The Readings for the Feast of St Mary Magdalen
16th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
I have found him whom my soul loveth.Song of Songs 3:4
THIS VERSE SOUNDS like romance – and it is, certainly. I have seen it on a wedding ring. But that’s not what the Song of Songs is about. Or, rather, that’s not why it’s included in the Bible. I have also seen this verse embroidered on a tallit, that is, on a Jewish prayer shawl. It is how one feels about God, is it not? I have found him? Although, you know… it was not you who were seeking him. We have to dance with God, but God dances the lead. As the title of this post says, “You seduced me, Lord.” The text from Jeremiah 20:7 continues, “But I let myself be seduced”. It’s both-and. This line runs from the very beginning of scripture: God calls the world into being. God calls Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. God calls to Cain. God calls to Noah, to Abram, to Moses, God is always calling. It is we who reply. Yet somehow even that reply is him calling us. The love of Christ, as St Paul says, impels us. It is always God’s love that comes back to him.
This hymn by Jean Inglow is often sung by the friars at my parish:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true,
no, I was found of thee.
Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold,
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea.
‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold
as thou, dear Lord, on me.
I find, I walk, I love, but, oh, the wholeThis is the right melody but not the friars…
of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
always thou lovedst me.
Mary Magdalen is conflated by Church tradition with several women in the Gospels including the woman who washed and anointed Jesus in the house of Simon. There she is said to be forgiven much because she loved much (Luke 7:47). In later legends she is also conflated in the West with St Mary of Egypt, another person who can be said to have loved too much. When we love in that way, too much, we burn out. Things that are not ours to love in proper order become idols when we loved them. Disordered love is always idolatry. But God can put it back again into the right orientation. God can give things their proper perspective and function: that is to say, when God becomes the center, all the things move into the right places. Yet it is him moving them.
God’s love is properly envisioned as the love of a husband for his bride: we’re ever in the passive role when it comes to God. Yet his passion is for us: his consuming fire is the love of us. As marriage is a mystery “of Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32), so God used the image of an unfaithful wife in Hosea to convey his love for Israel.
“It was then that Hosea understood what had never been understood before him, the secret motives of God’s jealousy. This jealousy was in fact the very reverse; it was the touchstone of a sentiment that one would never have imagined the Creator could have for his creation: God is in love with his creature, in love with something that draws its very life from him, was made by him, but has nothing to give him. However, it is not merely a matter of pity, compassion, or an inclination to save, but rather of loving. Now there is no love without admiration. I think that what distinguished pity from love most strikingly is that with pity there is an awareness that one is better placed than the other; in the case of pity one bends down to another because the heart has been touched by the other’s misery, whereas with real love there is always wonder, always admiration. And when God says that he loves, it is a very serious matter and means that he has wonder and admiration for the beloved. It seems almost blasphemous to say that God can love his creature. How could such a crazy idea ever come forth from a human brain – that God loves his creature? We can imagine that his mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…?”Fr Dominique Barthelemey, OP
“God and His Image” p 166-167
Israel and the Church serve as this sign for all humanity. God loves us all in this way. And what he does for us, he has done for all. All are loved that way if only everyone would open our eyes.
Mary’s eyes were opened first. She is called the Apostle to the Apostles – she who was sent to those who are sent. She is also the Especial Protectress of the Dominicans and so your host as well. She clung to the Lord, he called her name, and gave her a mission. Mary went to the garden – but Jesus was waiting for her. Jesus was planing their dinner long before Zacchaeus ever put foot to branch to climb. Before – and mark well that before – God formed you in the womb, he knew you. He has known you and loved you from all eternity. You.
The Magdalen – and all of us – only love what we imagine to be good, as St Thomas noted. No one loves evil because it is evil. We love only what we imagine to be good. While we are sometimes wrong in that imagining – the Byzantines pray for us to be delivered from our “evil imaginations” and from the “slavery to my own reasonings” – we seek the truth and love for any (even disordered) truth can lead us to the Real Thing if we love much and honestly. It is a matter of tearing off the masks to see the real evil beneath our bad love choices, and then seeing the Real Good where our love leads us – for it is his love at all.
So it is a romance: God is romancing us.
The same verse from the Song of Songs is pressed on my breviary cover. As strange as it sounds, it is his love I pour back to him as I pray the words of David and the Prophets in the Daily Office. I have nothing to offer here. I have nothing to share. I have nothing worthy of him (even playing on my drum). I have no love like his. And he knows. We can imagine that is mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…? If it were possible, this makes him love us the more. Yet his love is infinite. There is no room in infinity for more: all I have is his already, and I pour it out on him and on those whom he sends to me: this is not my love. It is his. As the woman at the well said, “He told me everything I ever did.” Yet he loved me all the more, not in spite, but through it all until finally I found him whom my soul loves.
Sure I was seduced. But I let myself be seduced.