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Who Was Mary Magdalene? Fact, Fiction and Films

Mary-Magdalene-RisenToday (July 22) is the inaugural Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, upgraded from a memorial. But there long has been a confusion about who she was, with many assuming she was a reformed prostitute — even though there’s no direct evidence of that.

From a post at EWTN:

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute and where in the Bible does it say that?

Answer by Catholic Answers on 9/27/2006:

Martha–

Although it is a popular assumption, the Bible does not say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. It says only that Jesus cast out seven devils from her (Mark 16:9). 

Mary was also one of the people at the foot of the Cross, with Christ’s mother Mary and John, the “beloved disciple.” And, going to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ after the Crucifixion, she is the first to encounter the Risen Christ, as shown in this painting, “Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene After the Resurrection,” by Alexander Ivanov (posted today, with a quote from today’s Mass readings, at our Facebook page):

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There was a woman who led a “sinful life” who anointed Christ’s feet with oil and her tears, and dried them with her hair. She is not named, and while someone living “a sinful life” might be a prostitute, she might also be an adulteress or a woman living with a man to whom she is not married (or even a fortune teller, etc.).

While tradition in the past leaned toward this woman and Mary Magdalene being one and the same, we lack a direct connection (and there are several different Marys in the New Testament).

From the blog at CatholicFaithStore:

Fact or Fiction: Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair

Fiction: It’s often believed that Mary Magdalene repented before Jesus for her “sinful life” by washing his feet with her tears and hair (Luke 7:36-50).

In those times, it was believed that a woman who led a “sinful life” was a prostitute or adulterer. Historians argue that Mary Magdalene’s name is never mentioned as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. All that the verses say is, “A woman in that town who lived a sinful life” learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.

As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Since there is no mention of the woman’s name, scholars say they can’t say with certainty that the woman was Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is also believed to be the adulterous woman who was saved by Jesus from being stoned to death (John 8:3-11). Again, there’s no mention of the adulterous woman’s name.

Why did so many believe Mary Magdalene was a prostitute?

The belief that Mary Magdalene was the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet gained stronghold in the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great declared in one of his sermons that he believed the unnamed woman to be Mary Magdalene. Furthermore, Pope Gregory believed that Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene was the same person. It was not until centuries later, in 1969, when the Catholic Church declared that Pope Gregory was mistaken and that Mary Magdalene was not the penitent woman in Luke 7:36-50. Furthermore, the Church clarified that Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene were two different people.

And now, this “Apostle to the Apostles” has her own feast day. From a story today at Catholic News Agency:

The reason (for a feast), according to Archbishop Arthur Roche, is that she “has the honor to be the first witness of the Lord’s resurrection.”

“She is the witness to the risen Christ and announces the message of the Lord’s resurrection just like the rest of the Apostles,” he said, explaining that for this reason “it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same rank of Feast as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar.”

Nevertheless, the notion that she was a prostitute persists.

As recently as the movie “Risen,” which hit theaters in January, Mary Magdalene has been identified as a prostitute — which led to one of the biggest jokes in the film. As the Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is seeking Mary, he enters a house of ill repute and asks who knows her, and all the men’s hands go up.

Here’s a scene of her interrogation:

The notion of a repentant sinner, especially a prostitute, becoming the first witness to the Resurrection is a powerful and romantic one. It makes for a great story, but as with many things that sound good, it may not be true.

Regardless of her history, what we know for certain is that Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the Good News, and if nothing else, that alone accords her a place of honor in salvation history.

What do do know for sure is she was NOT Jesus’ wife, as portrayed in the silly film “The Da Vinci Code.” In 2012, Harvard historian Karen King claimed that a tiny scrap of papyrus was evidence that of the nuptial relationship — leading the Smithsonian Channel to rush out a breathless documentary — but even King now admits it’s probably a fake.

From a June 16 report in The Atlantic (whose investigation of the papyrus caused King to question her findings — meaning a popular magazine successfully refuted an Ivy League academic):

She reached this conclusion, she said, after reading The Atlantic’s investigation into the papyrus’s origins, which appears in the magazine’s July/August issue and was posted to its website Wednesday night.

“It tips the balance towards forgery,” she said.

King said she would need scientific proof—or a confession—to make a definitive finding of forgery. It’s theoretically possible that the papyrus itself is authentic, she said, even if its provenance story is bogus. But the preponderance of the evidence, she said, now “presses in the direction of forgery.

