Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Mary Magdalene: One Who Loved Much

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published August 19, 2010

It is important to make as many connections as possible when trying to establish some credible currents between Scripture and our own times.

Biblical texts are used for all kinds of things. For many people, they are a comfort in securing a belief in God that can sustain them through painful times. For others, the lines from Scripture often are cited in support of both sides of an argument and the debate about which side is true is not resolvable. A truce of sorts has to be made between disagreeing parties in light of the obvious dilemma caused by conflicting interpretations.

A good case in point is the figure of Mary Magdalene. She is presented in the four Gospels in different ways. The accounts very in her role as prostitute, as close friend and confidante of Jesus, as one who sees the Risen Lord, as one who stands by the cross at his death. Legend has it that she washed the feet of Jesus, kissed them and dried them with her hair. History reveals a kaleidoscopic array of reverence for her.

Different ages elevated her as the sinner redeemed and forgiven by Jesus. In our time, feminists are fond of claiming her as one of their own for standing out and serving as a prototype for women who seek a role model for active participation in church affairs.

On her feast (July 22), Father Tom Francis gave the homily. He paid proper respect to the labyrinth that can envelope one who tries to secure an accurate image of Mary Magdalene. There are just too many ways to approach her in Scripture. The more one approaches her through the use of historical or exegetical research, the more elusive she becomes, drifting away as soon as one tries to capture her.

He then offered a way to make her live for us, to rescue her from the aridity of research.

He said that she was one who loved much. Amidst all the interpretations and unresolved issues that see her from different angles, she stands secure amidst all of them in her passionate love for Jesus and her fearless demonstration of that love. It is the one interpretation that satisfies a desire to know who she really was and why she has, from the earliest times of the church, enjoyed being the subject of multiple points of view. The differences coalesce on her burning love for Jesus.

And he responded accordingly.

When all is said and done and we have exhausted every possible interpretation in our quest for the absolutely true and lasting, the one trait that will enable us to allow difference and conflicting interpretations to sit side by side together is loving in and through all the variations of that gift. Mary responded to Jesus with a full heart. We are called to learn from that fullness and to take each day as an invitation to love deeply and without reserve. The differences in life will not go away, but we may better understand the wisdom that inheres in the variation of a theme. The love of God is singular in its focus but manifold in its ramifications. Love is indeed a many splendored thing, filling the world with as many interpretations as there are people.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery online store at