Journey into the Desert: Reflections on Worship – Week 4: Offering Our Sins

On February 28, I wrote about the first ever Lenten Video Study produced by the parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert, Arizona. The title of the study is Journey into the Desert: Reflections on Worship. If you signed up for the study through our parish Flocknote service, then you have been receiving weekly videos that pertain to this study. To learn more about this study and how it came to be, here is the article I wrote on February 28.

For today’s article, I am sharing my video and reflections with you. I was assigned to focus on how we can offer our sins to God through Worship. Below is my video, the reading that goes with the video, which is from The Way of the Disciple by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, questions to answer, and then a prayer to recite. There are also additional resources at the end, including my favorite poem which was given to me in my Senior Seminar Class in the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco 20 years ago by the aforementioned author.

Make time this week to prayerfully read and reflect on this excerpt…

“The great moral problem of the Samaritan appears to be that, in her search for love, she has had too many husbands. And her present “husband” really is not one at all. The frantic search for love, which often compensates for the lack of quality by sheer force of quantity, in the end has only created a greater void in the soul. After so many men, the woman finds herself alone, face to face with the Son of Man.

An interesting exegetical notation to John 4:18 (“You have had five husbands, and he whom you have now is not your husband”) refers us to 2 Kings 17:24: “And the King of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria, and dwelt in her cities.” These five pagan nations, which supplied occupants for Samaria, have been apparently symbolized by John in the woman’s five husbands, to indicate the Samaritan’s religious and moral perversion in the eyes of the Judeans, who had kept their faith and their race pure from foreign admixtures. The woman, personifying Samaria, and Samaria, personifying all sinners, together represent the human slide towards idolatry, self-indulgence, and the abandonment of God’s Law. Note, too, the sexual connotation of the expression “they took possession of Samaria”. The fundamental question here is our tendency to allow ourselves to be seduced by any lover other than God. The present, sixth “husband” on call, who is not really a husband, would then refer to the current Roman occupation that in the end utterly destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
We then have a grand total of six husbands, who neither singly nor collectively have brought the woman any lasting happiness. After so much flirtation with love, the poor Samaritan still has to draw water alone at noontime, still has to continue looking after herself. What an unbearable burden, to invest so much in “love” and get so little in return! But Jesus is the seventh Man, who comes to remove this burden from her shoulders. Seven, as we know, is the number of perfection, the number signaling the end of the search, the fulfillment of all desire, the arrival home.  What at first had been the mere breaking of a double taboo- Judean man talking to a Samarian woman- is revealed at this point as something much deeper: if Jesus dares to approach her and speak so intimately with her, without her covering her face with a veil (note how even the disciples are a little scandalized: “They marveled that he was talking with a woman”) it is because he is wooing her in order to seduce her heart and persuade her to welcome him as the Bridegroom of her soul.

We necessarily skip over all the other numerous aspects of the episode to conclude with one final theme: the conversion of the woman from needy sinner to disciple and evangelist. Jesus has peered into the depths of her soul and revealed to her her own innermost secrets, above all, her deep sadness at never having found a true love. But this revelation, far from frightening, depressing, or scaring her away, rather fills the woman with joy, the joy that announces the beginning of a new life. When he proclaims her sins to her, Jesus works a kind of exorcism that frees her of them. “So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me all I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” The fact that Jesus has cleansed her soul with his gaze incites her to recognize in him the Messiah sent by God, the anointed Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The abandonment of the water jar, like Bartimaeus’ throwing off his old rag, symbolizes the newness of life that derives everything from Jesus, a life that no longer needs to carry the same crushing and absurd burdens or repeat the same useless tasks. Notice that, throughout the episode, neither Jesus nor the woman ever drinks a single drop of water, even though everything was set in motion by thirst of the body. The two have been refreshed and satisfied by their dialogue of love- he by making himself known and inviting her to intimacy with him, she by opening up little by little to divine seduction and surrendering at last with all the jubilation and immense relief of an enslaved soul that exits to freedom.

Such liberation makes her hasten to her townspeople, the very ones who have previously rejected her. Now she cares little about her marginal status: the rejected one now breaks the barrier that Jesus has first broken in approaching her, but now in order to proclaim to one and all what she has found. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” But this new disciple, who has drunk in Jesus’ essential teaching in what could be called a very accelerated crash course, is only an ambassador, the precursor who is followed by Jesus’ personal presence. Her personal witnesses opened up hearts and ears, preparing people to receive Jesus in person. She makes herself into a pure instrument of God’s love; now she seems consumed with one desire: to love Jesus and bring others to him.

