This article is for everyone who’s been kicked out.
If you have lost your home, your loved ones, your faith community—this is for you.
If standing in your truth is a sin, we’ve all made the fatal error. When waking up, living, breathing are de facto outside of your community’s moral bounds, and you are screwed by your own honesty, you are in the best company.
I thought about this often in the years after I left the Church. I nourished my faith in saints that faced both the persecution of their own time and the shadow of later generations’ discomfort and judgment.
When Pope Gregory the Great proclaimed that the three Marys mentioned in the gospels were all the one Mary Magdalene, it was easy for believers to reduce the rich image of Jesus’ closest disciple and model of a gentle loving heart to nothing other than a reformed prostitute. In the hands of Renaissance masters, she shrank into a destitute penitent, tortured by her own history and sexuality.
And if it weren’t for St. Joseph’s patience, the Virgin Mary would have been a destitute divorcée in a culture that had a legal case to stone her to death.
Growing up, I took refuge in those ancient stories.
I had been sexually abused from a young age and identified with the early women whose character was automatically questioned and smeared by thinkers, theologians, and artists.
Nobody but Jesus had one nice thing to say about the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. Everyone was too concerned that when she sat at his feet and listened, yearning for his teaching, that it proved her laziness and poor work ethic.
Jesus was the only man who advocated for her and saw her worth. When she broke down and washed his feet with her tears, the male disciples crowded around complaining she was wasteful with her money.
As I became an adult and transitioned medically and socially from boyhood to womanhood, I also confronted growing instances of discrimination and marginalization.
A college graduate that speaks four languages, I suddenly became unemployable.
My housing was no longer stable. I had to sell my body in order to put food in my own mouth and keep my place of living for just a little longer. I, too, found myself in a culture that only valued my sexuality, at the expense of a rich life yearning for value and human connection.
In those dark moments, I knelt before icons of the Blessed Virgin and asked for her protection. I sought out the comfort of Jesus’ words, and like Mary Magdalene I tried to follow his passion through the mysteries of the rosary.
While the male disciples had mostly already fled, Magdalene found herself under the cross, and wept after Jesus when they placed the body in the tomb. When the other women ran to tell the community of faith that Jesus had conquered death at the resurrection, St. Mary Magdalene lingered in the garden, weeping for the man she loved so much, wondering where he could be. I wanted to follow with her, and I wondered at the hole I felt in my heart, asking why God wasn’t with me.
Even in those dark places of poverty, unemployment, and hunger, I was looking for Jesus.
I sought him in the faces of everyone entering my home and saw his hands in the hands that paid me so I could eat, and his face in my nightly visitors clouded with shame and loneliness. I saw that if God is in all of us, then God is not much different from me, and God can certainly find something to love in everyone.
St. Mary Magdalene was the first witness of Christ’s resurrection, the first to see his transformed face. She turned from tears to joy in moments, crying, “Master!” and reaching to grasp the one she loved. But in that moment, God called her to something higher. Jesus said, “Stop touching me.”
Strange words from the one that loved her so much he defended her to his closest friends and followers. Strange for the man who only wept at his friend Lazarus’s death once he saw Magdalene’s tears.
Why would Jesus come back to his loved one only to refrain from physical connection?
And here is the answer that arrived to me through meditation: St. Magdalene loved Jesus in a close, physical way. She dared touch him and minister to him, considered him her teacher and friend. She was attached to his manifestation as a living, breathing, human being. And that was good.
But Jesus died. And when he came back to life, things were different. He had overcome his life so far that he had also overcome death, and so on back to his Father. It was time to make room for a deeper communion, a deeper connection to God than the previous manifestation allowed.
Because she had loved so deeply, it was St. Mary Magdalene who first received this message. Everything she knew had changed. By releasing one form of her maker, her teacher, and the man who loved her, she prepared for the greater communion that would occur at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit entered each disciple and created a deeper community of love and faith.
She could not cling to what passed away. Instead, Jesus called her to look forward to something greater.
God asks the same of us when we lose everything we have. The physical is a wonderful vehicle to enjoy the good things of life, but the real challenge is to recognize them as such and look forward to an even deeper unity with God. With that unity, bitterness, shame, anger, and hurt can fall away, making way for a new life. This is the special secret of Magdalene’s life—not unrelenting remorse for her womanhood, not disgrace for her past.
No, the real message of St. Mary Magdalene is this: To love deeply is to ultimately release, so that a greater love may take its place.
Those of us who have been kicked out, shamed, and hurt, receive this special blessing from God. Our inheritance is strength, unity, acceptance and love.
This inheritance lasts forever, no matter if anyone else can recognize it.
We all have an intimate place for us in God’s love, and no matter the people who stand aside and denounce us, we are welcome at Christ’s feet and—ultimately—into a family that stretches back as far as our faith.
Photo via flickr user Lawrence OP; Originally published in August 2015