Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday in the 16th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene
Even Without Caller ID

Readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Psalms 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8; John 20:1-2, 11-18
Picture: CC angela7dreams

Something quite amazing – but perhaps often taken for granted – usually happens when we speak on the phone with someone familiar. Even if we do not have caller ID, and even before the other party has told us who it is we are talking to, we can often recognize the other just by the sound of the voice on the line. We can identify the other, even with a high degree of certainty, without needing to see the other’s face. It doesn’t really matter what clothes s/he may be wearing during the conversation. There’s no problem even if s/he has on a mask or a disguise of some sort. We can still recognize the person by the sound of the voice. And we don’t really need someone else to teach us to do this. We don’t really need to go to a special school to learn this. Ultimately, what makes the difference is the amount of time we spend on the phone with the other. If we do so long enough, the ability to recognize the other’s voice comes quite naturally and spontaneously.

Perhaps something like this is behind what is happening in our readings today. Mary Magdalene is in a situation of great distress and grief. She has lost her beloved Lord and Master. Earlier, from up close, she had witnessed him being mercilessly tortured and executed, before being laid in a tomb. And now, even his body has gone missing. But the intensity of her grief is not the only obstacle to her recognizing the Lord. The other is the fact that Jesus appears in a form that she doesn’t quite expect. She is looking for a corpse but he appears as the Resurrected Lord. Also, it seems plain from all the gospel accounts that the appearance of Jesus after the Resurrection was somehow different from that before the Crucifixion. Something about him had changed. It’s not surprising then, that Mary fails to recognize Jesus, and even mistakes him for the gardener.

That is until he calls her by her name. Once that happens, it’s as though the lights suddenly come on in Mary’s mind and heart. It’s as though she finally learns to disregard all the other things that get in the way of her recognizing Jesus, in order to focus on the one important thing. It doesn’t matter that he looks different. It doesn’t matter that he appears in a form that she doesn’t quite expect. She recognizes the sound of his voice as he calls her by her name. And in the recognition, she experiences the very thing that the prophet Micah prays for in the first reading: shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance… Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old… Jesus the Good Shepherd leads her, once again, to green pastures (see John 10). The stone cold tomb is transformed into a life-giving womb. Mary receives a new mission to be the apostle to the apostles.

And her experience is also offered to us as fellow disciples of the Crucified and Risen Lord. Especially in times of darkness and confusion, of bereavement and grief, when the Lord may seem painfully absent, when our eyes may be clouded over with tears, unable to recognize his face, perhaps even then, we will yet be able to hear and recognize his voice as he gently calls our name. But for us to do this, for us to realize that it is truly the Lord with whom we are speaking, even when the caller ID may tell us different, we need to entertain his calls more often. We need to spend time on the phone with him, even when things are going well. How else will we learn what it sounds like when he calls our name?

Do you hear the phone ringing today?


  1. Fr. Chris - again your reflection today touches a raw nerve. Sometimes it is not mere recognition through the senses but a certain knowing.
    We walk and stumble and yet know that there is a presence beyond our understanding that is just there. We are tuned to 'the other.'
    Many a times I cannot explain what I see or experience when things just fall into place. It is the Spirit that works within us beyond just praying. We just know. The mysteries of life are beyond microwaves or wifi, unseen but working nonetheless. We just need to be tapped in.
    Thanks for your insights.

  2. A long time ago, I read this story of a war-weary soldier returning home to his childhood sweet-heart whom he had not seen for a very long time.

    All the time when he was physically away from her, he maintained constant communication with her even though he couldn't see or speak to her. When the time came for him to return home, as he stepped out of the train, he was apprehensive that he would not be able to recognize her, and vice versa, not having seen each other for a long time. He needn't have worried. The moment he stepped onto the platform of the train station, his eye caught sight of a young lady looking expectantly at him. She rushed towards him and flung herself into his arms. There was no need for words.

    That is how it will be for those who keep up regular communication with God. When our time comes to meet our Creator, even if Jesus does not call us by our name, hopefully we are left with no doubt Who it is in whose presence we have entered.


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