Light from the Altar – Mary Magdalen, 22 July

It was a spacious room, open to the street from which sightseers passed in and out. A great man was “at meat,” and his friends were about him, and his servants waited upon him. Simon was his name. He was a Pharisee, a strict observer of the details of the law, and a transgressor of the main points. Somewhere at the lower end of the triple table reclined the Prophet of Nazareth, Jesus, the carpenter’s son. A few rustics surrounded Him, uncouth men, but devoted disciples who had eyes and ears for none but their Master.

Presently there was a stir at the door, some half-loud exclamations were uttered by those nearest, and a well-bred gesture of horror was made by the great man as there stepped lightly past him the tall, lithe figure of a woman. Her hair hung loose about her, precious ornaments still decked her beauty, but her eyes were downcast, her face was pale, and the hands that held an alabaster box trembled. “Where was she going, this sinner? What was she doing in the house of a Pharisee? With quick steps she passed the best seats at the table and their haughty occupants, and, as if by instinct found the couch where Jesus lay. His face was sad. His head slightly bent, His unsandalled feet were blistered and dust-laden. The woman knelt on the ground beside Him and washed His feet with her burning tears and wiped them with her hair, and kissed them with penitent love.

Simon the Pharisee looked on. Here was a revelation! Jesus was styled a prophet, yet this woman was a notorious sinner and He allowed her to touch Him, weep over Him, anoint Him. At any rate He was found out now. Simon’s judgment was known as soon as passed. His heart and that of the sinner lay open before the despised Prophet of Nazareth.

“Simon, I have something to say to thee.”

“Master, say it,” was the condescending answer.

“A certain creditor had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, the other fifty. And whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which therefore of the two loveth him most?”

“I suppose that he to whom he forgave most,” was Simon’s answer.

“Thou hast judged rightly,” our Lord replied. “Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house; thou gavest Me no water for My feet; but she with tears hath washed My feet, and with her hairs has wiped them. Thou gavest Me no kiss, but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint, but she with ointment hath anointed My feet. Whereof I say to thee, many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. Thy sins are forgiven thee,” He said to the Magdalen, “go in peace.”

Magdalen rose and went in peace.

July 22nd is the Feast of Mary Magdalen, the saint that was once a sinner, the woman who turned from the love of the world to the love of our Lord; who braved the sneers of the self-righteous, and wore her contrition in public as she had worn her shame. Hers was the first confession full in form, full in effect. On her knees at the lowly couch she acknowledged her sins to her Savior, with tears of humblest sorrow she bewailed them, by her altered manner disowned them, and by the voice of God Himself was absolved. “Thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace.” Need any one despair with such an example before him I Think of the persons in this story. Mary, the notorious sinner, crushed with the weight of her sins. The Pharisee, personification of pride and self-complacency, passing rash judgment; Jesus, the omniscient, full of tender pity and compassion, saying “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” No pardon from man, a full remission from God. And God. not man, is our judge.

The words of Jesus were creative; as He spoke, Mary’s soul became white as driven snow; her sins were remembered no longer, her soul was filled with peace.

There is a greater comfort than this still. Not only does the poor sinner obtain pardon, but the very weight of her transgressions is the cause of a great love. “He loveth much to whom much is forgiven.” Think what love means – nearness, devotion, service. Could Jesus, the all-pure, accept devotion, service, love and a public sinner? Jesus did. Magdalen sat at His feet at Bethany, ministered to His wants on His journeys, stood with His Immaculate Mother on Calvary. Who can lose heart when he sees the sinner converted, pardoned, cherished, praised even, by the same Lord he himself serves? Oh! it is love we lack – the love of our Lord. Let us ask for it, seek for it, knock for it, be importunate until we get it. Love makes the bitter backward step from sin to grace so easy. Confession becomes easy, satisfaction easy, for the thoughts of self and one’s shame die before the strong love of our Lord.

Let us ask the Magdalen to show us how to break away from the ties that bind us to unholy things, how to kneel, at our Lord’s feet, and open out to Him, how to wipe away the post by true sorrow, and atone for it by true love.

MLA Citation

  • Father James J McGovern. “Mary Magdalen, 22 July”. Light from the Altar, 1906. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 October 2019. Web. 25 January 2021. <>