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.


Idyllic fall weather today.  Gave the 4th-grader a light checklist for school, with more reading than writing, and explicit instructions that he might find himself a quiet seat outside, rather than being stuck indoors on such a lovely day.  Girls made leaf-beds under one of the maples, and hosted a granola-bar picnic.

Also discovered the kids’ Spanish DVD I brought home from the library isn’t that great for beginner readers: the format depends on being able to read the English subtitles while the Spanish is spoken, but it moves to quickly for a 2nd-grader who is still a slow sounder-outer.  DVD in question is Spanish for Kids: The Fun and Easy Way to Learn Spanish*, issued by Language Tree.  Will return it and fetch a copy of Hola, Los Amigos, which is the one I wanted anyway but it wasn’t there when I went out with SB the other morning.  I’ve liked the French counterpart to that one (Bonjour Les Amis) — campy, as the genre almost always is, but accessible to young children, and strong on teaching good pronunciation.  I’ll tell you how Hola goes, once we get it in hand.

So what sparked the sudden interest in Spanish?  A scheduling problem. This past Sunday, Aria had a couple of conflicts (all good, Sunday-appropriate activities), such that her strong preference was to attend the 2pm Mass.  Which is in Spanish.  Like most 2nd-graders, she knows almost no Spanish.  (Hola, Adios, and that about sums it up.)  But no skin off my back — my Spanish is lousy, but I can follow the Mass with the help of a missal, the music is fun, and anyway I’d already been to an English Mass earlier in the day, so I’d gotten my dose of comprehensible edification.

So we went.  And she fell in love.  Her belovedly-glamorous CCD teacher was there, the girls from her class got to do the offering — not just bring up the gifts, but actually take the collection! — and then there was Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Just the statue that travels from home to home each week, but I mentioned to her afterwards the music & dancing (and eating!) at that festival, and she wanted so much to be one of those girls who gets to put on the spectacularly colorful and flouncy costumes and *perform*, or maybe one of the kids who gets to be in the passion play that day . . . . and in order to do all that, you must learn Spanish.


In other news: It turns out I did not lose Volume III of Mary, Mother of the Son!  SuperHusband inadvertantly took it, instead of Volume I, with him on a business trip.  So now it is back in my hands, and I am taking advantage of gorgeous weather and deep laziness to plow through the remaining pages.   Excellent reading.  I will tell you more when I write up the official review, but I hold with my ‘buy’ recommendation.


* FYI: Learning a foreign language is neither fast, nor, when you get into the depths of it, overly-fun.  Learning a few basics — yes, that part is fast and fun.  The idea of learning a language is absolutely delightful. The excitement of the initial quick progress, the joy of suddenly being able to make sense of what was previously incomprehensible? Very fun. And it takes very little skill in order to bumble one’s way through a foreign country as a tourist — a few key phrases and you’re in good shape — so all that is tons of fun.

(Indeed, the ability to speak the language poorly is quite helpful — quickly gets the native to slow down and say only very basic things.  Or even offer to speak some other language that you might know better.)

But the long, frustrating slog to fluency can drive one to tears. The many months if not years of being able to understand some but not all, say quite a bit but never quite be able to say what you want to say, when you want to say it . . . that gets old.  And then there’s the pure *work* of it, having to push the brain that wants to rest.  Not that I suppose you’d sell many books or DVD’s with an honest, “Spanish: The Long, Slow, Painful, but Ultimately Useful Way” for a title.  But I do rather prefer it when a publisher at least discretely leaves the topic alone, rather than building false hope.

You may recall the agony we went through in early September, when a certain three-year-old learned that, yet again, she would not be attending dance class.  The weekly drama as older sisters rode off in the carpool was so heartbreaking that I actually considered enrolling the child.

Fortunately, I am married to the SuperHusband.  Who brilliantly proposed: Why not give her chocolate milk?