Now, the saint is going to get her own movie, “Mary Magdalene.” But as this is a Hollywood film, there’s no way to tell whether it will bear any resemblance to the Bible. Also, as in some other recent Bible films, the casting may not match the actual ethnicity of the characters. Here’s what we know so far, from CinemaBlend:

The planned film will follow the life of Mary Magdalene, one of the female followers of Jesus Christ. Rooney Mara will play the title role, while Joaquin Phoenix will portray Jesus. Now, The Wrap is reporting that Chiwetel Ejiofor is in talks to take the role of Peter. In Roman Catholicism, Peter is recognized as the first Pope, making him a major figure in modern western Christianity.

Stay tuned!

As a bonus, here’s a homily on Mary Magdalene from EWTN:

Images: Affirm Films, Wikimedia Commons, Family Theater Productions

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

‘American Ninja Warrior’: Meet the ‘Papal Ninja’

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One of the better reality shows for families is NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” and this season, it’s also a great show for Catholics.

Based on a Japanese format, “ANW” pits incredibly fit and dedicated contestants against an elaborately constructed obstacle course that changes each time they compete on it. If they survive the preliminary rounds without fouling or falling, contestants face more rounds, on their way to the finals course — called Mount Midoriyama — in Las Vegas, and a $1 million prize (only for the winner; everyone else goes home empty-handed).

While few people will be in the shape or have the motivation to compete in something as challenging as “ANW,” it teaches lessons about rewards for hard work, courage and perseverance. The way the show is edited, it also emphasizes competitors’ personal lives, especially difficulties they overcome, and their connections with friends and family.

The show has also shown itself to be faith-friendly, with no effort made to downplay the beliefs of Christian competitors.

In the the Los Angeles qualifying rounds — you can watch the whole episode here — which aired on Wednesday, June 1, Californian Sean Bryan, who calls himself the “Papal Ninja,” completed the course and will move on to the next round, the “City Finals.”

On his Facebook page, here’s how he describes himself:

Cal Physics GYMNAST turned NINJA with an MA in Theology. Dominican by education & Salesian at heart. Works to animate the sleeping giant of Catholic laity.

And here’s how he’s described at LayMission.net:

Curriculum Team,Development Team,Project Director

Sean is the Lay Mission Project Director and curriculum team member. Sean received his bachelor’s of arts degree at UC Berkeley, where he studies physics and was on the men’s gymnastics team. After graduation, he spent four years in various Salesian ministerial settings while discerning his vocation. In 2015 Sean completed his Master of Arts in Theology with a Salesian Studies concentration at the Dominican School of Phillosophy & Theology. His Masters thesis analyzed the ecclesiology inherent to documents of the Second Vatican Council, and proposes the Scriptural notion of liturgy as an interpretive lens that elucidates the relationship between formal ritual worship and its integrated expression in everyday life. His exploration led to practical applications geared toward the animation of the faithful, including the Lay Mission Project itself.

Sean is also known for his participation in the NBC show American Ninja Warrior, where he has taken on the identity of the Papal Ninja, stealthily accomplishing the mission of the One who sent him on a mission to the secular realm.

#PapalNinja

He’s also a pretty amazing athlete. Take a look (he’s the second contestant featured, after “Abs McGee,” as the Yahoo! host calls him:

And here’s what “American Ninja Warrior’s” official Twitter had to say:

American-Ninja-Warrior-Papal-Ninja

There’s no way to know how far Bryan can go, but for now, he’s honoring the yellow-and-white Vatican colors. Go Papal Ninja!

Image: Courtesy NBC

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects

The Pope Uses Instagram to Reach Out to Belgium Terror Victims

Franciscus-InstagramPope Emeritus Benedict XVI launched the papacy on Twitter in early December 2012, and starting in March 2013, Pope Francis launched it into the social-media stratosphere.

Curently, @Pontifex boasts over 26M followers on all the various accounts in different languages, with 8.49M on the English account alone.

Then, a couple of days go, the pope — known for taking selfies with fans — has launched an account on the visually oriented Instagram app. The account, under Franciscus — which already has nearly 2M followers — is headlined with this quote:

“I want to walk with you along the way of God’s mercy and tenderness.”

Today (March 21), the the second video was posted (the first depicts the pontiff launching the account on a tablet). It reaches out to the victims of the March 22 Islamist terror attack on an airport and subway in Brussels, Belgium, for which the pope has already offered prayers, saying:

To all, I ask that you persevere in prayer and in asking the Lord in this Holy Week to comfort the hearts of the afflicted and to convert the hearts of those people taken in by cruel fundamentalism.

Click here to watch it.

