“How can we save civilization?” This is the question Dr. Carrie Gress asks in her new book, The Marian Option. Over the past couple of years, various “options” have been proposed by Christians to suggest ways to deal with a rapidly secularizing society.
Gress says Mary is the answer, pointing to significant events throughout history credited to her intercession.
“Many people have the impression that Mary offers women a life of a doormat. I suspect some of that comes from the artwork where Mary is depicted as very static – but a closer look at her life and influence over the last two millennia reveals a much different type of woman,” Gress told Crux.
Although there are many people speaking about living in a post-Christian world, Gress says we should never discount the power of Mary.
“There is nothing naïve in believing that Mary can transform our secular world,” she said. “Yes, it may seem hard to believe, but I think the evidence of the power and reach of her intercession is overwhelming when looked at altogether.”
She spoke to Crux about her new book.
Crux: You start out speaking about the current craze in the Christian world for different “options,” most prominently the Benedict Option from Rod Dreher. What do you think is behind this phenomenon?
Gress: I think these options are a response to the growing sense that the world is spinning out of control. Many of the bedrock values that maintain culture are vanishing or are being severely tested. These trials aren’t happening in some far away place, but actually threaten those of us who are trying to live the Christian faith in the United States. People are looking for ways to respond, but also to gain back the cultural territory that has been lost.
Now you are adding the “Marian option” to the mix. Why?
Initially, it wasn’t my intention to add yet another option into the discussion, but the more I looked at these options and I looked at Mary’s role throughout history I noticed a real gap in the discussion. After all, if we want to talk about conversions, protection from enemies, battling heresy, building culture and so on, Mary’s influence is unparalleled.
Think of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which healed a major rift between the Spanish and the Natives of Mexico, while also converting 4-10 million souls to Catholicism — perhaps the largest mass conversion in history.
St. Dominic and the Albigensian heresy is another example. Or even her role in influencing Western culture. It is hard to find a composer, painter, sculptor, or architect who at some point did not use her as a subject or inspiration.
You write of the importance of the rosary and consecration to Mary. Why are these devotions important?
The rosary and Marian consecration are important for many reasons. The rosary in particular is important because of Mary’s frequent request for it. In the book, I only look at Vatican approved Marian apparitions, but among these few (there are only 15 total and I speak about nine of them) Mary has repeated her request for the rosary over and over throughout the centuries.
The rosary isn’t just about Mary but also about her life with Jesus and his life. It has been described as a mini-pilgrimage, where we enter into the mystery of Christ’s life, and much like a real pilgrimage, return to the world changed, perhaps indiscernibly. Over time, the small changes become easier to see in the changes that happen in our lives.
These mini-pilgrimages or retreats also foster a deeper relationship between us and Christ and his Mother. Marian consecration takes this relationship between us and Mother and Son to an even deeper level because it honors the gift that Christ made of his mother to the world while on the cross. She is our spiritual mother and consecration is our response to her love for us as individuals and her desire to ever point us to her Son.
In both cases, as we can see in the witness of the saints, Mary leads each soul to Jesus while also helping us to use the gifts we each have been given in the most effective way to transform culture, or whatever it may be that God has in mind for each of our lives.
Mary was interceding in the Church for a thousand years before the rosary, and the Eastern churches have their own marian devotions…does an emphasis on the rosary and consecration limit how a person might approach Mary?
It is interesting to see the crossover between the Eastern Marian devotions and those in the West. They too have a type of rosary that predates the Western Rosary, with slightly different prayers and mysteries, but the fruit is the same. Instead of limiting our relationship with Mary and her Son, the rosary and consecration can only enhance it.
How should people approach Marian apparitions, both approved and not approved? Is there an apparition you think is particularly important?
According to Michael O’Neill, a.k.a. The Miracle Hunter, there are about 2,500 known apparitions of Mary. Some of these have received approval from a local bishop, while only 15 have full approval by the Holy See. Most apparitions should be approached with caution because there are clear cases where apparitions contained some level of falsehood.
Certainly, there are valid apparitions, but even these are not dogma so the faithful are not required to believe in them. Apparitions, however, are another instance of Mary trying to reach us and teach us, particularly during times of great struggle and sin.
Of course, Fatima is on everyone’s mind since we are within the 100 year anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance there to the three shepherd children. It seems to be an apparition that hasn’t expired yet.
Mary warned that the lies of Russia would spread throughout the world and that there would not be peace if we did not do what she requested, namely, pray, sacrifice, etc… So 100 years later there are 1 billion people who live under communism.
As a result, Fatima continues to be relevant, important, and incomplete. We do know, however, that she promised that in the end, she would triumph. So there is great hope in that, but still much uncertainty about what it means for the immediate future.
You highlight Mary as a woman and mother. In today’s debates on what constitutes feminism, gender issues, and non-traditional families, what can we learn from Mary?
We live in a time of great confusion and there is solid evidence that this confusion is not leading to happiness. Among women in particular, signs of unhappiness are overwhelming – depression, substance abuse, obesity levels, divorce rates – all of these show that women are not happy and that what society has promised isn’t working as sold.
Many people have the impression that Mary offers women a life of a doormat. I suspect some of that comes from the artwork where Mary is depicted as very static – but a closer look at her life and influence over the last two millennia reveals a much different type of woman. There is a reason why as recently as 2015 National Geographic called her the Most Powerful Woman in the World.
Even the idea that women can claim any sort of equality with men – elevating our status as slaves or sensual objects – has much to do with her. We take this very Christian idea for granted today, but it is highly unusual among other religions.
Mary is a true mother that knows the trials, strengths, and weaknesses of her children. But she also knows the will of God and how he set up the world for true happiness, order, beauty, peace, and so on.
She wants to lead us to these things, but again, part of that depends on our cooperation with her. Even something as simple as approaching her with “I don’t really know how this works, but I need you as a mother in my life,” can have dramatic and life changing effects.
It seems no coincidence that Pope Francis has been promoting the devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. Most of us have very complicated struggles in our lives and particularly in our families, but Mary can get to the very heart of these.
You mention some of the times Mary has changed the world on a civilizational level: Lepanto and Guadalupe, for example. But often, the structures were much more Catholic than anywhere today: Catholic monarchs, the idea of Christendom was still prevalent, etc. Is it naive to believe that a “Marian option” can change this secularized-as-never-before world?
There is nothing naïve in believing that Mary can transform our secular world. Yes, it may seem hard to believe, but I think the evidence of the power and reach of her intercession is overwhelming when looked at all together.
Our Lady told Sister Lucia, one of the three shepherd children at Fatima, that during our times there is nothing – no material or spiritual problem – that cannot be solved through the rosary. Padre Pio also made clear that the rosary should be our weapon of choice for the times in which we live.
So even if it does appear that the power of evil is winning, we know that Mary is still more powerful. Like the tiny stone David hurled at Goliath, the tiny stones of the rosary can do much more than we can ever imagine.