BY FATHER EARL MEYER

St. Joseph Catholic Church

Today is the feast of Mary Magdalene. The Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches honor her as a saint. She has captured the imagination of the ages, at times without factual restraint.

The movie "The Passion of the Christ" gratuitously identified the adulteress whom Jesus saved from stoning as Mary Magdalene. "The Da Vinci Code" fantasized Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus.

An ancient, but unreliable, tradition identified her as a repentant prostitute who washed the feet of Jesus because Luke first mentions Mary Magdalene after this story of the sinful woman. That is an assumption, not a fact.

What do we know about Mary Magdalene with reliable evidence? Mark and Luke record that Jesus cast seven demons out of her, and she became one of his followers. Luke places her among the women who accompanied Christ and provided for him out of their resources.

Matthew, Mark and Luke count her among the women from Galilee who witnessed the crucifixion and the burial of Christ, while John places her at the foot of the cross.

In every gospel, she was the first to discover the empty tomb. In Matthew, Mark and John, the risen Lord appeared to her and sent her to tell the apostles, prompting tradition to honor her as the "Apostle to the Apostles." Beyond these gospel facts, one only can speculate.

The seven demons from which Christ freed Mary Magdalene could refer to a physical ailment, a demonic possession or a sinful life. Whether she was cured of an illness or freed from sin, it is clear she was deeply troubled before she encountered Christ.

The authentic heritage of Mary Magdalene is her perseverance in a close personal relationship with Christ.

While many others watched the crucifixion "from a distance," John's gospel places Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. Matthew said when the Lord's tomb was sealed, the others left, but Mary Magdalene "remained, sitting there facing the tomb."

When she found the empty tomb on Easter she ran to tell the apostles, who came with her to see the tomb but then they left. Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb weeping.

Her perseverance was rewarded. The Lord appeared to her in disguise and asked, "Woman why are you weeping?" When she explained her grief, Jesus said to her, "Mary," and she exclaimed, "Rabbouni." (John 20:16)

When he called her "woman" she did not know it was Jesus, but when he called her by name she immediately recognized him. That personal relationship, from which she never waivered, was the basis for Christ appearing to her first, and then entrusting her to be the Apostle to the Apostles.

Many devoted Christian women, such as Theresa of Avila, Claire of Assisi, Joan of Arc and Theresa of Calcutta, have shown that same perseverance in a personal relationship with the Lord. Along with Mary Magdalene, their lives continue to challenge us today.

Statements of Faith is a series sharing lessons from local church leaders and members. To submit a column for publication, contact the Hays Daily News at (785) 628-1081.