Remembrance of things past

Today is the 146 birthday of the Marcel Proust.  Big deal, right?  It’s just that the OED’s WOTD today is “madeleine”.   “Madeleine” makes me think immediately – and in an appropriately nostalgic way – of a certain feast, of a certain priest, and of a certain cookie.

The feast of St. Mary Magdalene is coming up soon, on 22 July.  As of last year she has a feast, again, in the Ordinary Form calendar, and she was given her own preface (which has a Latin error in it, btw… HERE).

The priest I have in mind I met in Rome.  He was very kind to me.  He was once rector of St. Cecilia in Trastevere and also ran a residence for college age men who lived in community, ate and prayed together.  Some went on to pursue vocations to the priesthood.  I stayed there for a summer when I was studying Latin with Fr. Reginald Foster in one of his early (famous) summer boot camps.  Foster, as a matter of fact, introduced me to this group.  After I left the hell-hole that was my US seminary, I stayed there again for a summer before enlisting in a new seminary in Rome and diocese.  I phoned him the day I was “deselected” (yes, that was really the word the rector used, the coward), and he told me to kick the dust off and come to Rome, there would be a place for me and he’d help me find a new path.  Thus began my long Roman era, serving Masses in the cloister of St. Cecila, doing office work at the Sant’Uffizio, and sorting Italian from the less … acceptable Romanaccio I was quickly picking up in the streets of Trastevere.  I recall sitting under orange and lemon trees in the courtyard with this priest on a still blazing warm evening, and listening to him reminisce about his mother, Maddalena, who had also died on her name day, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.  It was 22 July 1989.  I had never seen a priest roll up the sleeves of his cassock before and that image and the moment has stuck in my head ever since.  Anyway, say a prayer for don Antonio, who died a few years ago, and for his mother.  Try to remember also the mothers of priests.

The cookies I have in mind are called “madeleines”.  These are beautiful little scallop-shaped affairs, instantly recognizable.  They aren’t really named after Mary Magdalene, but, who cares?  You might try making some.  If you don’t have a mold – US HERE – UK HERE.

Rightly or wrongly, Mary Magdalene has long been associated in art and literature with ongoing penitence for past sins.  Hallow her upcoming feast with a thorough examination of conscience, which can be bitter.  Then, after GOING TO CONFESSION, have some madeleines… perhaps with Mystic Monk Coffee.    They will sweeten your remembrance of things past.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Facta Non Verba says:

    I hope the hell-hole that was your US seminary has improved. Several priests who offer Mass around here are graduates of that seminary.

    [I am happy to say that it is enormously improved!]

  2. robtbrown says:

    I recommend the French cafes in the S half of the US, La Madeleine. Their salads–Oh la la.

  3. Julia_Augusta says:

    I just finished reading a beautiful book called Saint Mary Magdalen by Father Sean Davidson. In the book, Father Davidson tries to sort out the confusion about the various Marys (sister of Martha and Lazarus; the woman from whom our Lord drove our the seven demons; the woman who anoints His feet with oil) and concludes that they are the same person, Mary Magdalen. Moreover, the book convincingly proposes that Mary Magdalen, whose family was based in Bethany, spent a lot of time at the family’s other house in Magdala, where (before she met our Lord), she was a rather infamous party girl who spent a lot of time partying with courtiers of Herod and participating in pagan rites. The reason why the Pharisee was so upset when our Lord welcomed her and allowed her to wipe His feet with her hair is that everyone knew about her scandalous reputation and they could not believe that He would have anything to do with her.

    I read the book with tears in my eyes because she was such a devoted follower of our Lord and despite her terrible reputation and sinful life, she repented and loved Him and stood by Him under the cross with our Lady, while all the other Apostles (except one), were hiding away, terrified and cowed by the cruelty of the Romans. Moreover, Father Davidson talks about the church dedicated to her in St. Maximin in Provence, France where she is thought to have spent her final years.

    Mary Magdalen offers hope to all of us, but especially to people like me who turned our backs on the Church and recently came back, repenting all of our sins in Confession (thanks for nagging us everyday, Father Z.) and receiving Communion. I, too, weep at the feet of our Lord, and beg His mercy everyday of my life and the more I pray to Him and remember Mary Magdalen, the more I love Him.

