A few weeks ago, I came across an article that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, wrote in the June 28th issue of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. In the article, he recounted an incident from several years ago when he was set to dedicate a church under the patronage of St. Peter. A person objected with the following words: “Why would you name a Church after such a coward, a sinner who denied even knowing the Lord when Jesus needed him most, at the hour of His arrest and crucifixion?” Dolan responded to the person in the following way: “But you’re a proud parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene Church. She was sure not a paragon of virtue for a chunk of her life. Yet, by God’s grace, she became a radiant, inspirational saint.”
This Wednesday (July 22), the Church celebrates the feast day of this radiant, inspirational saint. I think Cardinal Dolan hits the nail on the head by inviting us to see how, by God’s grace, nobody is exempt from the possibility of becoming a saint. Even though most people around St. Mary Magdalene had dismissed her and given up on her, the Lord never did. Jesus did not see in her a sinner – He saw in her a woman created by God, made in His image and likeness. He saw somebody who was broken and instead of turning away, He drew close to her and gave her the healing gift of His Divine Mercy. As a result of that, her life was changed, and she became the saint who had the privilege of being the first to see the Risen Lord after His Resurrection.
The story of St. Mary Magdalene is instructive for us on two levels. On the personal level, it reminds us that we are not defined by the sins of our past. Even if others (or ourselves) have turned away from us, the Lord has not. He continues to pursue us and desires to remind us that we are His beloved children and that He longs to grant us His healing mercy. And with His grace, we too can become saints! On the relational level, St. Mary Magdalene’s story invites us never to give up on others. When we see the faults and failures of others, we can be quick to criticize and even demonize them, even to the point of thinking they are not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. In those moments, we are invited to look upon others with the gaze of Christ, the gaze He had for St. Mary Magdalene, and the gaze He has for us. That gaze in one that sees the goodness of each person and the possibility of their undergoing a life-changing conversion through the power of God’s grace.
I am sure that you can think of some examples of those whom you find it hard to see as living a saintly life at this point in their lives. Say a special prayer for them this week, asking for the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene, that they will accept the invitation from our Lord to embrace His healing mercy and be set on the path that will one day lead them to join the elect in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Father Alford is the Rector of the Cathedral and serves in the diocesan curia as the Vicar for Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations.