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Online Retreat: “Called and Sent” - Day Four


This is the fourth segment in the Catholics on Call summer online retreat. We continue to reflect on what it means to be called and sent forth by Christ.

Robin Ryan, cp

  • Read John 20: 11-18
  • For the podcast, click here.

There is something riveting about this scene in John’s gospel. Mary of Magdala, a disciple who was standing with the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross, is disconsolate. She is asked the same question by the angels at the tomb and by the (unrecognized) risen Jesus: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Her answer is striking: “They have taken away my Lord.” At this point, she cannot understand the meaning of the empty tomb; she has not yet arrived at Easter faith. Her world has completely fallen apart. The one to whom she had committed her life has been brutally executed. And now, so she thinks, his body has been stolen. Mary of Magdala is shattered by this turn of events.

In the midst of her grief, she has a very strange conversation with the risen Jesus. The scene would be almost comical if not for the state of her desperation. She unknowingly asks the risen Jesus to tell her where he has taken the body of Jesus! There is indeed a touch of irony here. One Scripture scholar remarks that “her grief has spiritually blinded her, rendered her incapable of revelation even when Jesus himself stands before her and speaks to her” (Sandra Schneiders, Written That You May Believe, 195). But for anyone who has ever lost a loved one, it easy to have sympathy for this distraught disciple.

Then the risen Lord says her name, “Mary.” He simply speaks her name. Jesus must have spoken her name on many other occasions, in very different contexts. The sound of his voice calling her name must have been lodged within the deep recesses of her memory, though she had become certain that she would never hear him speak her name again. He simply says her name. Immediately, Mary of Magdala turns. His speaking of her name leads to an entirely different response on her part. It elicits recognition. It must have evoked her deepest and most cherished memories. By his speaking of her name, the bond between them is reestablished.

She wants to hold on to the risen Christ. In one way, this is a very natural response; she is afraid to let go of him. This “holding on” seems to symbolize Mary’s desire to cling to the past, to the relationship they had before his death. But Jesus will not let her do that. This is a new moment. Something transformative is happening here because Jesus is being glorified. Jesus is no longer bound by the limits of space and time. His resurrection from the dead will lead to a new relationship between Mary and Jesus.

In this mysterious encounter, Mary Magdalene is commissioned by the risen Christ. She is sent forth to announce the good news of Easter to the other disciples, whom Jesus now calls “brothers” (“siblings”). Mary says “yes” to this mission. This represents a new stage in her journey of faith. She is maturing as a disciple as she becomes part of the mission of Jesus. She goes and announces that she has “seen the Lord.” Because of this pivotal gospel moment of witness to the resurrection, later Christian tradition will give Mary of Magdala the exalted title of “the apostle to the apostles.”

In our lives, too, there are people who call our names. Our names are called by the host at the restaurant when the table is ready, by the teacher who takes roll in the classroom, by the nurse when it is our time to see the doctor. But there are certain people in our lives who, when they call our names, evoke a deep, heartfelt response in us. The depth of that response is due to the bond we have with them. I think of my godmother, to whom I am particularly close. When she calls me long distance and I hear her voice on the other end of the line, my attitude and outlook seem to change. I may be feeling sad or dejected, but when I hear her voice I am lifted out of that mood and feel a sense of peace and home. I hope that there are people in the lives of all of us who have that effect on us.

Jesus had that effect on Mary Magdalene because of the bond they had established. When she was sure that everything had been lost, his speaking her name brought her peace and hope. Her life was opened up again and she came out of her tomb. In that encounter the risen Jesus fulfilled what he had said about the Good Shepherd: the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:3).

The risen Christ, the Good Shepherd, speaks the name of each one of us. When he does, our lives are opened up as well. When we recognize and respond to his voice, we come out of our own tombs of confusion, meaninglessness, hopelessness. It is by remaining in conversation with the risen Christ – making our lives an ongoing dialogue with him – that our futures continue to be opened up before us.

It is from that conversation, out of that relationship, that Jesus sends us forth to announce the good news of Easter. We too are given a share in his mission. We are commissioned to go to the sisters and brothers of Jesus to announce the good news in word and deed. Each of us is given a share in this mission in a unique way, according to our particular vocation and situation in life.

On this day of retreat, I invite you to spend some time in quiet with the risen Christ. Have you sensed him calling your name in the past? What was that like for you? Listen in the quiet for Christ to speak your name in the deepest part of your heart. As you do, ask him to continue to show you the way in which he is calling you to proclaim the good news of Easter in your own life. Ask him to guide you in the mission that he is giving you. And pray for the grace to continue to recognize him in the many ways in which he reveals himself to you and speaks your name.

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