Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a place I have longed to see for over a decade: the grotto cave where it is believed St. Mary Magdalene lived the last 30 years of her life. It is located on a mountain ridge named the St. Baume in the Provence region of France.
I have enjoyed a devotion to this saint since 2009 when Dominican Monks, who are custodians of the St. Mary Magdalene Grotto Shrine and Basilica, brought a relic of hers to the United States and to a local church near where I lived in Louisiana.
Through His grace, God used my experience of venerating the shin bone of the woman who knelt at the Cross of Christ on Calvary to convince me that my past repented sins are no obstacle to living as a disciple and close friend of our Lord Jesus. She, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons (Luke 8:2), followed the will of God through Calvary, to His Tomb and received the joy of being the first witness to His Resurrection proving our unworthiness is no match for God’s Mercy.
I journeyed to her grotto cave because I wanted to understand why she would choose life in a cave. Being one of the very few disciples of Jesus who witnessed His death on the Cross, she would have been a much sought-after spiritual celebrity by the thousands who became Christians after Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
A Change of Course
Why did she not, “Go out to all the world and proclaim the Gospel (Mark 16:15),” as Jesus told His Apostles to do?
Tradition tells us that Mary Magdalene did bear witness for a time, even boldly evangelizing the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar. When she was sent out into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea to die on a boat with no sail or rudder along with other disciples, she miraculously survived and preached about Jesus to the people of Gaul in what is now the area of Marseille, France.
At some point, however, she made her way 40 miles away from Marseille and climbed a mountain ridge to a cave where she lived as a contemplative for the remaining 30 years of her life.
I do not think it is a coincidence that I finally had the opportunity to visit her cave as circumstances in my life are calling me away from a less active and more contemplative life. This experience was God’s consolation so I would see that being less active out in the world in no way means I am to be less His disciple and friend. St. Mary Magdalene is helping me to once again understand how to follow God’s will for me.
Lifted Up in Prayer
Do we know what St. Mary Magdalene did those 30 years in the cave? The only thing that has been shared through the centuries is the wonder that seven times a day she was lifted by angels to Heaven and back down again. What can this mean? Was she literally lifted? Perhaps . . . or it could be she prayed with such reverence, devotion, and passion for her Lord that she was lifted in a spiritual ecstasy that took her to the heights and depths of a life lived in communion with God.
The Catholic Church has long discovered that a soul of profound prayer who lives in communion with God serves to nurture and promote all the apostolic work being done around the world for God’s Kingdom. This understanding is the foundation of the cloistered orders of religious sisters and monks who build up the evangelization efforts of the Church through their lives lived in seclusion, silence, and sacrifice as consecrated men and women of contemplative prayer.
Perhaps St. Mary Magdalene was the first to discover this and in humility to God’s will for her, chose a life of solitude, sacrifice, and prayer because it was what her brother Apostles and the many struggling nascent Christians needed most from her.
We see through the witness of St. Mary Magdalene, this vital effort of the Church includes the laity. If your life has become necessarily isolated, smaller, and quieter due to age, illness, or circumstances, ask St. Mary Magdalene to guide you in how to remain constant in discipleship to God’s will no matter what your life circumstances.
Click here to listen to Nan guide you on an audio pilgrimage to the cave grotto of St. Mary Magdalene in St. Baume, France, and more!
Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic whose greatest desire is to make our Lord Jesus more loved. She seeks to accomplish this through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, and motherhood, as a writer, Missionary of Hope, Prayer Intercessor, Speaker Team member, and Volunteer for Pilgrim Center of Hope.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.