Until this year Mary Magdalene – a highly recognisable name – belonged to the ‘optional’ group of saints. But something quite remarkable has been happening across the pontificate of Pope Francis. He has recently declared that it is “necessary to widen the space for more incisive feminine presence in the church."
In June 2016, the Pope began to put flesh on this intent, enabling St Mary Magdalene to claim her rightful and significant place as ‘apostle’. She has now been accorded the highest honour, the implications of which deserve pondering. Vatican Radio (10/6/16) has declared that “she has been raised from the dignity of an (optional) memorial to being on par with the apostles”. Those who have for years been honouring her day, believing she could inspire the current generation, are now rejoicing.
We now hear of another of the Pope's initiatives: a commission to explore the possibility of women being ordained deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. The Diaconate is a ministry of service, one very true to the Pope’s belief that all people called to minister need to be focused on service, not status, attuned to people’s suffering, reaching out to those on the periphery. It’s an ancient ministry, with considerable evidence in favour of its re-establishment.
Each Sunday, Roman Catholics proclaim in the Creed a Church that is one, holy, catholic and *apostolic*. Mary, the first of the apostles, stands alongside the twelve, as we acclaim with joy their co-foundational role.
Surely, then, the implication for us, just as for this gospel woman, is that the God of history will break into our time and surprise us beyond our current imagining; a new day is dawning for the leadership gifts of both women and men. The space is being truly widened. Mary Magdalene grounds our hope!
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