St. Mary of Egypt, at the age of twelve, left her parents, moved to Alexandria, and became a prostitute. She lived on the street for several years, and, according to her own words, often enjoying what she was doing. She was productive in that she was able to make money for herself thanks to a job which she seemingly enjoyed. She was a rebel who had made a place for herself in society, and had fulfilled the dream of many – she was self-sufficient, able to live off the proceeds of what she enjoyed doing. Who could tell her she was wrong? Her money verified the legitimacy of her work. She had rebelled against her parents, who wanted her to show restraint with her body, and she said no, she could do whatever she wanted, she was free, and no one would take her liberty away from her.
She lived the dream.
All her earthly fantasies were fulfilled.
Yet, the fantasies hid from her the reality of her unhappy life. She was being used, and abused, and while she said to herself she enjoyed it, the abuse which she faced at the hands of men, many who claimed to be holy Christians following God’s will, had to have had a deep and long-lasting psychological effect on her. She was a victim of abuse, and like so many who suffered such abuse, she created a delusion which she used to hide from herself the real physical and emotional harm she was suffering. It hid from her all the pain and suffering she was enduring at the hands of others.
This was not the worst of what she faced. The worst was the reaction of others. Those who saw her did not see a wounded woman who needed their help, but rather, someone they desired to abuse themselves, either by using her for their own sexual gratification, or by throwing all their scorn on her for the way she lived as a way of making themselves feel holy and smug that they were sinners like her. Good Christians reinforced the abuse which she faced. They did not show the love God desired her to know, and so she feared God, feared he would reject her as they did, and so for a long time, she remained a vessel of abuse, taking it from both her customers and her critics alike.
Those who thought they were great in the kingdom of God hindered the justice and mercy of God in her life. Instead of showing charitable love, helping her find a better way of life, they helped reinforce the structures of sin, showing that they were the ones far from God by the way let Mary be mistreated. They called themselves pious and great, and would have shown others all that they have done, all the virtues they have claimed for themselves which they said made them so great, and yet there was Mary, the vessel of their abuse, who was a sign of their ignorance of Jesus and true virtue. For what they did to her, they did to Jesus. They wanted to lord it over her, instead of serving her with love, thereby showing how they had not yet learned the lesson Jesus gave to James and John:
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:35-45 RSV).
One day, Mary saw a group of pilgrims going to Jerusalem and she decided she wanted to join them. She could not afford it, so she made a deal to allow herself to be used and abused by the would-be pilgrims as they gave her the food and passage she needed to enter the Holy Land. While pretending to be great and pious, we once again see how the so-called righteous were really far from God. They wanted to use God for their own benefits, but ignored him in his declarations of social justice.