On Magdalen’s Tears and the Harsh Judgments of the Pharisees.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On Magdalen’s Tears and the Harsh Judgments of the Pharisees.
On this day, the weekly commemoration of our Lord’s death, thousands, nay, millions of Christians turn their eyes to the cross, the hearts of some filled with love and compunction, of others with compassion and grief; and as they gaze on the cross of the Redeemer, beneath that cross they behold St. Mary Magdalen. She alone of all the women of Israel, she the sinner, whom the Pharisees despise and judge so rigorously, is privileged to associate herself with the Blessed Virgin and Mary of Cleophas, to stand by the cross, to embrace it, and testify her compassion with her dying Lord. The tears of compunction which she shed at His feet when He sat at meat earned for her the right to shed tears of love at His feet when He hung upon the cross.
1st. Consider the words of the Evangelist: “Standing behind at His feet she began to wash His feet with tears.” (St. Luke vii. 38.) Observe each word of this narrative. She stands behind our Lord because, recognizing her great sinfulness, she considers herself unworthy to appear before His divine countenance. Thus the humble and contrite come to the celestial Physician and cast themselves at His feet; those feet, the feet of the Good Shepherd who in His search after the lost sheep has endured weariness and pain; the same feet which bore the Saviour to Jacob’s well, in order to give living water to the Samaritan; the same which have now carried Him to the Pharisee’s house, for the purpose of “forgiving much” to her of whom it is said that she loved much. Scarcely has Magdalen placed herself at Jesus feet than tears of contrition flow so freely, so copiously from her eyes that they stream like water upon those sacred feet. “Behold,” exclaims St. Ambrose, “this new, this ingenious means of obtaining mercy! Not in words, but by her tears does she make confession of her sin. The usual order of things is reversed; rain comes down from heaven to fertilize the earth, but now the earth, hitherto accursed, whence Magdalen’s sinful body was formed, brings forth an overflowing supply of water to fructify the heavens; nay more, what is far above the heavens; to produce the fruits of compassion in Him who is the Lord of all, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.” O happy Magdalen, to be able to shed such tears! Who can look upon thee, a weeping, repentant sinner, without exclaiming in the words of the Prophet: “Feed me, Lord, with the bread of tears, and give me to drink tears in measure.”
2d. Consider how necessary it is for us all to shed tears of contrition, how indispensable is sorrow for sin, that holy compunction which, as we are told in the Imitation, opens the way to so much good. “Blessed are ye that weep now,” the Scripture says (St. Luke vi. 21), and again: “Blessed are they that mourn” (St. Matt. v. 5), those, that is, who mourn over their transgressions. “Of all manner of losses” we quote the words of St. Chrysostom “there is only one which can be made good by grief and sorrow, and that is the loss which a man suffers through sin. Consequently in the case of all else sorrow profits us nothing, in fact it tends rather to aggravate than alleviate our loss. But the loss caused by sin is completely repaired by sorrow for the sin we have committed.” Ask yourself, my soul, how it is with you in regard to this salutary sorrow, this profitable grief, particularly when you go to confession. You often lament over the small measure of good you derive from your frequent confessions. You should rather lament over the small measure of contrition you bring to the sacred tribunal, for that is the cause of it. As the rain in the springtide of the year produces no real good until the soil whereon it falls is no longer hard and frost-bound, so that the moisture can permeate the ground thoroughly, so the dew of Heaven, divine grace, which is distilled upon your heart in the Sacrament of Penance, cannot exercise its fertilizing influence unless the soul is softened and melted by the tears of penitence, by that holy compunction of which the author of the Imitation says: “Give thyself to compunction of heart and thou shalt find devotion; since the reason why we have not divine consolations, or seldom experience them, is our own fault, because we do not seek compunction of heart.” (B. i. ch. 21.)
3d. Consider the behavior of the Pharisees on the occasion of Magdalen’s conversion. The proud Pharisee was unable to appreciate the mission of the Saviour, who came not to condemn, but to save. As St. Gregory remarks: “he reviled the patient for his sickness and the physician for the cure.” If this woman had cast herself at the feet of the Pharisee, he would have repulsed her, for, having no real justice of his own, he would have thought that he would contract defilement from the sin of another. In this manner, the holy Pope proceeds to say, Priests, if they happen to have performed even the slightest act of virtue, are apt to despise those who are placed under them and will not associate with the ordinary Christian, regarding him in the light of a sinner. God grant that you may not be deserving of this reproach, my soul. See how the Pharisee forms the only dark shadow in the otherwise bright picture of Magdalen’s conversion. Do not imitate him, but imitate St. Ambrose, who in his work upon penance implores of God no gift more earnestly than the grace to have a tender and loving compassion for sinners. You are perhaps a Priest. Oh forget not that, “A Priest clad in his sacred vestments holds the place of Christ, to pray to God for himself and for all the people in a humble and suppliant manner. He wears the cross before him that he may bewail his own sins, and behind him that he may through compassion lament the sins of others; and know that he is appointed to stand between God and the sinner.” (Imit. B. iv. ch. 5.) If you are a Religious, then remember that besides tears and penitential exercises on account of his own sins, nothing is more becoming to the monk than to weep and do penance for the sins of the world. This it is that renders the convent pleasing to God and a blessing to the world, which makes it a hallowed temple whence the cry for mercy ascends in like measure as the cry for vengeance goes up to Heaven from the dwellings of the ungodly.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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