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A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: July 8, 2023
By Father Andrew Hart, JCL
A basic truth of the Christian life is that we are to raise our eyes from present circumstances to future realities. This lesson is often cited in times of suffering. By recalling God’s promises and past consolations, we can more easily endure passing hardships.
But the same truth should also guide us in happier moments. While we can enjoy and give thanks for God’s temporal blessings, we should not mistake them for the eternal happiness he calls us to. The Giver is always greater than his gifts.
On July 22, we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, whose life offers concrete examples of what I mean. The Gospel of Luke tells us that she became a disciple of Jesus after he freed her from demonic possession, (Luke 8:2) and she followed him faithfully all the way to the foot of the cross. (Mark 15:40; John 19:25)
Take a moment in these summer days to think about your own journey with the Lord. Are you in the midst of hardship or suffering? Be strong and have hope, as Mary Magdalene did at the foot of the cross. And if you are in the midst of blessing? Give thanks, rejoice, but don’t cling to earthly joys.
Her fidelity to the Lord in that moment of trial, unlike many of the other disciples, is perhaps explained not only by her friendship with him but also by her own prior experience of his power. Because Mary had not forgotten what Jesus had once done for her, she was able to hope in what God might yet do through the hardship of Calvary.
Perhaps for just this reason, Mary Magdalene was also the first disciple to see the Lord after his resurrection. (Mark 16:9) In John’s account of this encounter, (John 20:11-18) we see a poignant example of the need to look beyond present blessings to future beatitude.
Having at first mistaken the risen Jesus for the gardener, Mary is overjoyed to recognize the Lord when he speaks her name. Jesus’ response is challenging: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17)
To be sure, Jesus knows that Mary is elated to be reunited with him. But his response is a gentle encouragement to raise her eyes to what is still to come — to understand how the resurrection has changed the nature of their relationship, and for the better.
When he ascends to the Father, Jesus will be able to be more closely united to her and to all his disciples in ways previously unimagined: by the gift of the Holy Spirit, by sanctifying grace, and by his presence in the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist.
Mary Magdalene goes forth from this encounter to share the good news of the resurrection with the other disciples, (John 20:18) and is thus called an “apostle to the apostles.” I think she must have also shared with them that important lesson that Jesus taught her: that even the joy of seeing him risen was only a preparation for the joys to come. Now, at last, we can say that Mary’s happiness is complete, for she clings eternally to the Lord in heaven, beholding him face to face.
Take a moment in these summer days to think about your own journey with the Lord. Are you in the midst of hardship or suffering? Be strong and have hope, as Mary Magdalene did at the foot of the cross. And if you are in the midst of blessing? Give thanks, rejoice, but don’t cling to earthly joys. Strive instead, as Mary Magdalene did, to attain the heavenly blessings she now enjoys, for the Giver is always greater than his gifts.