Passing the Guardians By

A man identifying himself as “Francis” recently appealed to the bishops of the world, addressing them as Guardians of Tradition (Traditionis Custodes).

The Tradition of which he speaks includes a liturgy lovingly designed, century by century, to manifest as tangibly as possible the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord.

In guarding this treasure of our faith, the self-proclaimed humblest of popes instructs prelates to “take care” that this powerful means of encountering Christ remain sealed in a tomb—lest perhaps such encounters inspire the people to say: “He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worse than the first” (Mt. 28:64)!

Evidently, our Lord was no fan of tombs. He wept before that of his friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:35), and castigated the lawyers who built monuments for the prophets, whom their fathers had killed (Lk. 11:47). Though his own monument was newly hewn for a rich man (Mt. 27:60), its beauty did not tempt him, nor did the guards prevent him, from soon evacuating its premises.

From among all his disciples, Christ chose St. Mary Magdalen to announce his rising to the others, thus earning her title Apostle of the Apostles. I suspect the honor had something to do with her own contempt for authorities who would guard against intimate contact with the living God.

While Jesus was eating with Pharisees, a woman (traditionally taken to be Mary) “began to wash his feet, with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with . . . ointment” (Lk. 38).

Simon told himself it was a scandal that Christ would thus consort with sinners, but given his own unrepentant pride, the truth is that he was offended by the overflowing power of this sinner’s penitence. Better to fashion excuses for crimes and maintain one’s public image than to make such a display of having been lost, and now being found!

Shortly before Christ’s death, Mary (once again?) “took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (Jn. 12:3).

This time, the objection comes from one of Jesus’s own: Judas denounces Mary’s unctuous worship as a waste of funds, claiming he wants to help the poor; when in fact “he was a thief, and having the purse,” wanted to spend the money on himself (Jn. 12:4-6).

In her traditional liturgy, the Church associates Mary Magdalen with the Bride in the Canticle of Canticles, who rises at night and goes about the city seeking him whom her soul loves. Stopped by “the watchmen who keep the city (qui custodiunt civitatem),” she asks his whereabouts, to no avail. Only when she “had a little passed by” these Guardians does this loving soul find her Beloved.

And I will not let him go, till I bring him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that bore me. (Cant. 3:1-4)

On Easter morning, Mary has no human hope of overcoming the guards, any more than of rolling back the stone. But she will not let go of Christ, until he has manifested himself to her, and sent her to bring the Gospel to his brethren (Jn. 20:17).

Tradition has it that, fleeing persecution, Mary Magdalen ended her days on a French mountaintop, where she received daily “visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Today, certain Guardians of the faith stand threatening, forbidding us from making ostentatious displays of penance; stripping our altars in the name of the poor while siphoning the funds to satisfy their own vanities and lusts; anxiously striving to contain any reference to the Kingship or Presence of Christ within the lifeless confines of history or symbolism; refusing to point the way when we ask where we may find him whom our soul loves.

Let us, like St. Mary Magdalen, with a boldness borne of loving humility, pass these Guardians by. And even if we must flee to distant hills, once we find Christ, let us like Mary resolve never to let him go!

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