Today is St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day.
Almost every time I tell someone that my patron saint is Mary Magdalene, they say to me you know she wasn’t a prostitute, right? I know people mean no harm, but it’s an offensive question, first of all because it insinuates that she was less of a person if she had been a sex worker. From what I’ve seen and where I’ve been, desperate people do desperate stuff. If she was a sex worker, and I think the chances are good that she was, it doesn’t diminish her value as a human being loved by God, and it certainly doesn’t take away the fact that her life changed when she met Jesus. Insisting on a narrative of her absolutely not being a sex worker enforces the messed-up values of our patriarchal society on this woman. The Kingdom of God has different values than the kingdom of this world and Mary Magdalene is valuable to Jesus and to the Kingdom.
The idea of Mary Magdalene being a sex worker makes total sense to me and makes me relate to her much more. I left an abusive family situation and after a year or so ended up homeless. Girls on the streets, no matter what age, survive via prostituting themselves to dirty men. Here’s something to consider with this whole sex worker narrative also: if there were not “good men” soliciting the services of sex workers, there would not be a demand, and so thinking about it, prostitution is about the depravity of certain men rather than the women they hire. I was nineteen years old when I became homeless, and so Mary Magdalene as a woman with a rough life makes her more relatable to my life experiences. This isn’t to say that I get to insert my experience into her story, but there are other reasons the sex worker narrative makes sense to me.
When Mary Magdalene met Jesus, she was possessed with seven demons. Seeing as I believe in demons as a literal spiritual being, I believe she was truly possessed in a very real, literal sense. Having a rough background such as being in sex work would normally indicate, would make so much more sense than many other ideas I’ve read pertaining to who Mary Magdalene was. Sex worker or not, though, Mary obviously had a rough life. Nobody who has had things easy ends up being possessed with one demon let alone seven. Mary Magdalene’s past, those skeletons she obviously had in her closet, the horrible things that people did to her, she met Jesus one day and her life was changed.
Jesus changed her life so much that she loved him and was devoted to him. I’ve asked her over the past year especially if she was ever tempted to go back to her old way of life, because at some point, I believe most of us are. I’ve sat in tears speaking to her as if she were my best friend, processing stuff that is so hard it’s almost unbearable. The important part of Mary Magdalene’s story isn’t whether she was a prostitute, or if she was rich, or anything else, the important part, the part that truly matters, is who she was after she met Jesus. Mary was fiercely loyal to Jesus, she loved him, she became one of his closest friends.
This past Tuesday, as I was praying the sorrowful mysteries which are the mysteries designated for a Tuesday, I had an individual vision of each of the sorrowful mysteries. Five separate visions, but also one following the other, in the order they are prayed. One naturally flowed into another. When I saw the crucifixion, Mary, the mother of Jesus was hunched over in her grief, crying tears that only a mother watching her son be murdered can cry, but she was in the strong arms of Mary Magdalene, who was also grieving and crying, but also physically holding up Mary. Mary Magdalene loved Jesus so much that she wasn’t just there for him in his death, she was there for his mother, offering her hugs and support while Mary grieved. This is a woman, who, changed by Jesus, was there in his darkest moment to take care of his mother.
This was the woman who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, because she loved him so much she went to his tomb to continue the process of burial. Mary Magdalene loved Jesus with her whole heart. This is who I want to be, and I think this is why she came to me that day and sat with me and told me she was my patron. I’ve been in some terribly desperate places, some incredibly unholy places, some awfully abusive places, and yet, I have met Jesus. I have partaken of his body and blood in the Holy Eucharist, where the first time that I received it I realized I had consumed Jesus.
Jesus delivered Mary Magdalene; Jesus is delivering me. This is the important part of Mary Magdalene’s story, and it will be the important part of mine.