COLUMBIA — Mary Magdalene is not only one of the best-known women of the New Testament, but also one of the most misunderstood. Her multi-faceted life and the role she played in the Gospels offers lessons for Catholics living in a busy world.
She was the focus of “Standing on Their Shoulders: Spiritual Women of the Ages,” two workshops for women religious held April 12-13 in Columbia and North Charleston. Both were led by Sister Margaret Jungers, a Franciscan sister and director of Shalom Retreat Center in Dubuque, Iowa.
Both workshops were sponsored by the Collaborative Ministry Initiative of the Sisters of Charity Foundations of South Carolina and Cleveland. The initiative promotes the idea that collaboration among women religious from different orders can help them carry on their current work and develop new missions in the process.
The group’s workshops are designed to help women religious and those who work with them reflect on their lives, take time for spiritual reflection, and focus on ways to carry on their mission effectively.
Through her workshop, Sister Margaret hopes to help women religious and their lay co-workers focus on the importance of what they do, and how other people of faith came before them to establish the roots of their work.
During the program, Sister Margaret asked the participants to name significant women and men whose faith and work had influenced their lives. They mentioned relatives, teachers, friends and other women religious who served as inspiration and role models of a faith-filled Christian life.
Sister Margaret told the participants how important it was as people of faith to be able to “stand on the shoulders” of those who came before, to reflect on their recent role models and those that can be found in the Bible.
Sister Margaret named 14 different Scripture passages in the New Testament which mention Mary Magdalene, and said no other woman except Mary is mentioned by name as often.
She also showed through Scripture passages that Mary Magdalene was never described as a former prostitute, although popular misinterpretation has led many to believe she was.
Instead, Mary Magdalene is described as having been healed of seven demons by Jesus. Sister Margaret said the healing might have been the catalyst for Mary Magdalene’s decision to follow Jesus and live a life devoted to spreading his message.
“Many men and women that were healed then had conversions, and it’s true that when you have a healing you begin living with a sense of gratitude,” she said.
Mary Magdalene also is the ultimate example of someone who was willing to abandon her established life and give up everything to follow Christ, even if it meant going against all the norms of her culture and historical era, Sister Margaret said.
She offered examples of how unusual it was in Jesus’ time for a woman to be unmarried, to travel by herself, to support herself and to assert her religious or intellectual opinions publicly. In doing these things, Mary Magdalene risked not only ostracism for her devotion to Christ’s teachings, but also for flaunting orthodox Jewish tradition, Sister Margaret said.
“Sometimes when life is difficult, that’s when we are purified,” she said. “A life of no resistance will never make you become who you are supposed to be. The example of Mary Magdalene calls women to listen for the call of Christ and proclaim it, and also to find the Christ within them. She also calls men to be willing to listen for the call of Christ through the messages of women.”
Sister Margaret focused on one particular Scripture passage in which Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17).
“We sometimes have to let go of what we carry with us, because too much busyness can keep us from knowing the living Christ,” Sister Margaret said.