St. Mary Magdalene and the Beginning of Advent
Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
St. Mary Magdalene and the Beginning of Advent
Georges de la Tour has an intriguing painting of the Penitent Magdalene. A woman is sitting at a dressing table with a candle on the table in front of a mirror. In her lap, she is carrying a skull and on the dressing table, she has left a string of pearls. The candle is reflected in the mirror, giving the visual effect of seeing two flames. The woman seems introspective. We can imagine that this is Mary Magdalene years after her life-changing encounter with Jesus. She has decided to leave behind a life of luxury and sin and is very aware of her own mortality.
It can be a wonderful image for the beginning of Advent. In today’s Gospel, we hear the words of Jesus: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” We are called today to awareness, vigilance, and preparation.
What is going on in our own lives? How self-aware are we? Mary Magdalene looks at herself in the mirror. It can be helpful for all of us to look in the mirror, figuratively, but even physically as well. “Learning to tune into your image will not turn you into a towering narcissist. Quite the opposite: you’ll learn to stay present with yourself, manage the intensity of your emotions, and tap into a new inner strength” (Well, 2020).
Mary Magdalene certainly spent much time after her encounter with Jesus weighing her life decisions. Before meeting him, maybe she felt determined by her life circumstances. She didn’t like many details of her life but they seemed beyond her control. By reflecting on her life once again with the light of the Gospel, she began to see that there were many things she could decide to do differently. Doing so gave her a new sense of power and accomplishment.
She learned to process her emotions better and discovered a new strength within herself. This would sustain her after the crucifixion when she rushed to the burial place and became the first witness of the empty tomb. Now, years after the resurrection, she engages regularly in deep Christian meditation to find strength for her daily battles. This is something we can learn from her to live out today’s Gospel message.
“Be ready.” These words speak to our experience of Advent. It is a time to be ready. It is a time to be prepared. We can often think about external preparations. When we are thinking about holidays, we may think of invitations, and cooking, and setting tables, and so forth. But there is also a necessary internal preparation. We must steel ourselves for the challenge of human interactions. We are called to be ready for the Second Coming of Christ. We associate Advent especially with the coming of Jesus at Christmas that already happened two thousand years ago. For the Church, however, there is also a strong association to the Second Coming of Christ.
Many of us love Christmas decorations. There are traditional decorations that we love getting out of storage every year. It gives us a sense that Christmas is coming once again. Every year, we put out our Advent wreaths once again. One of my most cherished memories from the years working in El Salvador was gathering with families to bless their Advent wreaths. Even people who may not have church ever top of mind love the tradition of the Advent wreath. It is a great opportunity to rekindle the faith that we are all called to be living.
The image of St. Mary Magdalene can accompany us through this time of Advent. She remembered her whole life long the life-changing encounter with Jesus. We should make an effort to remember our first encounter with Christ as well. Then, we can use this time of Advent to deepen our sense of his presence in our lives and prepare for his Second Coming.
Think of your friends and family. See if there is someone you can help come home to the Church during this Advent season. This is the greatest gift you could give to Jesus for Christmas.
Tara Well. (2020). What the mirror can teach you about yourself: Advice from a mirror gazing expert. https://www.mindful.org/what-the-mirror-can-teach-you-about-yourself-advice-from-a-mirror-gazing-expert/