Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, a biblical scholar and host on the Eternal Word Television Network, provides a "hands-on" approach for those seeking a biblical understanding of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in his new book, "Mary: Virgin, Mother and Queen."
While the subtitle reads "A Bible Study for Catholics," this book is a wonderful evangelization tool for non-Catholic Christians who have reservations concerning Mary in the life of the Catholic Church and in the devotional life of individual Catholics. This book supplies biblically based references that provide the foundation for Catholic devotion to Mary and opens the reader up anew to devotional observances which have fallen out of practice in recent years.
The book opens with a brief survey of the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis and then proceeds to examine specific incidents where Mary is mentioned or alluded to in the New Testament. Dispersed throughout each chapter is a call to, "consider, discuss, investigate and practice," which invites the reader to make their own discoveries and put faith into action.
In the chapter titled "The Birth and Infancy of Jesus," Father Pacwa focuses on a familiar word, "ponder" and brings to light various meanings based on the word's etymology which may enhance our understanding of the interior disposition of Mary when she pondered all these things in her heart. "The word ranges in meaning from 'converse' to 'fall in with, engage or fight someone.' This variety of meanings adds nuances to the word 'ponder' that includes interaction with a new idea and struggling with it.'"
Important to the author is the connection between Scripture and the teaching tradition of the Catholic Church. The reader will find valuable the myriad of short quotes from encyclicals, church documents and saints that speak of Mary as virgin, mother and queen. The book concludes with a chapter on Marian intercession and various Marian prayers.
Going on a religious pilgrimage allows us to leave behind the ordinary to seek God and to be transformed by the experience. "Visiting Mary," by Julie Cragon, chronicles the experiences of her family as they visited and "made a pilgrimage" to over 30 Marian shrines throughout the United States.
In each brief chapter, three or four pages long, she provides a concise history of the shrine, a physical description of the grounds and chapel, an appropriate prayer, and a reflection on a particular "grace" to ponder while visiting the shrine.
The inclusion of the "grace to be sought" is an idea that has been overlooked by many who write about shrines and religious sites and she reminds us that we are not just looking for an exterior place of beauty or serenity but a grace that will strengthen our walk with Christ in our daily lives
In describing the entrance of the Schoenstatt Shrine in Waukesha, Wisconsin, she writes; "We slowly approach, not knowing what to expect, and ask if we can enter the chapel. 'Oh yes. Please.' The answer is short and to the point. I like it. We enter and find kneelers, a small altar with a tabernacle, a picture of Mary, a crucifix and candles." Her further descriptions of the setting give the reader a real sense of being there.
In addition to her prayerful and brief spiritual descriptions of liturgies and devotions, Cragon offers the reader snippets of spiritual reflections and experiences from people that her family encountered at various shrines and a word of comfort born out of her own contemplation. It's an ideal book for families and travelers to encourage their own pilgrimages to the many religious shrines to help them to slow down and live a life closer to God through Mary.
"Mary: Help in Hard Times," written and compiled by Sister Marianne Lorraine Trouve of the Daughters of St. Paul, is a compact book on Mary that answers the questions: "What difference can Mary make in our lives of faith? Who is Mary, and how can she help us today?"
This book follows four key moments in the life of Mary -- her Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, her divine motherhood and her Assumption -- through the lens of Scripture, apparitions and the teachings of the church that have developed through the centuries regarding the mother of God.
For those who have a devotion to Mary already, this book will reinforce the beauty, gentleness and tender care of the mother of Jesus. For those who have ever wondered why the devotion to this first-century Middle Eastern Jewish woman, they won't be disappointed in both the clarity of the writing and in the affection displayed toward this woman who continues to inspire action and love.