Translation to English (2006) of the Life of Mary Magdalene by Henri Lacordaire, OP (1859)
Of Mary Magdalene at the Cross and at the Tomb of Jesus
There remained the cross and the tomb; it was there that Eternity waited for God and Man.The cross and the tomb still live; but they only concern man.At the time of which I speak, they were both the great concern of man and the great concern of God.Let us approach them, therefore, the cross first, like the centre where it has pleased the eternal wisdom to attach for us light, love and life.Then it was, the day following the acclamation of Jerusalem, no more than a horrible instrument, a torture of pain and opprobrium.It horrified the world, and yet it was this that should have reassured it; it was damned, and it was He would bless it.But this transfiguration had not yet taken place, and the cross of Calvary, the cross of the Son of Man, had still on this particular day all of its horror and all its nakedness.Let us look to see who we will find faithful to this rendezvous of Heaven and of Earth.
God is not there, because the Son laments that his Father has abandoned him.The angel of the Garden of Olives is not there either, and when the Crucified One lets these words escape his lips:“I am thirsty,” it is not the invisible hand of a pure spirit that presents the cup to him.Nothing supernatural has yet appeared.The air is calm; the sun shines in the splendour of the East; Mt. Sion does not moan; the temple is tranquil, and the veil that covers the Holy of Holies is unmoved; it is the world’s hour, and the world is present.Here are the executioners who have finished their work and who are resting; beside them the Pharisees, who have not finished theirs, and who look in a derisory manner at the One who had exposed the hypocrisy behind their virtues; farther off, the Roman guard and the centurion, who commands it, his eye set, his heart troubled by a presentiment that preoccupies him; but that has not yet enlightened him; finally the passersby who shake their heads, and who, without bothering themselves any further about the spectacle, say gaily:“Go on!You who destroy the temple of God and who will rebuild it in three days, save yourself!”Everywhere, betrayal, silence, outrage, blasphemy; and yet it is the Son of God who is there, the Saviour of the world, the King of Time, the heir of everything that has ever been done, the one before whom every knee will bend in the Heavens, on Earth and in the lowest depth of Hell!Ah!are none of his friends there, and will there not come from amongst the living and the dead any friend to recognize him and to greet him in the divinity of his wretchedness?
Oh!No, not all of them are absent.If God is absent by a decision of his wisdom and of his justice, if he has struck with terror, by another decree, the majority of those whom His Son loved, nevertheless there remains a group of them at the foot of his Cross, and his eyes, in lowering themselves, can make out His Mother; Mary of Cleophas, his mother’s sister; Salome, the mother of the children of Zebedee; Mary Magdalene; the apostle St.John; and several faithful women who are not named, but who had followed and served him.That was all there was of the world’s love at the foot of the Cross.But it is enough; it is enough for the Saviour to recognize all those who had loved him before his coming on to the Earth, and all those who would love him one day.He saw in his Mother, the Virgin par excellence, the entire assembly of Virgins; in Mary of Cleophas and in Salome, the entire chorus of mothers and of Christian wives; in St.John the model of the apostles, the martyrs, the prophets, all young men dedicated to chastity, and of men drawing from the Faith the supernatural dignity of all human offices; he saw finally, in Mary Magdalene, the limitless and sacred multitude of converted sinners rediscovering in penitence the nuptial robe dipped in the blood of the Lamb.
At the sight of this little flock, pusillus grex, as he himself had called the ocean of his elect, the Saviour remains silent with everyone, except his mother and St.John.He says to his mother:“Woman, behold your Son”; to St.John, “Behold your mother!”On the cross these were the only words related to simple human affection.All His other words were concerned with eternal life and went back to it.Mary Magdalene was given no more attention than the rest; it was not the Passion that was supposed to be her moment of triumph, nor the nature of her sanctity.Jesus Christ was waiting for her on another theatre, at a more gentle moment; and it was there that, putting the seal on his predestination, reserved for her grace which no other person received then or has obtained still.
