Review: Mary Magdalene and the Gardener – Women Leaders in the Church 

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener – Women Leaders in the Church 

Brian Lennon SJ

Messenger Publications, Dublin

A review…

Ruth Patterson in the Foreword describes this little book as a challenging and hope filled meditation.  I certainly found it very challenging and not an altogether comfortable read which is why I recommend it for Lenten reflections and group discussion. It challenges us all.

As a very ordinary Mary, I have always been deeply moved by the event described in John’s Gospel where Mary Magdalene goes to find her Rabboni in order to anoint his broken body and discovers an empty tomb. Taking the figure nearby to be the gardener she asks him where the body has been taken. We all know what happens next. The Gardener calls her by her name and she knows Him immediately. It’s a cinematic moment, isn’t it, that has reverberated down the ages? The overwhelming emotion of joy still affects us. He called her by her name.

Mary Magdalene has been much maligned down the centuries, considered a fallen woman (men don’t fall?) and perhaps confused with other women and other Marys.

The fact that she is mentioned by name in all four Gospels shows that she must have been a figure of importance, a leader in her community. Jesus, the Gardener, chose her to bring the news of his Resurrection to the other disciples who were in hiding and who had not the courage shown by this woman to come to the tomb to perform an act of loving kindness. She did not fail in her mission then to tell them that He had risen from the dead.

Brian Lennon confronts us with many challenges and unsettles the reader with uncomfortable truths, e.g. Why do people want so much money? To be a true follower of Christ we must follow his example. Isn’t that the true purpose of the Church? We must oppose injustices wherever we see them and that means being an active member of community. It is not enough just to have a personal relationship with Christ. We must try to show God’s love for all his peoples without discrimination. I nodded my head vigorously when I read, Discrimination against women is a dark stain on our Church. 

One of the many lines that shifted me from my all too comfortable isolation perch was this:-

It is surely blasphemy to come to receive the Lord in the Eucharist without showing concern for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

Strong words. Hmm… Is ‘blasphemy’ too strong a term? Like I said, it isn’t always a cosy read but then Brian is a Jesuit. They have a habit of challenging us, asking more questions than answering them!

It is a small book, only 72 pages, so handbag or pocket sized, a perfect gift for your Mum on Mothers Day in March, any man or woman in your life, priest in your parish or young adult struggling to remain in a Church where they feel they don’t have a voice.

We begin by listening, questioning, challenging and hopefully learning to change what can be changed. This book is a timely reminder during this season of metanoia, the call to repentance, to a change of heart, mind and direction in our lives.

He called her by her name. Maybe because I am a Mary too I feel a strong emotional bond with this particular Mary. There are so many Marys in the NT. Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus of course, Mary the sister of Martha, Mary the mother of James, Mary the wife of Clopas for instance. This book honours those women and gives their names importance again. Perhaps it is reminding us all that in the eyes of the Gardener and His/our Abba, each of us is and always has been important.

Mary Vallely 22 February 2021  


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