May 25: Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Virgin—Optional Memorial
Patron Saint of the sick
Canonized by Pope Clement IX on April 28, 1669
Liturgical Color: White
Self-love is like the worm that gnaws at the root and destroys not only the fruit, but even the very life of the plant. The traitor that we have to fear most is self-love, for self-love betrays us as Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss. He who conquers self-love conquers all. ~Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
“Yes, I will go,” said Sister Mary Magdalene. She had been praying in the garden of her convent with other sisters when she entered into ecstasy and was given an invitation from our Lord to enter Purgatory so that she would better understand Divine Justice and the need to pray for those who suffer from the final purification of their sins. She went with Jesus, descending deeper and deeper into the prisons of turmoil, witnessing the intense suffering of the ignorant, uncharitable, weak, materialistic, impure, and proud souls who had died not yet fully purified by the fire of God’s love. She also saw those who had lived good and holy lives, falling only into venial sin. They suffered, but less so than the others. This was but one of countless visions and mystical experiences that Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi received from our Lord during her forty-one years on earth.
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi was born in Florence, Italy, the only daughter of an exceptionally wealthy and noble family. She was given the name Caterina, in honor of Saint Catherine of Siena, but was often called Lucrezia by her family in remembrance of her grandmother. Caterina was a saintly child, raised in a saintly home. As a child, she grew in an affection for the poor and secretly offered them her food. She loved to pray and to teach other young girls her age to pray. She learned her catechism and always looked for opportunities to share her new knowledge with her friends.
Around the age of eight or nine, Caterina began to deepen her prayer, often spending more than an hour at a time steeped in it. She learned to meditate and was especially drawn to meditate upon the passion of Christ. This moved her heart so closely to a love for our suffering Lord that she joyfully sought out penances she could inflict upon herself. She slept on the floor at times, wore a hairshirt, made a crown of thorns and placed it on her head, and drew ever closer to the sufferings of Christ. At the age of ten, she made her First Holy Communion and by the age of twelve, she experienced her first ecstasy in the presence of her mother. After that ecstasy, she made a private vow of virginity to her Beloved.
At the age of fourteen, Caterina’s father was made the Grand Duke of Cortona, and Caterina was boarded at the convent of Saint John in Florence. During her fifteen-month stay with the sisters, her daily prayer often went on for hours at a time. She prayed in private, so as not to draw attention to herself. Around the age of fifteen, her father undertook arrangements for her to be married, but she explained to him that she couldn’t because of her private vow to Jesus. Her father consented and in 1583, at the age of sixteen, she entered the Carmelite convent of Saint Mary of the Angels in Florence. She picked that convent because the sisters received Holy Communion daily, which was uncommon at that time. Within her first year at the convent, she had a second ecstasy in the chapel while praying before the crucifix. During that ecstasy, the sisters heard her say to her Beloved, “Oh Love, You are neither known nor loved.” Her prayer was leading her to a profound knowledge of her Savior, a knowledge that only mystical prayer could provide.
In 1584, the novice Caterina fell seriously ill and was confined to her bed. She embraced every suffering with so much joy that it seemed she didn’t suffer at all. When one of the nuns asked about her suffering, she responded, “Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ, and offer their own to God through His passion, find their pains sweet and amiable.” On May 17 of that year, she was permitted to make her first vows from bed, taking the name Sister Mary Magdalene, after the penitent saint of the Bible.
After making her vows, Sister Mary Magdalene began to experience daily ecstasies after receiving Holy Communion, which continued for forty days in a row. As a result, her confessor instructed her to share her experiences with the sisters. She did so, and over the next several years the sisters recorded them in five large volumes.
During one of her ecstasies, Jesus took Sister Mary Magdalene’s heart and hid it in His own Sacred Heart. He told her that He would not return it to her until after it was fully purified. On another occasion, Jesus said to her, “I will take away the feeling of grace, but not the grace. Though I will seem to leave you, I will be closer to you.” At one point, this feeling of abandonment lasted for five years, during which time she experienced intense temptations toward impurity, gluttony, pride, infidelity, and blasphemy. She begged her sisters to pray for her in her weakness and sin. Despite these almost unbearable temptations, she grew strong in charity and remained faithful to her Beloved through intense prayer, fasting, and every sort of penance she could impose upon herself. Finally, in 1590, at the age of twenty-four, her dark night temporarily lifted and she was, once again, filled with the deepest consolations from her Lord.
Sister Mary Magdalene’s prayer often was focused upon consoling Jesus’ Heart and making reparation for the many sacrileges committed against Him. She was keenly aware of how unloved Jesus was and how loved He should be. This holy sorrow drove her to be His consolation and to appease His Divine Justice. Her communications with Jesus were as with her closest friend, spouse, and companion. She begged to suffer with Him, in Him, and for Him. She prayed for the conversion of sinners, and sought always to give God glory in all things.
Throughout her religious life, despite her constant ecstasies and raptures, Saint Mary Magdalene was able to fulfill all her duties with great care and productivity. She trained novices, did menial chores, and served as every other sister. The last three years of her life were filled with much physical suffering. She endured severe headaches, fevers, bodily pains, vomiting of blood, and infected gums that led to the loss of all of her teeth. Her greatest sufferings, however, were interior ones. She lived what Saint John of the Cross calls the dark night of the spirit. Many times God seemed absent and she saw only her wretchedness. But out of that interior annihilation, she willed to love, and she was unwaveringly faithful to God and to prayer for the conversion of sinners.
As we honor this great mystic, ponder her attraction to the joyful embrace of every suffering. Suffering itself is not from God. God permits us to suffer so that we can love Him in that suffering and so that our love can become pure. Ponder how well you endure your own sufferings in life. Do you run from them? Do you reluctantly accept them? Do you despair? Or do you see them as a means to more fully unite yourself to the God Who suffered the weight of our sins, nailing them to the Cross so as to free us from sin? Imitate this great saint and try to embrace every suffering for the love of God, in imitation of Jesus, and like Saint Mary Magdalene de Pizza, you, too, will bring consolation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pizza, you were wise beyond what any book could teach. You came to know the deepest truths of God and life through your free embrace of every suffering for the love of God. Please pray for me, that I may love God as you loved Him, and be devoted to Him as you were devoted. May my life become a living sacrifice of love, poured out for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Saint Mary Magdalene de Pizza, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.