The tomb opened beneath the Cross.The Son of Man lay in it like one of us, guarded by soldiers as if death had not sufficed to do away with his power, and as if a mysterious victory would have been able to emerge from his tomb.The tomb, in effect, remains if not the object of hope, at least the rendezvous of a piety that outlives everything else.Mary Magdalene is there; she is there first, as if in a place that is her own, and of which she has merited the right to guard by the prophetic tenderness of her double anointing.And the Evangelists give her in this encounter the primary role.From the very evening of the Passion, which indicates that she has not left Calvary, she observes the spot where the body of the Lord is deposited.It is St.Mark who tells us this expressly.The Sabbath day over, when the dawn of Sunday had not yet risen, she leaves with the holy women, all carrying spices and perfumes.But the first rays of the Sun show them the stone of the tomb pushed to the side and the tomb empty.While they abandon themselves to a feeling of consternation, without the thought coming to them of the mystery that has taken place, two angels appear to them, saying:“Why do you look among the dead for he who is living? He is no longer here, he has risen up from the dead.”Perturbed, amazed, the holy women run to Jerusalem to report what they have seen and heard.The apostles listen to them as if their words were words of delirium, deliramenta.Nevertheless, St.Peter and St.John hurry off; Magdalene alone follows them.They reach the monument; they enter:nothing.The Shroud is on the stone, the covering of the head separate from it.The two apostles do not know what to think, and return.No one on Earth yet understood what had happened, neither St.Peter, nor St.John, nor Mary Magdalene.A veil was over all their eyes.Where is Jesus? Magdalene has remained alone, alone of the holy women, alone of the apostles, alone of all, with this tomb empty and much loved.O moment of Love at grips with Death, and not knowing yet that death is conquered!
There is only St.John to tell us what is going to be.Let us listen to him:
11.Mary stayed in outside near the sepulchre, and cried.And while we think, she bends down to see within the sepulchre;
12.And she saw two angels dressed in white, seated at one at the head and the other at the feet there where the body had been placed.
13.They said to her, "Woman, why do you weep?”She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have placed him."
14.And saying this, she turned around, and she sought Jesus there; but she did not know that it was Jesus.
15.Jesus said to her, "Woman, why do you cry? Whom are you seeking?”And she, thinking that this was the gardener, said to him, "Lord, if it was you who took him, tell me where you have put him and I will take him away."
16.Jesus said to her, "Mary.”Mary turning around, said to him, "Master."
17.Jesus said to her, "Do not touch me because I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to find my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
18.Mary Magdalene went then and told the disciples, "I have seen the Lord, and he has told me these things."
Thus, in this solemn moment of the resurrection of the Saviour, a moment that settled everything, the victory of God over the world and of Life over Death, it is not to his mother that Jesus appears first; it is not to St. Peter, the foundation of the Church and the summit of theology; it is not to St.John, the well-loved disciple; it is to Mary Magdalene.That is to say, to the converted sinner, to Sin become Love through penitence.The Saviour had said before:“There is more joy in Heaven over a sinner who repents than over 99 just, who have no need of repentance.”But it was a truly sublime translation of these words, the privilege accorded to Mary Magdalene to see first the Son of Man risen from the tomb, conqueror of theDevil, of Sin, of the world, of death, and to acquire first, by this view, the certitude and the consolation of the eternal salvation of mankind.Her degree of love must have earned the glory of His appearance, and what feelings on her part must have welcomed this reward of love!I only half understand it, I glimpse it, I adore it, and, if I can do no more, at least I pull myself short with a reflection that makes me turn toward these words of the Gospel:“He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.”It is there, on the forehead of this illustrious and fortunate woman, a star that does not pale, and that will make to rejoice till the end of time all those who study it, with a soul enlightened by God, the mysteries of his dealings with us.
“He appeared first to Mary Magdalene,” and if we cannot well penetrate everything that took place in the heart of one and of the other, in the heart of God who gave to his dearest friend on earth the first fruits of his regained life, and in the heart of the creature who received from her God the mark of an unheard-of preference, at least we can follow the Gospel with the humility of tender admiration, and search there, in the shadow of our own shortcomings, the imperfect joy that is allowed us here below.
