My husband and I drove from one micro-climate to another this morning as we headed to our local church, from valley sun to coastal fog. I entered the Sunday School rooms, switched on the lights, and leaned the welcome sign against the front door.
I inflated balloons – red, blue, yellow, green – and tied them to white ribbon, making a Sunday School bouquet, and hung them next to the sign outside. The sign read, “Summer Sunday School, Saints of God, All Welcome.” I left the door ajar in spite of a cold breeze that had found its way through the July fog and into our church.
All was ready – the Attendance Chart with its stickers, the circular rug for Circle Time, the organ accompaniment downloaded into my smart phone for “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Small pails, pink and blue, waited for seeds and soil, the beginnings of new life, one of our summer projects.
The teachers arrived, followed by the children. We sat around the circle and read the story about the Saints of God (based on the hymn). I tapped my phone and the organ accompaniment began. We stood, singing and illustrating the words with hand movements and twirls. As we sang (and twirled) I pondered the words of this classic hymn (243):I sing a song of the saints of God, Patient and brave and true, Who toiled and fought and lived and died For the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, And one was a shepherdess on the green: They were all of them saints of God – and I mean, God helping, to be one too. They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, And his love made them strong; And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake, The whole of their good lives long. And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, And one was slain by a fierce wild beast: And there’s not any reason – no, not the least – Why I shouldn’t be one too. They lived not only in ages past, There are hundreds of thousands still, The world is bright with the joyous saints Who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too. (Lesbia Scott)
I love this hymn for it defines a saint as practicing ordinary virtues. Saints are patient, brave, and true. Saints simply love God and because they love him, they try to do his will. They are “just folk like me.” They may not always succeed (saints are not perfect) but they try.
Patience and bravery are clear enough. But true? The saints were true to the truth. They believed God became man and died for us, rising again. And they were martyred, rather than deny this vital truth. They were martyred for witnessing to it, for telling folks the good news.
My recent novel, The Magdalene Mystery, is about truth and its telling in the media, in academia, and in the Church. It is about the truth of Saint Mary Magdalene, who she was and who she wasn’t. It is about how we know what we know about the stunning events of that first century, events that changed our world, indeed, saved our world.
Tomorrow, July 22, is the Magdalene’s feast day, and we celebrate this woman who knew Christ Jesus, was the first to see the risen Christ, and preached his resurrection in Provence. With Bishop Maximin, she traveled the roads east of Marseilles, sharing the good news with this Greco-Roman culture. Some years later, she died and was buried in the area of Aix-en-Provence. Today, some of her relics rest in the cathedral in St. Maximin and some in the Grotto of La Sainte-Baume nearby, where legend says she lived her last years. Other relics are venerated in the Vézelay cathedral and some relics rest in her Paris basilica, La Madeleine.
A group of American pilgrims are traveling to La Sainte-Baume for the annual Dominican pilgrimage from the town to the cave (Dominicans care for the grotto). They will pray for blessings, for patience, for bravery, for truth, and continue praying a novena, a nine-day prayer cycle. And, according to many, Mary Magdalene is a powerful saint and will hear these prayers. Paula Lawlor, a mother of seven from San Diego whose intercessory petition was answered some years ago, is leading the pilgrimage. She believes Mary Magdalene saved the life of her son, pulling him from an abyss. She believes this was a true miracle, and is now committed to witnessing for this saint. It is clear that Mary Magdalene changed Paula’s life.
Our Gospel today told of Christ’s warning against false prophets, “Ye shall know them by their fruits…”. We know the saints by their good fruits, by the lives they led, and lead among us today. As I sang with the children this morning, I knew Mary Magdalene would have done the same, teaching the next generation the truth about God and his mighty acts among men. She would have shared her love of God. She would have encouraged them to be saints too, to bring forth good fruit. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection, and she witnessed throughout her life, just as we do today.
This morning at church, after coffee and conversation, my husband and I stepped outside. The fog was gone, the sun shone brightly, radiantly burning away the mist, allowing us to see the leafy greens and the blues of the sky. A dim curtain had been parted, lifted, burned away, just as it was parted two thousand years ago in that Easter tomb-garden when Mary Magdalene saw her risen Lord.
(To follow Paula’s pilgrimage, visit http://magdalenepublishing.org/blog/.)