A letter to St Mary Magdalene

WelCom July 2018: In 2016, Pope Francis set a feast day on July 22 honouring St Mary Magdalene, putting her on a par with the apostles and underlining the importance of…

WelCom July 2018:

In 2016, Pope Francis set a feast day on July 22 honouring St Mary Magdalene, putting her on a par with the apostles and underlining the importance of the first testimony of the Resurrection and the role of women in evangelisation. A key woman in Jesus’ life, Mary Magdalene was the first witness of the Risen Christ and the first messenger who announced the Resurrection to the apostles. Some 2000 years on from Mary’s personal encounter with Christ, Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm writes to Mary with news about women today.

Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm

July 2018


Aotearoa-New Zealand

Dear MM

A quick note to get you up to speed. You’ll remember my writing last year about the ‘alternative facts’ concerning your identity. I noted that the gospel accounts portray you as a devoted disciple of Jesus, a courageous leader who ministers, mourns, honours and witnesses. What a woman! ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ and now ranked equal to them. The 2016 elevation gave us a real boost. Your courage in telling truth to power despite the response continues to inspire.

Things are moving rapidly throughout the western world, Mary. Women in all walks of life are finding their voice and calling out a male sense of entitlement. The Spirit is indeed working! Of course, Catholic women have demanded a hearing since 1963 encouraged by Pacem et Terris (#41) In fact, our very own Catholic Women’s League aims ‘to give Catholic women a voice in Church and society’.

Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, powerfully spells out the issues using some very memorable images https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9Q9VqkrfCw – well worth a listen, Mary. We’ve yet to reach a tipping point but Pope Francis’s bold vision excites me. I turn to it often:

I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”– (Evangelii Gaudium #27).

How inspirational is that!

I really believe, Mary, that PF is trying to create a climate for widespread change. His apology concerning the abused in Chile, contrasting his initial appalling hostility, shows willingness to change. He also regularly calls out clericalism in its many manifestations.

And with several G9 Cardinals under fire for issues around sexual abuse, I’m hopeful, Mary, that Francis will appoint women to the Group. Mary McAleese, Helen Clark, Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Tina Beattie and Elizabeth Johnson spring to mind. It would be another of his ‘encyclicals of gestures’.

The thing is, Mary, if Donald and Kim can dialogue, what’s to stop PF and women? Francis will learn that women are more than ‘strawberries on the cake’. His cultural conditioning and consequent verbal clangers demand an astute feminist minder.

Just a reminder here, Mary, that we’ve an important anniversary 22 September – 125 years since women were able to vote. We organised a wonderful celebration in the Cathedral for the centenary. Women’s stories were told (yours included – in fact, I recall Ethel Bignell rsm preaching powerfully about your meeting Jesus at the tomb). We recalled the names of unsung women, faithful contributors to the life of the Church here, while singing and praying our hearts out. Admittedly there’s been progress over the past 25 years. Women are involved in every decision-making body except Councils of Priests. However, we still can’t make decisions – decision-making is tied to ordination, not baptism. Likewise, we can’t give homilies. (By the way, Mary, thanks for the heads up about http://www.catholicwomenpreach.org/ – it’s helpful knowing there’s a decent Sunday homily available when hungry.

As you know, Mary, our experience as Catholic women here is particularly challenging – the contrast between our ‘church’ experience and our social reality is striking. Our history of political and social recognition means that we have been socialised to believe we can have a voice, make a difference and bring about radical change. Sadly, I have met two older women recently who have left the Church. But I’m here for the long haul. I stay because I have been called into and not out of the Church and your story, Mary, makes anything possible.