“No one will even know what you are talking about,” she told me. “You need to be able to meet them where they’re at, or they will never see your point.”
I’ll never forget the moment when one of my biggest role models in women’s health at the United Nations said this to me over lunch my senior year. We were discussing abortion, Natural Family Planning and the role of women.
She continued, “No one knows what Natural Family Planning is. And even if they did, you still need to prove that it’s possible for all women to obtain this type of care, to learn methods like these. It’s our job and duty as women Catholics to brainstorm ways to make this a reality — or else contraception looks like the only viable option.”
I remember first being shocked — and slightly offended — by her statement. All of us at lunch had just eloquently explained how necessary it is for women to know their true worth and dignity, what it means to be receptive, and what it means to embrace their fertility.
Don’t get me wrong. She wasn’t disregarding the importance of these things, and neither am I.
But it brought about a good point. If we Catholics are going to communicate the beautiful truths that God and our Church have given us, the truths that we have been entrusted to share with others, we first need to know our audience. We need to be intellectually strong, reliable and realistic to communicate the truth, joy and freedom that is found in our faith.
And when it comes to looking for a role model in how to know an audience and approach these situations, I found St. Mary Magdalene fits the bill.
I love Mary Magdalene for many reasons, but one reason in particular is because she spoke the truth to many men — and not just any men, but the Apostles.
St. Thomas Aquinas calls St. Mary Magdalene the “apostle to the Apostles.” He says,
“She had the office of an apostle; indeed, she was an apostle to the apostles insofar as it was her task to announce our Lord’s resurrection to the disciples. Thus, just as it was a woman who was the first to announce the words of death, so it was a woman who would be the first to announce the words of life.”
Mary Magdalene probably would have made a great diplomat or advocacy officer — and clearly God thought so, too. Tradition holds that she wasn’t perfect in her past, but after her deliverance from seven demons, she provided for the apostles from her own wealth, stayed faithful through the Crucifixion, and eventually became the vessel by which the whole world came to know that Christ had risen.
Talk about a woman of perseverance, strength and virtue. Mary Magdalene, through intimacy with God, realized the power of her femininity. She revealed brilliantly the perseverance within her in visiting the tomb “while it was still dark” (John 20:1), and she used her gifts to testify His life and Resurrection.
I fell in love with Mary Magdalene’s example, and as I look back, it seems like she was gently teaching me how to be ready for an opportunity to announce the Good News. And boy did I get one…
That opportunity came this past summer during a hike in the Alps while interning at a Catholic non-governmental organization (NGO) at the United Nations in Switzerland. The group consisted of a human rights lawyer, a World Health reproductive specialist, an Ambassador and a Dutch Supreme Court Justice. We got into a debate, talking for hours about women, abortion, forced marriage, contraception and suppression by religion. At times, presenting my point of view felt hopeless, and I dreaded that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere helpful.
But with these hours of patient listening and probing questions, our hearts were unveiled: we had more desires in common for these problems than we thought. And in discovering this, we shed some tears as well.
This moment showed me that, as women, we must realize that we have gifts we can use to announce the Resurrection of God in a unique way.
Even if we may be weak, or may have fallen, or may have roles within the Church that look different than men, God still wants to use these very things to bring others to Him. Both in little ways and in big ways, like this conversation in the Alps.
It was the feminine strength in the prophetic role of Mary Magdalene that allowed her to change the hearts of the Apostles from fear to belief after she encountered Jesus at the tomb.
We too can change the world in a way that is dynamic and yet uniquely feminine.
We too can be apostles.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!