Up to now, all the words that we have heard on the subject of Mary Magdalene have not been addressed to her directly.When Jesus says of her, “Mary’s sins will be remitted to her because she has loved much,” it is to Simon the Pharisee that he is so saying.When he says, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her,” it is to Martha that he replies.When he says:“Wherever this Gospel will be preached, throughout the world, it will be narrated of her, to her glory, what she has just done,” it is to his disciples that he gives this notice.Here for the first time, at the entrance to the tomb, on the dawn of his resurrection, Jesus speaks directly to Mary, and he talks to her, not to resume the discussion except in the inaccessible region where his Ascension will carry him.It is the crowning, the farewell, the page where Magdalene is about to disappear from the Gospels and to enter for the remainder of her life the somber avenues of history.Let us then kiss with love these last words fallen from the lips of Christ into the soul of his friend, and let us ponder them for the pleasure of our faith and the charm of our unachieved pilgrimage.
“Woman, why do you weep?”He had not said this to her, when on the day of her conversion she wept at his feet.Now the time for tears is over; penitence, the cross, the tomb, all have disappeared in the triumphal splendour of the Resurrection.Mary must only shed those tears that are eternal in the hearts of saints, because God causes them and a state of ecstasy that sheds them.
“Who are you looking for?”There is nothing any more to look for, Mary:You have found the one whom you will never lose.You will no longer see him on the cross between the hands of death.You will go no more to his tomb to embalm him in the perfume of charity.You will no longer demand him from anybody on Earth, or from anyone in Heaven, or from Him least of all; because He is your soul, and your soul is Him.Separated briefly, you have come together in a place where there is no longer space, no longer a barrier, no more shadows, no more of anything that impedes union and unity.You are one as he wished it, one as you hoped to be, one as God is God in his Son, at one with the essence that you inhabit by Grace and that you will inhabit one day by glory.
“Mary!”Oh!What a tone there was in this word!a tone of reproach, because Magdalene had not recognized Jesus, through its tone of reproach revealing the speaker’s identity.“Mary!”Alas!Even on earth, how our own name is sweet-sounding on the mouth of a friend, and how far it goes to the sorrowful depths of our being!And if it were God who pronounced it in a low voice, if it were God who had died for us, risen for us, who called us by our name, what echo would it not stir in the infinite depth of our wretchedness!Mary Magdalene heard everything in the utterance of her name; she heard the mystery of the Resurrection, which she did not understand, she heard the love of her Saviour and in this love she recognized Him.“Master!”she replied.A word was enough for her, as a word has been enough for the Son of God.The more souls love one another, the more their language is brief.
“Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father.”Twice Jesus Christ had let Mary Magdalene touch him, and twice he had praised her for it.And now, after his Resurrection, when his body is already transfigured by a higher stage of life, he forbids the chaste embrace of Mary.He does not wish these hands that had previously poured ointment on his feet and head to come near him.Why this unexpected austerity, and how can the Resurrection restrain the old familiarity of a well-tried tenderness? It is because Jesus is no longer who he was, the object for everyone of a physical contact that encourages faith and of a charity that involves itself with earthly discourse.He is between earth and heaven, still visible for several days, but going towards His Father, and it is nowhere else but there, there where all flesh will be transformed like his own, that he wants to be touched and possessed by his own friend.He gives Mary Magdalene, by this harsh lesson, an indication that she must aspire higher, and that henceforth Bethany is in the bosom of the Father who sent his Son, and where the Son is going to rejoin him to prepare there for his friends the place of an unending embrace.Do not touch the Son of Man, because He has not yet ascended to the Father, and you yourself, Mary, you are not yet risen there either.Your lips, all pure though they may be, all suffused with the fire that the seraph of penitence and the seraph of love have left there, are not capable of giving to the resurrected body, to the glorious body of Jesus, the stigmata of the tenderness purified by death.You must die with Jesus so as to touch Jesus, only then you and he will be similar; then you will bear to his feet the ointment of the Resurrection, and you will place there the virginal breath of reconquered immortality.
“Go and find my brothers and tell them I ascend to my Father and your Father, toward my God and your God.”These are the last words of the Saviour to Mary Magdalene, and these words give her, in preference to everyone else, the revelation of the mystery that is going to conclude the passage of the Son of God amongst us and the work of our redemption, Apostle of the Ascension near to the apostles themselves, Magdalene will retain the character for the rest of her life, and we will see her tender towards Christ vanished among the clouds, by heights that will not surprise because we believe in the wonders of a love that aspires upward; we believe in the words of a charity that comes down to earth.