St Mary Magdalene


Today, 20 years after Maria Teresa Porcile Santiso spoke at the 1997 Contemplative General Assembly, we publish excerpts from her keynote address:  

Mary Magdalen, Contemplative Women

Text by Sr. Edith Olaguer Contemplative Province of New York-Toronto


Today, it is with great joy that we think of Mary Magdalen as a contemplative woman. It is a new vision for the history of spirituality. Today Mary Magdalen is being rediscovered.

In the garden, according to John 20, Mary of Magdala is alone.  Biblical gardens indicate a geography. The Bible opens and closes in a garden, in the first "garden" according to the Yahwistic tradition in Genesis 2, is found the scene of the creation of Adam (human being) of "ish" (man) and of "isha" (woman). It is said that "God planted a garden" with rivers to water its plants and trees. It is a garden to be cultivated and kept. It seems that Adam could not do this in his solitary state, he needed help. So God puts this Adam - humanity - to sleep and from him emerges a new being capable of being named (he himself gives a name to this sleeping part of his being which now appears before his eyes.)  The Creator-God, potter in verse 7, becomes a surgeon. He performs an operation on the flesh, in hollowing out "Humanity" and in creating the difference. The gap is opened. Thus the man "ish" speaks and names this woman in front of him, "isha."

How could we not at this point think of that Adam who will be Jesus, asleep on the Cross, awakened from the sleep of death and at the empty tomb, at the hole in the ground in which his body was laid. In waking Christ will be from this time on, the protagonist of a meeting of re-creation in this garden of the 'second Genesis'. This Adam speaks and says "Woman" just as the first d said "Isha". But here there is a big difference. In Genesis "Isha" did not reply. She let Adam speak, she let herself be called.  The newness in the Resurrection garden is that when this new Adam names the    woman, she replies.  She was looking for the body of the one    she loved; she wanted it even though he was dead.  Her reply is in this seeking and she does it explicitly ... "tell me where you have put him"... you, the gardener.

The Gardener calls her by her own personal, intimate name, "Mary." Hearing herself named, she recognizes him and in her turn names him, not with his personal name but with that of "Rabbouni" (Master). She names him in a relationship.

In both stories, the Bible makes us discover the "Garden", the place for all amorous meetings -- thus the Canticle of Canticles, of which eight chapters make us sing of this search. In the course of salvation history, between the Garden of the Creation and that of the re-creation/Resurrection there is this garden of love which is the eruption of the eternal in history. This garden of the Canticle is, one could say, a meeting of Love, the whole earth being the Garden.

The first garden of Genesis and the Garden of the heavenly Jerusalem are cosmic and universal:

they are the desire of God who created us for harmony and communion. That is why the meeting on this morning of the new Creation, will be in a Garden. Thus history begins again, not in an eternal return, but in an evolution.

To the anonymous woman of Genesis 2, 'isha,' who did not speak and did not reply on hearing herself named by the man 'ish' now corresponds a woman having a proper name "Mary" who not only speaks but even more is going to reply to the Master and will have to announce him. Perhaps this is the distinctive characteristic in the figure of Mary Magdalen. This Resurrection morning, in this meeting with Jesus, a new creation is opened. Everything begins again -- all things are made new.