The refrain from Leonard Cohen’s song ANTHEM touches the heart of today’s Gospel. The words are clear: “ring the bells that still can ring . . . forget your perfect offering . . . there is a crack in everything . . . that’s how the light gets in.” These words set the stage to celebrate this wonderful Feast of St. Mary Magdala highlighting her meeting with Jesus in the garden after the resurrection. It was a meeting that brought a crack into Mary’s understanding of “what’s happened to the body of Jesus.” It shines a light on this wonderfully passionate loving woman disciple and her deep friendship with Jesus and causes bells to ring for all of us.
This reading from John is so human – there is weeping and searching and turning and announcing the experience of what has happened to the gathered disciples. I suggest that as we do a close reading of this Gospel – each one of us – becomes Mary – as we peer into the darkness of life’s happenings, search for what/who has been lost, hear one’s own name and come face-to-face with unspeakable joy. But it is in the midst of this joy that Mary hears: “Do not cling to me” – a seeming rebuke or pouring of cold water on a most intimate and joyful moment.
How can we ever unpack these seemingly cold and uncaring words of Jesus to Mary – and to us? What do they really mean?
The clue to this unpacking is in the verbs that John strategically places in this Gospel – peer, search, hear, cling, and announce – and each one brings myriad challenges to Christian life.
They compel us to peer through the darkness -- and find the cracks -- in one’s own life, in our country/world, and, most certainly, in our Church. The question before us: where are the cracks; are we brave enough to find the cracks so that the light can get in? To do this, we need to search.
As I reflected on this, the coming Synod came to mind and with it the first lines of Gaudium et Spes from Vatican II: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the peoples of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”
We, then, need to hear -- and we need to listen. And so, the question: do I/you/we hear and listen to the voices of the oppressed and marginalized calling our names from the liminal spaces where they struggle for life and understanding? There is no running away from the indifference that Pope Francis calls the scourge of our times – the evils of racism, gun violence, wars, xenophobia, destruction from climate change and the powerlessness felt by so many that they “don’t matter.”
Ah yes, indifference . . . and here is the temptation to cling. Cling to what you may ask? Perhaps cling to the hope that “someone else will respond’ – or cling to one’s own agenda and the busyness of life that says “I simply can’t take on one more thing.” But, in the Gospel, Jesus tells Mary that if she “clings” Jesus cannot ascend and new life cannot come among all peoples.
So we must “let go” and we must announce. On this great Feast, we follow Mary of Magdala into the Garden as she meets Jesus and has her whole life and way of understanding life in Jesus turned around. There was a “crack” in her experience when she heard her name . . . and the light came in. We are called to find the cracks in our experience and in the realities of our world and church. We are called to make them visible so that grief and anxiety can be transformed into light and goodness – if we only listen.
The Gospel tells of the passionate pursuit of the beloved . . . The Synod witnesses to our passionate pursuit of crafting what the world would be like if God was really in charge. I am reminded of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who, in Hymn of the Universe, writes of those engaged each day in the “passionate pursuit of the light!” May we be those “passionate pursuers!”
So be it – and let us all RING THE BELLS!
Antoinette Gutzler, MM
Antoinette Gutzler, MM
Antoinette Gutzler, a Maryknoll Sister from Queens, New York, holds a doctorate in systematic theology from Fordham University. She has served in mission both in Tanzania, East Africa where she worked in religious education and young students work, and in Taiwan, where she directed a center for factory workers.
After completing her theology studies, she returned to Taiwan in 2001 and was associate professor of theology at Fu Jen University’s St. Robert Bellarmine School of Theology in Taipei until her election to the Leadership Team of the Maryknoll Sisters in 2014. During her time in Taiwan she was consultant to the Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA), a standing committee member of the Association of Major Religious Superiors and a member of the Taiwan JPIC committee.
Her recent publications include Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced (edited with Evelyn Monteiro, SC), “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: ‘WomenMatters’ as an Asian Theological Concern,” “Coming Out of the Shadows: A Feminist Vision of a Participatory Church,” “Am I my Sister’s Keeper?” The “Internalization” and “Globalization” of Women’s Homelessness: A Taiwan Perspective,” “Navigating the Tradition: A Christian Feminist Perspective on the Power of Creedal Language to Shape the Lives of Women,” and “ShadowLives/Public Faces: Women, Marriage and Family Life in Taiwan.”