November 2009


Mary, Mother of the Son, by Mark Shea – Three Volume Set

So I’ve been telling you since, oh, Labor Day, to go buy these books.  It’s not just because I’m a Mark Shea groupie, though I’ll admit there is certain evidence of that.  Here’s what I found, and what I liked:

Book 1, Modern Myths and Ancient Truth, opens with a hilarious and painfully-accurate portrayal of the usual misunderstandings between Catholics and Evangelicals concerning Mary.  Shea then moves into a exploration of the “facts” behind The Da Vinci Code, as a study in how pseudo-history can be used to make bogus claims about hot topics.    It’s a detour that lays out some principles for how to evaluate other historical claims.  Nicely done, and gives you some bonus knowledge.  The remainder of the book then turns to the common accusations against Mary — she is a pagan myth warmed-over, a medieval invention, catholics worship her as a goddess, etc etc.

–> I think Mark Shea convincingly makes his case, though of course, I am catholic, so that might have some bearing on my opinion.   For  a catholic reader, therefore,volume 1 presents some basic apologetics you really need to master.  For an evangelical, here is your work laid out for you: the argument is moved to a new level.

Book 2, First Guardian of the Faith, examines how four essential doctrines about Mary relate to doctrine about Christ.  Far from being a set of “extras” Christians can take or leave as they prefer, Mark Shea shows our beliefs about Mary are intimately tied to the reality of Christ.   Certain truths about Christ cannot be properly understood unless we accept related truths about Mary.

For catholics, again, this reading will shore up your faith and help you better explain your beliefs to others.  (If you are a catechist, it may influence your multiple-choice test questions, too.)  For protestants, here is where Mark gets into the big hurdles — not just Perpetual Viginity and Mother of God (“Theotokos”), but the real doozies of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.  If you haven’t accepted the arguments in book 1, you aren’t ready to be convinced by book 2; but regardless, it will help you understand the catholic point of view.   Once again, the protestant-catholic debate is advanced another step.

Book 3, Miracles, Devotion, and Motherhood, leaves the halls of church history and apologetics, and tackles the thorny issue of what catholics actually do in their devotional life.  Again, you need to have at least accepted the possibility that the arguments in book 1 are true.  Mark Shea devotes the opening chapter to probing the sheer uncomfortableness of marian devotion for evangelical converts and would-be converts.  Don’t skip this, even if you are already quite fond of Mary.

He then moves into a chapter on the Rosary, and if it weren’t for this book review program, he would have undeservedly lost me.  The truth is, sometimes I haven’t got much patience for other people’s prayerful medidations on this or that mystery of the rosary.  But free books were at stake, so I made myself go back and read.   Book-lust rewarded: Shea’s reflections are as sturdy as the rest of his work, taking surprising turns through humor, history, apologetics, and inspiration that actually inspires.

After this is a short chapter on private revelation and Marian apparitions.  Shea covers essential points such as the basics of how private revelations are investigated, the bit about how you don’t have to actually believe in them, and what role they might or might not play in your life.  He then gives a very moving personal account of his own private encounter with Mary.  There is an overview of the major approved Marian apparitions in the appendix.

The book closes the series with a final chapter on how Mary might belong in both the catholic and evangelical words.  My favorite line: “the simple fact is, I’m just not one of those people who usually has strong feelings about Mary.”  Written by a man who just wrote three books about her — that’s classic Mark Shea in a nutshell.

***

So I may have mentioned once or twice that these are excellent books.  The type is not the big fluffy stuff you see in entry-level popular evangelical books — I think there is something in the sacrament of confirmation that confers a maximum type-size on all catholic literature — but the prose is fast, readable, and entertaining.   You do need to be able to follow arguments that build over chapters and that pull together many strands of evidence.   Not difficult arguments, but ones that are treated in depth, rather than with pat one-line, or one-chapter dismissals.

Each book has a generous bibliography, as well as footnotes for controversial claims.  Many of the footnotes are to websites, which are uncomfortably emphemeral-feeling, but in reality make it more likely you’ll actually try to find the source.  So I’m not sure which I’d prefer.  Regardless, for someone wishing to engage in debate on the topics, the resources are provided to keep you moving in your work.

The target audience is both catholic and evangelical readers, and in my opinion Mark Shea effectively writes for each.   I came away edified, informed, and inspired, and would willingly lend my copy to both catholic and protestant friends, and really think both types were getting something good out of it.    (I’m not sure whether non-Christian readers would enjoy the books or not, though I’d hate to discourage anyone from giving them a try.)

I received my copy as part of the Catholic Company review program, which you might consider joining.  New applicants are still being accepted, and I can say after a year’s experience that the program is well-run, and has always been stocked with top-notch titles.  I’ve never reviewed something I would not have gone out and bought myself, mostly because when I go through the product list, there is always something there that I’ve been meaning to read.  Highly recommended.

Also, FYI, the Catholic Company is offering free shipping this week, though of course you will patronize your local catholic bookstore if you are lucky enough to be able to visit one.  But it’s a good week for mail-order for all of you who are not so fortunate.

 

Must go bring in children to feed and send to bed.  Then I’m back to work on my book review of Mary, Mother of the Son, 3-Volume Set.  Which you should buy.

–> So if we are lucky, the SuperHusband and hunting partner have actually shot a deer (bowhunting), and they will thus be out late tonight tracking and cleaning and whatever else it is you do after such events, and I will finish the review tonight while he is out.  If the deer are lucky, SuperHusband will be home sooner, I shall leave the computer and have dinner of a non-venison kind with him, and we shall have the review some other day.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Shelly McKinney.

Thanks.