Friday, June 20, 2014

Seeing the price of her freedom

For all those who desire deeper interior freedom...or wish to understand the deepest causes of real freedom...consider these words on St. Mary Magdalene from the great and late Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar. It's meaty and dense, but give it a shot. I'm on my third read of it today. Good stuff. I'd love to know what gems you find in it. Let me know!

from Magdalen
 by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

"At the Cross she learns how much it cost him to deliver her from seven demons.  Even before that she was certainly filled with nothing but gratitude and had placed all she had at the disposal of Jesus and his followers.  Freed from a sevenfold servile bondage, she had entered a freedom unknown to her like one who steps out of a gloomy dungeon into the open air.  Everything within her was drawn toward her liberator, to whom she owed a completely new existence exceeding all her hopes.  For these reasons what she experiences at Golgotha cannot be put into words.  Her liberator cruelly nailed up in a tortured death agony and she, the one he set free, unable to do anything at all to free him.  Moreover, she knows, unbearably, that her freedom to love him is purchased by this torment.  She cannot return to her prison and thereby set him free; she must simply endure having her freedom paid for with this breathtakingly high price.  She realizes that her offer of love can do nothing now to brighten the dark night of his abandonment by God.  She cannot offer her suffering as a balm for his.  His is alone, on the other side of a broken bridge.

She cannot make herself useful in any way.  She hears the death rattle, sees the blood run from his open side, but it is the men who take the corpse down after Joseph of Arimathea finally returns from seeing Pilate and buying the linen.  They may have laid his body on his Mother's lap, but certainly not on Mary Magdalen's.  She is an observer and remains one while the corpse is prepared for and finally placed in the tomb, which is then sealed.  "Mary Magdalen and the other Mary stayed there, sitting down across from the tomb" (Mt 27:56).  Behind the stone that cut off her line of vision lay what had once been her life.  For the entire following day the stone of the Sabbath weighed heavily upon her existence and robbed her of all action.  "On the Sabbath they rested according to the law" (Lk. 23:56)
Then comes the report of a Resurrection morning that cannot be entirely reconstructed with certainty: carrying their spices, the women find the open tomb; Magdalen runs to the disciples to give them the news (before or after the angels' proclamation in Mk 16:5-7?) and then finds her solitary way back to the grave for the great scene reported in Jn. 20:11-18.  Neither the gaping emptiness nor the conversation with the two angels who sit at the head and at the feet of a missing corpse, not even her words to the supposed gardener, can drive the opaque darkness of Good Friday away from the woman's soul.  Only with the name: "Mary" does the whole light of the Resurrection flood into her.  And therewith the heavy rock that separated her from her Master under the Cross is pushed aside: "Mary - Master" is a pure merging of love.  Yet in the same moment a new curtain of separation falls: "Don't hold on to me."

The woman must hold.  The man holds not: he takes hold and lets go; he goes his own way, does his own deeds.  But in his taking hold he forces the woman to hold, and she will hold the child in a completely different way than he.  And, if the man holds her not, she has a deep desire to hold God, to present herself to him as a "bride" whom he cannot leave behind.  The same applies if Mary is personam Ecclesiae gerends, that is, playing the role of the Church, as the Church Fathers say: the Church must also grant freedom to her Bridegroom ("If it is my will, what does that matter to you?" Jn 21:22-23).  For that is the only way she receives the freedom of Easter.  As she lets go, she can receive Jesus' message for his brethren; had she clung tight in spirit, she would never have been able to carry it out.  The Lord granted the woman - both as the Church and as the individual - freedom to say nothing of her experience with him and rather simply to pass on his message.  "Mary Magdalen went thither and announced to the disciples: I have seen The Lord, and that is what he told me" (Jn. 20:18).

The men - who dismiss the women's message as "empty talk" and receive a scolding from Jesus for having done so - take over the proclamation of the Resurrection, with Peter as their head.  The message of the women disappears behind them (in Jewish law women were not legitimate witnesses).  But this message dare not be forgotten, for it is the message of that Church who was present at the end of the Crucifixion and the first to be granted a glimpse of the Resurrection.


  1. Hi Father, I'd rather hear what you've found in it!

    But simply put this is what I see . . . top to bottom:

    Recognition of the value of the Kingdom, desire or attraction towards it, the sense of unworthiness, overwhelming sense of humility, experiencing an imposed darkness (sense of loss, abandonment, confusion), the grace of a personal encounter with Jesus, joy and recognition of a present and reciprocal love, call to detachment of 'worldly' desires in pursuit of the Kingdom (or to enable the carrying out of the work for Kingdom), the pain of detachment impelling one to expand the desire for God in order to gain greater unity with Him... and his Will (a relationship intimate as a woman who holds her child within her womb, within herself), a releasing of own will and desires recognizing preeminence of God's Will thus entering into the freedom promised by Christ. 'Thy will be done'. . . Where His freedom is our freedom.

    Mary Magdalen was a contemplative.

    I'm sure I'm missing lots of really great stuff ... I'll have to read it a couple more times.

    Peace & Joy, Kira Mello

  2. These words are haunting: "the opaque darkness of Good Friday"

    I'll print it out and re-read it and meditate on it.