The true disciple rejoices at nothing more than at hearing what the woman heard in the end: “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this indeed is the Saviour of the world.” What greater joy could be ours, too, than to know that many others may come to share in our own delight at having been found by Jesus.”

Reflect

After watching the video and reading the excerpt, consider these questions for prayerful reflection, journaling, and/or discussion with others…

  • What in your personal life is the “water jar” or “old rag” that is keeping you from abandoning yourself completely to God?
  • If you haven’t been to the Sacrament of Confession in some time, what is holding you back from God’s mercy and forgiveness? If you have been to Confession recently, what brought you to the Sacrament?
  • Do you struggle to reconcile the sins of your daily life with your call to be a disciple in the world?
  • Are you ready for a metanoia – a revolution of your soul – in your relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church?

St. Mary Magdalene and Three Things We Can Learn from Her Life

Today, in both the Eastern and Western lungs of the Church, we celebrate the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. Her name Magdalene derives from the tradition that she hailed from a town in northern Galilee called, Magdala. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Apostle, and other female relatives, it is revealed in the Sacred Scriptures that St. Mary Magdalene was at the foot of the cross as Jesus was crucified.

Although there are quite a few traditions surrounding the life of St. Mary Magdalene, it is believed universally by the West that she was the woman that Jesus Christ drove seven demons from in the Gospel of St. Luke: “And the Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out…” (8:2; see also Mk 16:9).

The writings of St. Clement of Alexandria and others also teach that the woman who anointed Jesus with an alabaster flask of ointment and wet his feet with her tears in Luke 7:37-38 is St. Mary Magdalene –

“And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”

In other traditions, some see St. Mary Magdalene as the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This tradition even has her traveling with her brother, sister, and some of the other disciples of Jesus Christ to Marseilles, France, after they were exiled from their home region by the Jews for believing in Jesus Christ. It is taught in France that she lived in a cave for 30 years, speaking with the angels often until her death. Tradition also teaches that Lazarus became the first bishop of that area.

The Eastern Tradition has her traveling to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Apostle and remaining there for the rest of her life until her death at an old age. The East adheres that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 A.D.

St. Mary Magdalene

Although all these traditions have their own important value, we see her importance in all four gospels (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:9; Lk 24:10; Jn 20:11-18) where it is revealed that Jesus appeared to St. Mary Magdalene on the day of His Resurrection, Easter Sunday. In two of the four gospels, St. Matthew and St. Luke, other women accompany Mary Magdalene. Since it is St. Mary Magdalene who first professes to the Apostles the Resurrection of Jesus, she is often referred to as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

So what we can learn from the life of this important saint?

First, like St. Mary Magdalene, all Christians are called to wait with faith and trust in God. So many of us want God to work quickly in our lives, we forget that God works at His pace and in His time. We must have faith that He knows exactly what we need despite our own desires. Just as St. Mary Magdalene heard the words of Jesus and trusted that he would rise from the dead, so we must also hear the words of Jesus in the Sacred Scriptures and trust in all that he professes.

Second, we must stand outside the tomb seeking Jesus Christ. As Catholic Christians today, we must establish a personal friendship with Jesus Christ. It is great that we know about Jesus Christ and His Church, since they are one and the same, but do we truly have a deep friendship with Him? Do we speak to Jesus on a daily basis? Standing outside the tomb waiting for him always will keep us focused on what truly matters in this life and in the life to come.

Third, we must have the ability to repent of our sins and be humble in the face of God. Although St. Mary Magdalene is not the prostitute in the scriptures some have claimed, she at one point must have confessed her sins to Christ, where upon he then forgave her of those sins. To be a follower of Jesus Christ, a intentional disciple, one must confess the wrongs he/she have committed in life and be humble enough to say – “O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As Catholics, reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is fundamental and should be practiced often.

Let Us Pray: O God, you gave St. Mary Magdalene the important duty to tell His apostles and others the news of Easter joy. Through her intercession, may we have the courage to spread the gospel message to all we encounter daily.

Saint Mary Magdalene…Pray for Us.

This blog post is dedicated to the clergy, staff, and parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Gilbert, AZ.