Belgium-video-Instagram-Franciscus

Right now, Franciscus isn’t following anyone else on Instagram — but it’ll be big news if that happens (especially if it’s FamilyTheaterProds).

Image: Franciscus Official Instagram account

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Hey Father, “Wake up. You’re on Candid Camera.”

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With more and more Masses being televised and live streamed, some priests and bishops may need reminding that we, the faithful, are watching from the pews if not from our screens.  Bored looks and distracting behaviors may seem invisible in big events, but cameras highlight them.

Last week, I was reminded of this when I tuned in to the live webcast of the ordination of the three new bishops in Los Angeles.   I did not get a ticket to the event so I watched from my computer at Family Theater Productions.  I was struck by the facial expressions and the body language of some of the clergy.

If you have been to an ordination (whether it is a deacon, priest or bishop) you may recall the beautiful part in the middle of the ceremony called the Litany of the Saints. The soon-to-be ordained lay prostrate on the ground facing the altar and the people all kneel. It is powerful to watch fully grown men laying face down in the Church at the foot of the altar.  During this time, the choir chants a series of saints’ name:  e.g. “St. Joseph” and the people respond “Pray for us”.  The community in heaven and on earth together give their prayers together for the soon-to-be ordained and all the people their ministry will affect.

As I looked at the bishops and priests, in the live stream broadcast last week, I was saddened to see how many of the bishops and priests looked bored, uncomfortable, tired and distracted. Now, I am not saying that they were, but just how they looked.

With the new technology of broadcasting Mass on the internet, we get to see everything more closely than even in person. I have a feeling that these priests and bishops would have sat up a little straighter and been much more cognizant of their posture and body language if they could see what I was seeing on camera.   For many people watching on-line, this might be their first experience of Mass this is and we ought to take advantage of the evangelical moment.

I admire the priests in my life and encourage them all to be aware of what their non-verbal language in the sanctuary communicates.  After all, the presider at Mass acts as a model for the laity. Whether it be singing, praying, or listening, the presider is your first cue at how to reverently and joyfully celebrate the Mass-our greatest prayer to God and God’s greatest gift to us.

Thank you to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for live webcasting the ordination of our 3 new bishops.  Please Fathers, mind the camera and the people, who with the saints in heaven, the congregation in the pews and the people on-line who will be watching.

An Artist’s Energy Must be Channeled for Positive Good

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A young man painted these pictures and hoped to be accepted in one of the great art schools of his region.

He served in the military, but always carried his paints.

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He applied to art schools and was repeatedly rejected.  He was crushed.  He never became an artist.

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He was Adolph Hitler.  You know what he became instead.

What if his heart and talents had been channeled into art?  Better a mediocre artist than a monstrous dictator.

Thanks to Daniel Williams and to Phil Rafferty who made me aware of this story.

“42”

On April 15, 2013, every Major League Baseball player donned a jersey with the number ’42’ on the back in honor of Jackie Robinson. This past weekend, the movie “42” made its debut in theaters around the country. It out-performed every other film at the box office just as Jackie Robinson out-performed every other rookie in 1947 to be selected ‘Rookie of the Year.’ That was the year too when Robinson singhandedly broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. It’s hard to believe now but until in 1947 MLB was an all white sport. The Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, gets credit for signing Robinson and sticking by this courageous man when abuse and verbal trash were heaped upon him by fans at home and away.

In this film, writer/director Brian Helgelend presents the rookie season of Jackie Robinson’s brilliant career and that is all. The film is straightforward and a moving tribute to Mr. Robinson’s courage and restraint. Branch Rickey, who owned the Brooklyn Dodgers, said to Robinson, “I know you have the guts to fight back, what I do not know is whether you have the guts not to fight back.”  He means, not to fight back when you are taunted with racial slurs, cursing and trash talking by racist fans, fellow players and managers. Robinson had the guts not to fight back and in so doing paved the way for Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and black and brown players. Like Gandhi and Martin Luther King’ Jr, he refused to be brought down to the level of his tormentors.

This delightful film is rated PG-13 for the language and racism in portrays in post World War II America. Mrs. Rachel Robinson was at Dodger Stadium Monday night along with Magic Johnson to pay homage to her late husband and a genuine American hero. Young Mr. Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in the film, has a promising career in prospect. But it is hard to imagine his ever having a more noble character to portray on film. Harrison Ford has come a long way since Stars Wars. Both actors give worthy performances that may be noticed by the Oscar voters later this coming year. Both characters are Methodists who take their faith in God seriously. I would want teens and young adults in particular see this very fine film.