Mary Magdalene's Mysticism for Today
Let us take Mary Magdalene’s mystical life in Provence as an example. Magdalene spent her final thirty years living a penitential life of prayer in a cave at La Sainte-Baume. During those years, it is said that her only food was the Eucharist fed to her by angels. For a concise history of Mary Magdalene in France, see The Relics of Saint Mary Magdalene at La Sainte Baume on the EWTN website.
The issue at hand is the nature of the subjective experience as an objective certainty (a Kierkegaardian dilemma). How does one know if one’s spiritual experience is purely subjective, placing no demands on others, or is a subjective discovery of an objective truth to be imposed on others? For example, I come to realize that I am moved to a transcendent sense of meaning by the sound of a rushing river in the wild. This is a subjective experience that places no demands on others. The world is not expected to sense what I do when standing near a rushing river in the wild. However, what if I come to understand that 2+2=4 in a world that does not yet know this? The equation in Platonic terms is a universal truth that is not dependent on our knowing it. Through my observations in the world, I subjectively perceive patterns that lead me to understand that two of something plus two more of the thing always equals four of the things. I then deduce a universal a-priori mathematical statement that two of anything plus two more of anything equals four of anything. I come to this conclusion based on my subjective perception, yet as opposed to the rushing river sensation, this conclusion places dogmatic demands on the world. I then take the next step to objectify my subjective experience by writing and publicizing the universal formula for all to use.
What does this have to do with Mary Magdalene and her cave?
Magdalene’s mysticism was a subjective experience between her Lord in heaven and her. Yet, none would deny the truth that her experience was objectively true. It was not something immanent that she developed in her mind, behind the curtain in her Cartesian theater. It was a transcendent phenomenological reality subjectively manifested. The question is to what degree, if any, do those experiences have universal applicability? According to the nineteenth century Dominican, Henri Lacordaire, Mary Magdalene’s presence in Provence had everything to do with France’s development as a Catholic nation, the Eldest Daughter of the Church. The small “t” tradition in France through the Middle Ages to our day is that she is intimately involved in the birth, spirit, and soul of France not as a time-bound secular nation only, but more meaningfully as a Platonic manifestation of a universal heavenly form.
The question then becomes how to take the next step and objectify our subjective intuitions regarding Mary Magdalene and France that the world may continue to benefit from her life of penance and prayer. We subjectively sense a pattern in her life in Provence that appears as a universal.
More to come…
“Jesus Christ bequeathed his Mother to Jerusalem, St. Peter to Rome, St. John to Asia --- to whom will he have bequeathed Mary Magdalene?
We know already, it is France who received from the hands of God this part of the Testament of His Son. Tradition, history, the monuments tell it to us clearly, and Providence has taken care to give to their testimony an invincible clarity. One cannot bring one's feet down on the soil of Provence without encountering at each step the memory of St. Mary Magdalene.”
~ Henri Lacordaire, Life of Mary Magdalene, Chapter 6 Concerning Mary Magdalene in Provence