TEXT: 5th Sunday of Lent, March 13, 2016

March 16, 2016 Father De Celles Homily

5th Sunday of Lent

March 13, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Now, don’t raise your hands,

but how many here have seen Mel Gibson’s movie

“The Passion of the Christ”?

And how many have read the novel or seen the movie “The Da Vinci Code”?


I ask this because a central character in both of these,

is the person known to history as Mary Magdalene.

But the portrayals of her are as radically different as can be.

And this difference can be seen in other similar popular movies and books.


In Gibson’s movie she was portrayed as a devoted disciple overwhelmed by grief

at the suffering and death of her Messiah and Redeemer—Jesus;

but in “the Da Vinci Code” she was presented

as a wealthy aristocrat apostle

and, in fact wife to the wealthy rabbi Jesus,

who wanted to be king.

Which one of these is the more accurate portrayal?


Long story short, the Gibson version is based

on the Gospels written by people who actually knew Jesus or the Apostles

and were inspired by the Holy Spirit,

along with the teachings of the early Church

and the centuries of traditions handed down by faithful Catholics,

while the DaVinci Code version is based on pseudo-scholarship

motivated by anti-Christian ideology

and built on the willfully fictional accounts of infamous heretics

writing 1 or 2 or even 3 hundred years after Christ’s death,


In short, the Mary Magdalene in Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ”

is much more the true Magdalene of the Bible, and of history:

the repentant sinner who became a great saint.


Now, there is clearly more to the story than what’s explicitly in the Bible.

In fact, in the Catholic tradition Mary Magdalene

has always been commonly thought to be

the same person Scripture calls the “sinful woman”

the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears

at the home of Simon the Pharisee.

Tradition also usually considers Magdalene

to be the same person known as “Mary of Bethany”

—the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

But unlike the Da Vinci Code and other modern portrayals of Magdalene,

all this Catholic tradition is based on or at least consistent with scripture,

and handed down by centuries of faithful Catholic scholars and saints.


Now, some of you may be saying,

“that’s very interesting, Father,

but what does it have to do with today’s readings,

or the season of Lent?”

The thing is, there is also a tradition, less widely accepted,

but reasonable and pretty widespread,

that the woman in today’s Gospel— “the woman caught in adultery”—

is also Mary Magdalene.


But this ancient tradition poses a problem for some people today.

For some, it’s a problem because it’s not explicitly in Scripture.

To them I say, “relax,” because we Catholics, along with secular scholars,

have a long history of respecting oral and extra-biblical traditions,

as long as they come from credible sources,

and don’t contradict the teachings of Scripture or the Church.


But to others, this tradition proposes a completely different and huge problem.

They say that portraying Magdalene as a sinner

demeans her and deprives her of her rightful high stature in the Church.

The really radical ones claim

that 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.

And unfortunately, many innocent folks have bought into this silliness.


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,”

For me, to say that the Magdalene was a terrible sinner,

but a 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 rags to riches story:

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 death and hell

to the foot of the Cross and the Resurrection.


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 reason and meaning of his suffering and death and resurrection.

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

….and with his wounds we are healed…”

And 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,

and all 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 knew that law very well:

before His Incarnation, Jesus was the Eternal Word of God

who gave that Law to Moses.

In fact, some think this is what Jesus was writing in the sand with his finger:

the law He had dictated to Moses 3200 years ago.


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.

If that’s the case, you can see why they can’t understand why

Magdalene’s sins can be important to Christians,

except as an old-fashioned means of humiliating her and all women.

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

…Then he will say to those at his left,

‘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.

If you 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 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”

and approaches Jesus at Simon’s house

and falls at his feet, washing them with her tears.

She wasn’t ready in today’s gospel, but when she comes back later,

then she’s ready, and her tears tell us what words cannot

of the depth of her sorrow for her sins.

And then, after she has so lovingly and heartfeltly repented,

Jesus not only forgives her, but he praises her:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”


It seems to me that we need this story,

and the great figure of St. Mary Magdalene, penitent saint,

now more that ever.

In the end, those who want to rewrite the Gospels

actually want to glorify women by what they call “liberating their sexuality.”

But sexual liberation has been tried for over 50 years

and it’s led not to the enhancement or liberation of women,

but to their further enslavement to the lusts of men,

and to the unrealistic expectation of feminist ideologues.

Just look around at the explosion of

pornography, contraception, abortion, and divorce,

not to mention out-of-wedlock births and the poverty that comes with them.

Who is the one who suffers, overwhelmingly, the most as a result of all this



Jesus Christ is the only true liberator of women

—their true and only Redeemer and Savior.

He is the Savior of the adulterous woman, the Magdalene,

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 against them.

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 freedom 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.

Now, more than ever,

women need to know that Christ can give them a second chance,

and make all things new.


But of course, this story isn’t just about women, or sex.

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 great 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 Magdalene, and today says to all of us:

                       “neither do I condemn you…go, and sin no more.”