Last year Pope Francis elevated the liturgical celebration of St. Mary Magdalene to the category of “feast day”. The Holy Father did so, in part, to encourage us to “reflect more deeply on the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy”, a fitting gesture during the “Year of Mercy” that we celebrated last year.
This year I have been asking St. Mary Magdalene for special help and spiritual accompaniment. Each Christmas our community has the tradition of choosing “Patron Saints” to guide us and be a source of spiritual inspiration during the upcoming year. The Patron Saints are assigned randomly, but experience shows that the Holy Spirit is quite active as the Saints and virtues are distributed. Can you guess who I got? Right on, St. Mary Magdalene, with the virtue of “conversion of heart”.
I grew up in a traditionally Catholic family and had the grace of being educated in the faith and growing up with the sacraments. I entered the minor seminary when I was 15 and made my religious profession at 19. So I guess I never had a real, heavy-duty “conversion” like Mary Magdalene, who took a full 180 degree turn in her life when she encountered Christ and his saving mercy. But I have always felt that I can relate to her, in the sense that we have both been shown “much merciful love” in our lives. In fact, I think that St. Therese of Lisieux’s quote from her autobiography “Story of a Soul” could pretty much also sum up my own experience:
“I know that without Him (Our Lord), I could have fallen as low as St. Mary Magdalene: I know that “he to whom less is forgiven, LOVES less,” but I also know that Jesus has forgiven me more than St. Mary Magdalene since He forgave me in advance by preventing me from falling.”
We are all called to work continuously for our own “conversion” toward the Lord, and to ask for this grace with special persistence and unfailing confidence in God’s power. Conversion is a process that only ends when we are united to God in heaven. Our “earthly pilgrimage” is the time Our Lord has given us to turn our heart and everything we are toward Him, seeking to overcome our self-centered and egoistic ways and become progressively more like Him.
Lent is a special time of conversion. One of the most effective means to truly “turn toward” the Lord is the sacrament of confession. Yet it can be easy to overlook this powerful sacrament, by simply forgetting or putting it off for a moment when we are “less busy” or “better prepared”. Can you imagine what Mary Magdalene experienced as Our Lord forgave her sins, giving her a clean slate and a whole new direction in life? It must have been an interior explosion of gratitude, thanksgiving, and desire to correspond to his merciful love. We can have an experience of this same merciful love each time we approach our Lord in the sacrament of confession!
So as the season of Lent progresses and we come near to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, it’s a good moment to ask ourselves when the last time we dropped in to the nearest confessional was. As Pope Francis loves to reminds us, “God never tires of forgiving us and lifting us up, He is awaiting us with arms wide open”. Why wait any longer?
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.
Photo Credit: Fr James Bradley