St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi
St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi was a 16th century nun who had supernatural experiences associated with her mystical prayer.
She was born in 1566 to one of the most famous families in Florence, Italy, and was baptized Catherine after the great St. Catherine of Siena. As a young girl, she was full of prayer, and her parents sent her to a nearby convent for her education. There, she grew even more devoted, even learning the practice of meditation at a young age.
Her parents had an arranged marriage in mind for her, but she convinced them that she was called to religious life. She chose the Carmelite order because they received Holy Communion every day, entering the community in 1583 and taking the name Mary Magdalene.
The community was reluctant to admit her, but when she fell dangerously ill, they allowed her to make her vows from a stretcher placed in front of the altar. Her illness was very painful, and some of the nuns wondered how she bore the pain with such peace. Mary Magdalene pointed to the crucifix and said, “See what the infinite love of God has suffered for my salvation—that same love sees my weakness and gives me courage. Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ and who offer up their own to God through his passion find their pains sweet and pleasant.”
Her life as a Carmelite sister revolved around this effort to conform her life to Jesus’ suffering and saving death. For 40 days after making her vows, she experienced deep consolation when receiving Communion—God seemed very close, and she often fell into rapturous prayer. These consolations were preparation for the long desolation that followed—for five years, God seemed very distant. She came to understand that God was not taking away grace from her, just the feeling of grace.
She experienced temptations to gluttony and impure thoughts, and she appealed to heaven for help in resisting them, and disciplined her body and will with fasting. These movements deepened her faithfulness and refined her selflessness.
Finally, on Pentecost in 1590, she was restored to God’s consolations, and ever afterwards experienced an unusual union with God that brought her joy, even though more suffering lay ahead.
God bestowed spiritual gifts on Sister Mary Magdalene—she could read the thoughts of others and could predict the future; she was known to appear to people in far-off places, and cured some who were sick. She fell into ecstatic prayer often—sometimes appearing lifeless and rigid, and other times going about her work in a trance with her mind and heart clearly somewhere else.
This union with God created within her a deep longing for God’s love to be known by everyone. “O Love, love is not loved, not known by your own creatures,” she cried out once while vigorously ringing the church bells in the middle of one night, waking the whole region. “O my Jesus! If I had a voice sufficiently loud and strong to be heard in every part of the world, I would cry out to make this love known, loved, and honored by all as the one immeasurable good.”
In 1604, Sister Mary Magdalene was confined to bed because of excruciating headaches that caused paralysis—she experienced extreme pain if she was touched. She died three years later at the age of 41. Relics of St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica.
St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, you displayed faithfulness in your suffering, and found union with God in prayer—pray for us!