Why Catholicism Celebrates Its Most Complicated Female Saint This Week

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St. Mary Magdalene, also known as Mary of Magdala, will be celebrated this Saturday, July 22. She may be one of the most recognizable and well-known figures in the Bible — yet this is only the second year her feast day will be observed.
Pope Francis officially elevated St. Mary Magdalene's memorial day to a feast day last year to reflect her importance in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. It's believed that Mary witnessed Jesus' ministry, his crucifixion, and that she discovered Jesus' empty tomb on Easter Sunday. In his declaration, the Pope spoke of her unbending faith, and the love and forgiveness that Jesus showed her in return — despite how others, "who believed they were righteous," exploited her.
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St. Mary Magdalene may have been treated poorly, but it wasn't because she was a prostitute. Yes, there was said to be a "sinful woman" who washed and anointed Jesus' feet, but nothing in Christian scripture suggests that Mary was this woman. Instead, Mary was first known as "the woman who had seven devils."
She was thought to be possessed by a malevolent entity or by sin itself. But today it's widely believed that Mary's seven devils (or demons, as they have also been described), were a health condition. Some scholars have suggested she suffered from epilepsy or mental illness, but, regardless of her true affliction, the story goes that Jesus healed her.
Following Mary's miraculous healing, she dedicated her life to Jesus, following him as he performed miracles and spread his teachings. She stayed by his side through his passion, and believed to have waited outside of his tomb until Easter.
After discovering that Jesus' body had disappeared, Mary sent word to the apostles and returned to his tomb to mourn. As she sat there weeping, wondering where he had gone, it's said that Jesus appeared before her, to reassure her that he had ascended to Heaven. Not only was Mary the first person to find Jesus' empty tomb, but she was also the first witness to his resurrection.
Commemorated as the patron saint of everything from perfumers to repentant sinners, St. Mary Magdalene's life story is meant to reflect the strength of Christian faith — and how no one is beyond "saving."
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