The 5th Sunday of Lent
April 3, 2022
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
As you all know, my favorite saint, my dear friend and patroness in heaven,
is St. Mary Magdalene.
And you know Lent cannot go by without me giving a homily about her.
Because she’s not only important to me, she’s important to the Church.
After all, she’s mentioned by name more often in the Gospels
than most of the Apostles,
she was at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother,
and of course she was the first to see the Risen Christ on Easter,
and was sent by Him to tell the news to the Apostles,
for which the Church venerates her with the honorific title,
“apostle to the Apostles.”
Sadly, if you read a lot of modern progressive scholars,
you might think that Magdalene was even more important than that
—that she was actually an Apostle herself,
and some even say, bizarrely, that she was actually Jesus’ wife.
Of course, they are wrong.
In the Gospels, St. Luke explicitly tells us that
Jesus had cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene;
and since “7” is symbolic of fullness or perfection,
the Church has always understood this to mean that
Magdalene had been filled with sin and vice—a great sinner.
With that as a background, Catholic tradition has always commonly thought
that Mary Magdalene is also is the woman called the “sinful woman”
who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the home of Simon the Pharisee.
But, for various reasons, tradition also usually considers Magdalene
to be the same person known as “Mary of Bethany”
—the sister of Lazarus and Martha.
And there is also a tradition, less widely accepted, but pretty commonly held,
that the woman in today’s Gospel— “the woman caught in adultery”—
is also Mary Magdalene.
But this poses a huge problem for some people today,
beyond the fact that it’s not explicitly in Scripture.
They say that portraying the great Magdalene as a sinner, even a prostitute,
demeans her and deprives her of her rightful dignity in the Church.
Some say this is a prime example of the anti-woman, male-dominated Church,
trying to oppress all women by portraying the heroines of Christ’s life
in some sort of negative light.
These people couldn’t be more wrong.
Jesus tells us:
“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
And of the sinful woman who washes His feet with her tears He says:
“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”
Anyone who thinks that calling a Christian a “repentant sinner”
is an insult or degrading, misses the whole point of the entire Gospel.
As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,”
To say that the Magdalene was a terrible sinner,
who has been forgiven and repented and reformed
and loved the Lord so much that His death seems to crush her with grief
–to say this is to give the greatest praise,
and recount the most noble achievement.
Magdalene, especially understood as the adulterous woman in today’s gospel,
is the ultimate story of redemption:
from terrible sinner to magnificent saint,
from the depths of despair and wretchedness
to the heights of sublime and perfect bliss,
from literally the gates of hell to the glory of heaven.
To repent and be saved—that’s not demeaning, it’s exalting.
And it’s the center of the mission of the Messiah,
and the heart of the life and the love of Jesus—
the whole reason and meaning of His suffering and death and resurrection.
As St. John wrote:
“This is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us
and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Jesus came into the world to suffer and die,
because He loved and wanted to save sinners.
The woman in today’s Gospel stands condemned by God’s own law
—and under that Law of Moses she deserves to be stoned.
And Jesus, God the Son, knew that law very well:
He is, after all the Eternal Word of God,
who gave that Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
In fact, some think this is what Jesus was writing in the sand with his finger:
the law He had given to Moses 3200 years before on Mt. Sinai.
But Jesus surprises the crowd, in the way He applies that law
by doing exactly what His Father sent him into the world to do:
“not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
Some people think that this means that Jesus rejects the old Law,
or even all notions of sin and punishment.
Of course they forget Jesus makes it very clear elsewhere in the Gospel
that He’s going to come back some day to judge the living and the dead,
and then He will condemn unrepentant sinners, as He says:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory…he will say…
‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire…”
In today’s gospel Jesus does not deny this woman’s sin, or her guilt,
or even that she deserves punishment.
He simply gives her a second chance—it’s not time for him to condemn, yet:
He wants to save her.
But it is time for her to repent, so he commands her: “go and sin no more.”
It’s interesting…Notice: Jesus doesn’t actually tell her, “your sins are forgiven.”
He just tells her he doesn’t “condemn” her—or pass final judgment on her—
and sends her away to “go and sin no more.”
It seems to me, that Jesus knows she’s not completely sorry for her sins, yet.
She’s not ready to repent.
Right now she’s in shock, scared and relieved,
and dumbfounded and overwhelmed by Jesus’ mercy.
And so she leaves and ponders His instructions: go and sin no more.
To me, this is part one of the story completed later in part two
when she comes back as the so called “sinful woman”
who washes Jesus feet with her tears at Simon’s house.
She wasn’t ready in today’s gospel, but she comes back later,
and her tears tell us what words cannot of the depth of her repentance.
And then, Jesus not only forgives her, but He praises her:
“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”
Again, this is only my conjecture, but …
In any case, we need this story, and the great figure of St. Mary Magdalene,
penitent saint, now more than ever.
I don’t know if she’s the same woman in today’s gospel,
but she was a great sinner, like this woman,
but a great sinner who became a great saint.
Some who try to discard this tradition think this is part of “liberating” women.
But Jesus Christ is the only true liberator of women
—their true and only Redeemer and Savior.
He is the Savior of the woman caught in adultery,
the sinful woman who washes His Feet,
Mary–and Martha–of Bethany,
and even the Blessed Virgin Mary,
and every single woman before and since
who has been burdened by the weight of sin
—either their own sin, or the sins of others.
What a glorious promise to women weighed down
with the guilt of a past abortion,
or by a boyfriend pressuring them to compromise their virtue.
What a sign of hope to the women today who are told over and over
that careers and sexual libertinism are more important
than loving babies or husbands.
What a blessing to a young woman
who thinks she has to torture and starve herself
to look like a supermodel, so that some undeserving man will love her.
And what a consolation and clarification to a girl who is struggling with the lie
that if she’s confused in her transition from childhood to womanhood,
maybe she’s really a boy.
Now, more than ever,
women need to know that Christ wants to give them a second chance,
and make all things new.
But of course, this story isn’t just about women.
Jesus also tells the men who brought her to Him
“let he among you without sin, cast the first stone.”
Ultimately, this story is about all of us: men, women, boys, girls
–none of us is “without sin.”
Whether our sin is adultery and lust in its many forms,
or the sin of pride, or avarice, envy, anger, gluttony, or sloth,
or the sin of self-righteousness.
Whether we sin in large and grave ways, or small and venial ways.
Whether we’ve been caught in the act, or hide our sins in secret.
We are all sinners—and Christ is speaking to us.
And He invites us, especially during this season of Lent,
like the woman caught in adultery,
first, to be dramatically confronted by our sins
and the fact that they are worthy of punishment,
and then, to recognize that Christ wants to save us from all that!
If only we will mourn our sins, and repent, and change
and accept His love and love Him in return, from the depths of our hearts,
like the sinful woman washing his feet with her tears,
who, even though “her sins… [were] many,”
was “forgiven, for she loved much.”
As we enter this Passiontide, these last days of Lent,
let us walk hand in hand with the wonderful Saint Mary Magdalene,
and let us kneel with her, once again weeping at Jesus’ feet,
but this time as He hangs upon the Cross.
And let us ask her to teach us what these days are all about.
And through her example and intercession,
let us discover that there is no greater privilege in heaven or earth,
than to be a forgiven sinner
and no greater honor than to be called a “repentant sinner.”
And there is no greater blessing than to be made new
by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,
poured out from the wounds of his suffering and death.
And there are no more sublime or loving words
than the words Jesus once said to Magdalen, and today says to all of us:
“neither do I condemn you…go, and sin no more.”