Wednesday, July 22, 2015

St Mary Magdalene: The Scandal of Christian Intimacy

St Mary Magdalene has been treated very oddly in history and not always with the greatest respect. She has received the reputation of being a former prostitute or a loose woman. We do know that she has seven devils cast out of her and that she is fundamentally instrumental in bearing witness to the Resurrection and declaring that news to the Apostles.

Then, thanks mainly to folk who don't understand the meaning of "non-canonical" and who want to make up some argument on Gnostic texts, St Mary Magdalene becomes the wife of the Lord and bearer of His children. Yet, I think one can be justified in thinking that, given the love that she has for the Lord, if His mission requires marriage, I am convinced it would be St Mary Magdalene who becomes His wife. But she is not. She is His devoted follower in life, His caretaker in Death and His principal witness to the resumption of His life. This makes her very intimately unique in the life of Our Lord.

Intimacy is something that has Christians blushing all over. Pope St Gregory the Great is somewhat responsible for identifying St Mary Magdalene with the anonymous woman who weeps over Our Lord's feet, dries them with her hair and anoints him with oil in preparation for His burial. That is a rather scandalous image of a woman caressing Our Lord with such affection and gratitude for His love. If such a thing was happening to us, we would feel very awkward indeed, but then we aren't the Saviour of the world. Clearly in this woman, St Gregory sees characteristics in common with St Mary.

Our Lord does say, "noli me tangere" - "do not touch me" or more accurately, "do not cling on to me" as if she were accustomed to doing so. It is clear that she has much affection for Him but given His calling to celibacy (a calling itself scandalous at that time) she respects that this intimacy has a limit.

By being made man, Our Lord attains limitation. In the flesh, He cannot be as intimate with human beings as He is with the other persons of the Trinity. The closest intimacy for human beings is that of marriage and of sexual intercourse in the confines of commitment and love where husband and wife are as naked and as vulnerable as they can be to each other. Even then, there must be a limit to that intimacy for immortal souls remain invisible until Judgment Day where all things are revealed.

The Church has no problem with sex. It is people who have the problem with sex, for they align their whole being with a biological urge, however good and natural that urge may be. No-one has a right to sex, for sex is not jst an urge or a drive: it is a privilege given by God for those willing to expose themselves completely to another human being in an atmosphere of trust and solemn commitment, respecting the two bodies that God has given, and seeking another peculiar intimacy, that of pregnancy. Pregnancy is an even deeper intimacy peculiar only to women in which God creates, through laws of His own making, a new, beautiful individual. Sexual intimacy is the gateway to unique miracles of God in new persons, and thus its profanation through fornication and lack of chastity contradicts the very thing it is to be human, returning us back to our comparison with the beasts which perish.

For God, there is a deeper intimacy available. It may appear one-sided as He enters the very depths of our soul and waits there for us to seek Him out in the depths of our being through prayer and devotion, even as St Mary Magdalene did. We cannot cling to Him for His very Divine Nature is not something we can grasp, but is constantly just out of reach until we become truly like Him. Yet, for someone like St Thomas, the Body of Christ affords an intimacy as we reach into the wounds in His body which He suffered to be opened for us and there find our humanity wrapped up in His person inextricably linked with His Divinity.

St Mary Magdalene finds this deeper intimacy by being present with Our Lord in His life on earth and now in His life in Heaven. For her, there is no need of sexual intimacy which is limited and earth-bound, but she seeks that which she cannot cling to before death and she finds it for God Himself seeks intimacy with her. We may find God's desire for intimacy with us scandalous because we are all to aware of our brokenness and shame. Like Adam and Eve, we seek to hide ourselves from God's penetrating knowledge of all His Creation. However, by letting Him into every single aspect of our lives - yes, even our sexual being - we find ourselves ready for our perfection and that strange and wonderful prospect of being re-united intimately with God Himself!

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