Given at St Mary Magdalen Church, Willesden Green, on the 80th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the church and the patronal feast of St Mary Magdalen, 22nd July 2018
It is with deep joy that I come to celebrate the patronal Feast of St Mary Magdalene and the 80th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of this Church. This anniversary reminds us not only of a sacred building for prayer and worship of God but importantly of the families whose prayers have built this parish, the generosity, time, energy and resources given freely, the priests who have served here, and Catholic faith which has been lived in joys and sorrows, fears and hopes, tears and laughter, life and death. The parish record describes the laying of the foundation stone: ‘By the time the ceremony was due to begin over a thousand had gathered…. Using an inscribed silver trowel, his Eminence performed the ceremony of laying the stone. In it he placed a scroll recording the early history of the parish…. In a short sermon Cardinal Hinsley warned his hearers that “God dwelleth not in temples that are made by hands” and urged them to remember always “that the Kingdom of God was within them.”’ You are the living stones of the parish – we think of friends, families and the parishioners – and celebrate this faith today and we thank God for his abundant blessings.
When Pope Francis raised the memorial of St Mary Magdalene to a feast of the Church, he said that this feast provides an opportunity to help us ‘reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy’.
In the second reading, St Paul describes the mystery of Divine Mercy. The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect on the generous love of Jesus on the cross who poured out his life so that we might live and share one day in the promise of eternal life. What we receive is a pure and utter gift. We know that in the smallness of our hearts and the narrowness of our lives we are not worthy to receive this gift of love and so we say ‘Lord have mercy’. We pray: ‘Lord be merciful to me a sinner’. This gift of love touches us most profoundly in Holy Communion when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. When the priest elevates the Sacred Body and Precious Blood, we say, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof but only say the word I shall be healed’. This knowledge of unworthiness is a characteristic of Mary Magdalene. The scriptures tell us only that she is a woman whom Jesus freed from seven demons. We don’t know more details but can imagine that these demons tormented her in painful ways that caused distress and suffering and incapacitated her life. St Anselm of Canterbury describes her in the following words, ‘chosen because you are beloved and beloved because you are chosen of God’.
St Augustine tells us from his experience that, ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.’ This restlessness to know God was planted deep within St Mary Magdalene. She grows to understand that this thirst for love can only be found in God. It is love that brings Mary Magdalene to the tomb early on the Sunday morning. Love brings her to the grave of Jesus, just as it drives us to visit the graves of our loved ones and pray for them. We can imagine that Mary comes and sits on a rock before the tomb bearing her grief and her tears. She is a model of a woman who grieves and reveals the dignity of the compassionate and passion filled woman.
Mary passionately wants to be with Christ and reveals a chaste love for her Master. The reading from the Song of Songs sings of this love, ‘On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought him but did not find him. So I will rise and go through the City in the streets and the squares I will seek him whom my heart loves…’ This is the song of a heart that longs to greet its lover. Her heart is ‘wounded in love’ for her Lord. Our hearts are also wounded in love for God and so they are always restless until they rest in God. The example of Mary Magdalene encourages our waiting in prayer to hear the voice of the Lord.
Mary Magdalene desires to cling onto the Risen Christ but he gives her a new mission. She becomes the first ‘witness of Divine Mercy’ (Gregory the Great) when the Risen Christ announces to her that he has risen from the dead and that she has been saved. He announces to her the mystery of God’s redemptive plan in the garden of the Resurrection and overturns the fall of Adam and Eve that happened in the garden of Paradise. Her tears are turned into Paschal joy. She becomes the first witness to the Lord’s Resurrection and the eye-witness to the Risen Christ. Having received this gift of good news, she is told to go and share it and bear witness to Christ before others: ‘Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So she went and told the apostles ‘I have seen the Lord’. She becomes an evangelist and is recognised as the ‘Apostle of Apostles’ and becomes a sign of the New Evangelisation in handing on the faith to others and telling them of Jesus Risen from the dead.
The image of St Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus which is portrayed on the new stained glass doors gives a model for us to imitate. Mary washes away the dirt from Jesus’ feet with her tears and desires to receive his gift of reconciliation. We receive this gift most profoundly in confession and the absolution of our sins. Then like Mary Magdalene we are called to go and tell others of God’s mercy by our actions of loving service and words of tender love. We thank God for this service of love which has been lived in quiet moments of tenderness and kindness during the life of this parish community.
May St Mary Magdalene pray for this parish and your life as ‘missionary disciples’ of Christ.