After a month’s trial, we can confirm the SuperHusband’s brilliance.  Promised a cup of chocolate milk every week *just as soon as the big kids leave for class*, our preschooler has lost all interest in studying ballet.  No more tears, no more pleading, just a cheerful “bye kids” and then, “look, I’m in my seat, ready for my chocolate milk.”

Hurray.  Suits me.


Quiet weekend here, by the way.  I firmly resolve to direct my goofing-off towards actually reading all the words in the volume 3 of Mary, Mother of the Son, so that I can report back with a review soon.  (Though you already know the answer: order it.)

I was just joking with that title.  Things are most definitely *not* settled down since my last post.   Just re-read, things are about the same — GI virus and all.  Aah.  Finished In Soft Garments, excellent.  Started on Characters of the Reformation by Hillaire Belloc.  Chosen not because I was interested in the topic, but because I was interested to read something, anything, by Belloc, and that was what my parish library had stocked.  Interesting reading — I would recommend it.

Still need to make myself go back and finish book III of Mary, Mother of the Son. I’ll be honest, a lot of times I’m not in the mood to read other people’s reflections on the mysteries of the Rosary.  I don’t know why — inspiration fatigue, I guess.   But I know I’ll be glad when I do it, and ’tis the season.

Meanwhile, wanted to post a link to the Catholic Writer’s Conference.  Registration is now open.  Highly recommended: Helpful and Free.  Doesn’t get much better than that.  If you like to write, this is your friend.

Quite a lot of ordinary normal life going on here.  Hence the internet silence, and no book review either.

Have been reading In Soft Garments by Ronald Knox, an ancient copy mined from the treasure trove of my parish library.   Sturdy apologetics in Knox’s readable, witty style.  If you like Chesterton and Lewis, you’ll like Knox.   Even though the book is strongly catholic, there are chapters of definite interest to non-catholic christian apologists.  Don’t know where you find a current, in-print, version of the book though.   (For all I know, it’s widely available.  I just don’t know.)

In school news: So far so good.  In all we have a decent rhythm going, though between regular visits from our friendly neighborhood GI virus (a different child every time! Always at 4 AM!), and your hostess’s naturally lacksadaisical personality, let’s just say that we’re doing admirably under the circumstances.

CCD got off to a great start last week.  Big thank you to 6th grade public-school Spanish teacher Chris Craft (google him, I don’t have a link this week) whose helpful tips made a huge difference in getting the classroom running smoothly right off the bat.  You should book Chris next time you need good basics-of-sound-teaching-for-any-age conference for your collection of educators.  [He’s the Chris Craft who teaches at Crossroads Middle School in South Carolina, if that helps you with your googling.]

And I like my excel-created timeline enough I’m thinking of printing out another one for my hallway at home.  We have a time line made out of a neutral, geometric-patterned wallpaper border, but I never seem to use it.  Tragic, for children whose mother is a social-studies major.

[Our textbook covers several saints or bible heros every chapter, so I wanted a timeline so the kids could see where everyone fits in the scheme of things.  I also put up some maps so they can see where the saints lived.  So far we’ve got St. Augustine of Hippo up there.  And some question about how to pronounce his name.]


That’s the news for now.  What else?

-I’m an SCA flunkie — haven’t been to fighter practice in weeks, have already missed 50% of the two events I had planned to attend this fall — but the garden looks okay.

–> SuperHusband said he was thinking of getting me a net book for my birthday.  I voted for a guilt-free trip to the nursery.   And my first round of plant-buying happened when their was a rose sale — whoohoo.  (You do know that roses are edible, right? So I can justify buying extra, on that count.)

– And other notes: Not much camping so far this fall — see ‘overwhelmed mother’ — ailment holds steady, and the cat with the deathwish finally got too close to harm’s way.  We did not adopt a pit bull, and our tadpole has feet!  Just in time for winter!  Quick, must install waterfeature in back yard before this thing starts hopping in my kitchen . . .

See you around, hope your vocation is a lively as mine, in a good sort of way.  My apologies for typos, gotta run.