Today is the feast of Mary Magdalene. We should not confuse her with Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the one who sat at the feet of Jesus in their home in Bethany. Before we see her at the foot of the cross and at the empty tomb, we saw Mary Magdalene only once when Luke spoke of her as having had seven demons.
If you don’t mind, I would like to leave that Mary Magdalene aside while I say something about a Korean girl with that name. Her pagan name was Soun Pokey, meaning Pure Joy. She had a fine mind, but when she was ten her parents took her out of grade school to get work out of her. When I showed up in their town fifty-seven years ago I brought two Korean nuns with me, and Soun Pokey took to visiting them. She bought a catechism that had three hundred and twenty questions and answers, and she stunned us by memorizing all of them. She very much wanted to be baptized so she could wear a white veil at Mass for receiving Holy Communion.
The nuns asked her parents if they would promise to put her in a good marriage if we baptized her, but they would not agree. They said she was a pretty girl, and they planned on getting good money from someone who already had an older wife. So, Soun Pokey couldn’t be baptized. She stayed in the back for Mass with no veil.
One day she came to me, saying her brother was dying, and should be baptized. She took me through her yard where her parents were working on a money crop. They had put the boy around the back in a lean-to so his TB wouldn’t spread to the rest of the family. On the outer back wall of the house above his head he had hung an embroidered clothe, the kind poor girls brought in their dowries.
I asked, “Are you married?” He said, “I was. I sent her off to live, because I must die.” I visited him regularly. I gave him a leather jacket my brother Frank gave me; and when I baptized him he wanted to be called Frank. One day when I went there he was gone. He had died, and the folks had dug a hole for him on someone else’s land. The folks then sold Soun Pokey to an army officer.
Six years later some one asked me to come with them to a girl who was dying. They brought me through that same yard where the parents were raising pigs and they had big yams growing out of sacks of compost. In the lean-to around the back they had let Soun Pokey lay naked. The embroidered sheet was still on the wall above her head, but she wrenched it down to cover herself.
She recited a lot of catechism answers for me. Then she had me read John’s Gospel about Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection. Then she asked for Baptism and the Eucharist. I left her.
After Mass the next morning the men were standing together, smoking and laughing.
They told me the girl had died. I said that was nothing to laugh about, but they went on. “Father, after you left she called in her parents, demanding a pine casket and a Catholic funeral. They told that her brother was worth ten of her, and he hadn’t received such favors.”
She got real mysterious with her parents. She had them believing that if she didn’t get the box and the funeral she was going to rise on the third day to haunt them. So, Mary Magdalene got her funeral, and with kids her age singing, it wasn’t too sad.