People come to the Catholic faith through many avenues. As Dr. Robert Koons put it during his recent apologetics series at the University Catholic Center, where I work, there are “many roads to Rome.” Some roads are bumpy and long, and some are clear forks. Some roads, however, are more like the roundabout in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (which is not family-friendly, but illustrates my point): they circle around the truth, sometimes seeming closer and sometimes further away, all the while never quite reaching the destination. They’re not quite roads to Rome at all. That’s the best description I can think of for Looking for Mary, Or, The Blessed Mother and Me, by Beverly Donofrio. That, or, “kind of an irreverent book about Mary.”
Donofrio begins her book near the end: she is on a silent fasting retreat while on pilgrimage to Medjugorje, the Eastern European site of the ongoing apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a number of seers. She’s a divorced, lapsed Catholic who’s not sure what she believes in, which she admits is not your typical profile of a pilgrim. Gradually, she recounts her journey through motherhood and the relationship she slowly developed with the Mother of God.
I saw the Drew Barrymore movie based on Donofrio’s “first memoir,” Riding in Cars with Boys, so I had some idea what I was getting into. If she’d made as dramatic a religious turnaround as Anne Rice (before she turned right back), then I felt like I would have heard about it. I try to be open-minded, though, and to remind myself that even when something doesn’t enrich my spiritual life, it enriches me to try to understand other people. I believe we study literature because it teaches us what it means to be human, and having read Looking for Mary, I understand a little bit more about Donofrio’s humanity.
That said, it was, as I mentioned, pretty irreverent for a book about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Donofrio cites a lot of legends as she tells her story, insisting that the only reason they aren’t in the Bible is that the Bible was compiled by men. She admits to having serious issues with Jesus (except that he was a radical—that, she likes). For someone who claims to like Mary so much, she’s not a big fan of Mary’s son. She goes to Confession for the first time in decades, and of her own volition, but she’s not really sorry for her sins. She does have a lot of bright moments, though, like when she identifies with Mary as the mother she never had and the mother she never was, but maybe something like the mother she could and ought to be. She didn’t receive the Eucharist during that time away from the Faith, which I greatly respect. She knows she needs to change and she takes concrete steps to make those changes, which is a good problem-solving strategy if I ever saw one. She may not be the best role model, but she could be a good companion on the journey. She hasn’t quite reached the saint track, but she’ll yell back from farther along the path to God so you know that it’s going to be okay if you keep going.
If you’re looking for a book about developing a devotion to Mary, this is not it. If you’re not quite sure if Mary, or Catholicism, or faith is for you, this book shows you that you don’t have to perfect to be willing to be perfected.
A note on Marian apparitions: Since the time of Jesus, many believers around the world have claimed to see visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to deliver messages from her. Some of these are well-known, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), Our Lady of Lourdes (France), and Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal). Others are less well-known, such as Our Lady of La Vang (Vietnam) and Our Lady of Kibeho (Rwanda). Apparitions are never approved by the Church until they have ended (can you imagine the horror if an approved apparition suddenly turned evil?), so Our Lady of Medjugorje is not currently an approved apparition. Someday, she may be.
ACNM Advent Challenge
We often think of Advent as the season of waiting for Jesus’ birth or Second Coming, but Mary has a role in Advent, too. It was Mary who awaited the birth of the fruit of her womb, her son. (Imagine riding a donkey into Bethlehem nine months pregnant!) Today, purposely practice patience. You can do that by intentionally picking a longer checkout line, by letting two cars go in front of you in traffic, or by waiting for a nutritious meal to cook or be cooked instead of zipping through a fast food drive-through. Align your heart with Mary’s Immaculate Heart and ask her to help you be as patient as she was.
Leave a comment on this post, and you could win a copy of The Greatest Miracle on DVD. See the giveaway post for details.
Up next: Rome Sweet Home, the conversion story of Dr. Scott and Mrs. Kimberly Hahn