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Strong and Fierce: A Homily for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.

By the Rev. David Brinton OGS

Judith 9.1, 11-14 Ps 42: 1-7 John 20: 1-3, 11-18

One of the canticles that can be said at the daily office today is that beautiful one from the Song of Solomon (8.6-7):

“Set me as a seal upon your heart
as a seal upon your arm;
For love is strong as death
passion fierce as the grave,
its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it.
If all the wealth of our house
were offered for love,
it would be utterly scorned.”

What singularly appropriate words to associate with St Mary Magdalene on her feast day!  As we know, the Song of Solomon, on the face of it, is an erotic love poem depicting quite explicitly the relationship between an unnamed couple, the voices in the poetry alternating between them as each extols the beauty of the other, and the longing they feel, in more and more extravagant terms.  The cynics say that puritans in the synagogue and then in the church turned the poem into an allegory of the spiritual longing of the soul for God and God for the soul – that it’s not about the dreaded “s” word at all. What a relief!

But surely, we can give more credit than that to the inspired author:  is it so hard to believe that the original intention of the poet was to deepen our understanding of both human and divine love by putting them together in this way?

In any case, are there any words that more strikingly echo the tone of today’s gospel story in which the “Apostle to the Apostles,” overcome by grief, encounters the Risen Lord?

“For love is strong as death
passion fierce as the grave,
its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.”

If love is strong as death, and passion fierce as the grave, they surely cannot be in a stalemate:  they must overcome their enemies, and they do. God’s love and passion are stronger than death and the grave, and Mary Magdalene’s love and passion for the truth and beauty of Christ opens her heart to the promptings of the Risen One, so history is changed.

The “strong and fierce” devotion of St Mary Magdalene is an example to Christians in every time and place, but not always easy to imitate – there is much that contributes to the waning of our desire.  We have now been through a protracted period that has been especially hard for many of us in this regard. No doubt the challenges present themselves in a particular way in communities like this one.  But it is also true that nowhere is a key truth of the catholic faith more evident than in Religious Life – that when our individual faith is weak we are carried by the faith of the Church, those around us, and those we cannot see – the living and the dead. We are so grateful to you here in the convent who have been praying with us and for us throughout this long Covid-time, when so many in the church have been forced into silence, helping to hold us all up, making it possible, despite everything, for love really to be stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave.

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