St. Magdalen de Pazzi

05-26-2013Weekly ReflectionDolores Wright

Dear Parish Family,

In his homily last weekend Father Tim spoke about this being the age of the New Pentecost, the time for New Evangelization. We are called to use our history and culture to bring the message of Christ to the world. The early church fathers preached and wrote about the faith; in the Middle Ages the power of the printed word and art were used, and today the media opens up a whole new way to evangelize. The Church has always taught the Truth and has produced saints in every age. What can we learn about evangelization from our patroness, St. Magdalen de Pazzi, whose feast day we celebrate this weekend on Saturday, May 25?

I must admit that I had never heard of St. Magdalen until I became a member of this parish. And yet, if you visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, she is one of five saints honored at the Carmelite altar, along with the more well-known St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The first national church constructed for Italians in the United States was in Philadelphia in 1857 and was dedicated by Saint John Neumann to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi. So who was this saint, and how did history and culture affect her life?

Saint Magdalen was born on April 2, 1566 in Florence to a prominent noble Renaissance family. Her father was Sir Camillus de Pazzi and her mother, Lady Mary Magdalen Buondelmonti. She was baptized Catherine, and St. Catherine of Siena became her patron saint and role model. From her childhood, she had a deep sense of the presence of God and a great love for the Eucharist. At the age of 9 she was taught by her family chaplain to meditate on the Passion of Christ and at the age of 10 she received her first Holy Communion. Several months later, she made a vow of virginity and in 1578 experienced her first ecstasy.

In 1582, Catherine chose to enter the Carmelite monastery of St. Mary of the Angels in Florence because, by exceptional privilege, the nuns could receive Eucharist every day. Catherine was clothed in the Carmelite habit and took the name Sister Mary Magdalen in 1583. During her lifetime as a Carmelite, she experienced a succession of visions, ecstasies, and other mystical phenomena, penances, and trials. At the request of her confessor, her mystical experiences were written down by the nuns in her convent, and these five manuscript books are preserved in good condition in the monastery. They have been translated into English (Fatima, 1969-1975) and are entitled: Forty Days, Conversations, Revelations and Understandings, Trials, and Renewal of the Church. In addition, her letters and her teachings and counsels to the novices in her community have also been published. Paulist Press has issued some of her writings in their series Classics of Western Spirituality. Check out our parish website for some of her works.

In 1563, three years before St. Magdalen's birth, the Council of Trent had addressed many issues and concerns raised by the Protestant Revolt, but in some cases, the people and the official church leaders were slow in implementing these doctrinal statements and reforms. In several of her ecstasies Jesus urged her to reform the Church and her community. After prayer and meditation, St. Magdalen, like her patron saint, Catherine of Siena, composed letters to the Pope and the clergy. She urged them to reform religious life, to spread the Gospel, and to renew the faith of the Church. She had the heart and conviction of an evangelist.

In our own day and age, Vatican II took place 50 years ago. We, the clergy and laity, are still working through the understanding and directives of the documents from the Council. We need to be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to be part of the New Pentecost of which Fr. Tim spoke. Like St. Magdalen, we must have the heart and conviction of an evangelist to bring the message of Jesus Christ to our world.

Space and time does not permit expounding upon the beauty and depth of the doctrinal content of her writings and the depiction of her life in Renaissance art, but two concepts that were so emphasized by St. Magdalen bear special mention: that God is Love and that the Eucharist is the source of His love for us. As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi next Sunday, let us ask St. Magdalen to instill in us that same love of the Eucharist.

With joy in the Spirit,
Dolores Wright