wounds we are healed (cf. 1 Pt 2:24; Is 53:5).

Someone might contest that both Isaiah and Peter are speaking of spiritual wounds caused by sin. But when we speak of wounds caused by abuse, are we not speaking of woundedness caused by sin? Even sickness can be traced back to original sin and the loss of those special gifts possessed by our very first parents.

What does Isaiah say when speaking of the suffering servant? “He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed” (Is 53:5). Peter rephrases Isaiah’s thought, making explicit reference to the crucifixion of Jesus: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross…; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24).

As I continue these articles, I plan to tell you some of my story and my journey to healing, since the Lord is letting me understand that he wants me to share my experience to encourage others in their own journey of healing. Early on in childhood I discovered that gazing on the crucifix and praying before it is a great source of strength and spiritual healing.

Ever since I can remember, suffering has been a part of my life – physical, emotional, spiritual—trying to find a mother’s love, but never succeeding; seeking to make sense of explosive anger and blows that seemed to come unprovoked; and, the most difficult of all, dealing with rejection. By the time I was eight I was convinced that there was something terribly wrong with me and at the age of ten I decided that the only thing for me to do was to leave home. So, I got on my bike and left.

After pedaling for a couple of hours I was tired and stopped in front of a small church. The door was open, so I went inside. There, in the entranceway, was a more-than-life-size crucifix. Jesus’ arms were spread out, nailed to the cross and his head was bent as if he were looking at me. There was a terrible gash in his side and blood was coming out of his wounds. The expression on his face was so kind! His image burned itself into my memory and tears still come to my eyes when I remember that cross. I stood there, mesmerized, and just kept gazing on that face and bruised body. I felt his pain and wanted to comfort him; I was so taken with Jesus that I forgot my own pain.

Then suddenly, without even realizing I was speaking aloud, my hushed voice filled that small space, “You understand me,” I said. I don’t know what happened in that moment, except that I experienced a kind of all-encompassing embrace that left me knowing I was understood, accepted, loved. I didn’t want to leave that place. I just kept looking and loving—a response to the love that was pouring out upon me from that crucifix. Then, quietly, without any kind of deliberation, as if I were being gently guided, I left the church, climbed back on my bike and pedaled home.

I was not healed in that moment (I was still too young to even know how broken and wounded I was), but this was a tremendous turning point in my life. I now had a friend, a grownup friend, someone I could go to, someone who had suffered and someone who accepted and loved me! Later in life, I would discover that he had the power to heal me. But a relationship had begun, a relationship that would be crucial for my healing. In the years to come that relationship would grow and blossom into something alive and intimate, yielding fruits of love, forgiveness, happiness and healing that I could not even have dreamed were possible.

Relationship with Jesus is the first common denominator of spiritual healing.

Sr. Mary Leonora