Of the earlier life of Saint Mary Magdalen we know only that she was a woman who was a sinner. From the depth of her degradation she raised her eyes to Jesus with sorrow, hope, and love. Covered with shame, she came to where Jesus was at table, and knelt behind Him. She said not a word, but bathed His feet with her tears, wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed them with humility. Then she poured on them costly ointment. The divine lips of her Saviour removed her reproach, spoke her absolution, and bade her go in peace. From that time on, she ministered to Jesus, sat at His feet, and listened to His words. She was one of the family of Bethany whom Jesus so loved that He raised her brother Lazarus from the dead.
It happened that once again, on the eve of His Passion, she brought precious ointment, and this time, as His purified and beloved follower, poured it on His head; and we may say that the entire House of God is still filled with the fragrance of her anointing. Mary Magdalen stood with Our Lady and Saint John at the foot of the cross, representative of the many who have loved much because much has been forgiven them.
To her, the first after His blessed Mother, and through her to His Apostles, Our Lord gave the certainty of His resurrection. When the faithful were scattered by persecution, the family of Bethany found refuge in the south of France. The cave in which Saint Mary Magdalen lived for thirty years is still seen, with a chapel on the mountaintop, in which she was caught up daily, like Saint Paul, to visions and revelations of the Lord. When her end drew near she was borne to a place still marked by a monument, where the holy Bishop Maximin awaited her; and when she had received her Lord, she peacefully fell asleep in death.
Reflection: Compunction of heart, says Saint Bernard, is a treasure infinitely to be desired, and an unspeakable gladness to the heart. It is healing to the soul; it is remission of sins; it brings back the Holy Spirit into the humble and loving heart.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).