    Father Z., I pray for you everyday, especially when I say my Rosary.

  4. Elizabeth D says:

    She is the sole certainly-historical unmarried woman saint associated with repentance for sins of the flesh. If she isn’t interpreted in that way then all we have to go on is pure faith in Jesus and His words that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before the Pharisees.

    It is above all liberals who say “no, no, Mary Magdalene was not a sinner, she was one of Jesus’ closest and most loved disciples!” Is it not strange that they cannot imagine a person who is both a repentant sinner and a close and well loved disciple? But the liberal issue is not liking to see anyone as a sinner. The “conservative” tendency is that women who are neither married nor virgins are deprived of the public worthiness of virgins or married women as a just permanent consequence of their sin. Not a one of them since Mary Magdalene has ever been so regarded as holy that it led to canonization.

  5. Elizabeth D says:

    Jesus came to save sinners, died and rose again to make sinners clean and espouse them to Himself in His one bride the Church.

  6. Mike says:

    These cookies (?) are, for me, hard to make. That passage from Proust, on the other hand, is fantastic every time.

  7. JamesA says:

    The Church owes a great debt to Don Antonio for helping you save your vocation, Father. If only I had known someone like that when I was “deselected”.
    Requiescat in pace.

    [In my last 30+ years, some figure emerged at a pivotal moment within enormous and painful challenges either to advise or to open a door of some kind. In retrospect I see the pattern’s shape. Digitus Dei. It leaves me in awe.]

  8. lmgilbert says:

    Elizaberth D.,

    Well there is, for starters, St. Mary of Egypt, but she lived long before the era of formal canonization. There are other fallen women from that era who repented and lived saintly lives and are counted as saints in the Church.. See, “St. Mary of Egypt: Ascent From Prostitution to Sanctity” from Harlots of the Desert, by Sr. Benedicta Ward.

    Then there is St. Margaret of Cortona, who lived in sin for nine years before the murder of her paramour, and a lived a very saintly life afterwards. Her New Advent article notes, “There [St. Basil’s, Cortona] her body remains enshrined to this day, incorrupt, in a silver shrine over the high-altar. Although honoured as a beata from the time of her death, Margaret was not canonized until 16 May, 1728.” Canonized. Surely there are others. I find her incorruption very heartening, for it is a phenomenon that seems to show that her penance far outweighed her early indulgence and infidelity.

    The same article has a worthwhile comment by a Franciscan friar, Ivan Strmecki:

    “Among us friars, she is known as the Franciscan Mary Magdalene. Her feast day was moved to May 16 (due to Feast of the Chair of St Peter). The opening prayer of her Mass in the 1974 Roman-Franciscan Sacramentary is: ‘Heavenly Father, you take no pleasure in the death of the sinner but rather in the sinner’s conversion that he may live. As you mercifully drew your servant Margaret from the path of damnation to the way of salvation, grant that we may serve you with pure hearts, free from the bondage of sin. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.’

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    St. Thais of Egypt was a prostitute. Fair number of early Christian saints like her. (Banshee ponders search terms.)

  10. Elizabeth D says:

    lmgilbert, I have “Harlots of the Desert” but it is not certain St Mary of Egypt is a historical person. I definitely love the story about her which presents an inimitably radical ideal of female penitence in the mode of desert spirituality, and I realize she is an important saint in Eastern Christianity. The nature and details of the story do not suggest a specific real person to me, but rather an inspiring monastic legend. There are some others like that, the story of “Pelagia” for instance which I think most people would agree is not pretending to be nonfictional. I was aware of Margaret of Cortona, but the information I had on her differed, maybe I need better information. Fr Ivan Strmecki happens to be a personal friend of mine.

    I never heard of St Thais. I appreciate the help!

  11. Elizabeth D says:

    There do not seem to be any such women on the universal calendar to mention, though, besides Mary Magdalene, and paths of female penitent spirituality seem rather absent today. The third orders today do not generally have that character for instance.

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