The past few days I’ve immersed myself in the ideas of Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, retreat leader, writer and mystic who I quoted at the close of the previous post. A key focus of her work in recent years has been Mary Magdalene, especially her role in the events of Holy Week. Since all the Gospels acknowledge her presence, why is she absent from the Triduum liturgies? An intriguing question, I thought, when I read The Meaning of Mary Magdalene last summer. A nudge of the Spirit prompted me to revisit this material at the start of the week; exploring further, I ended up buying a collection of talks Bourgeault gave at a 2011 retreat, called Through Holy Week with Mary Magdalene, that I have found engrossing. They greatly enriched yesterday’s drive to pick up my son from college in Chicago!
“By the cross of Jesus stood Mary his mother; and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas; and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)
Such spare words speak volumes. All the women’s steadfast presence reminds us that even in situations of powerlessness, just being there makes a difference. This passage has long been meaningful to me from the childbirth context. My memories of the people who accompanied me remain vivid, as does the sense of not having been able to do it without them. Yet when I was in the role of birth companion and women expressed that to me, I always felt like I really didn’t do anything! Now it’s at the other end of the life cycle that I call on the awareness that being there matters, as we witness the aging of our family’s elders, especially my dad who suffers from advanced dementia. The Lenten season coincided with his transition from home to a care facility; my prayers for him are definitely at the foot of the cross.