Mike Aquilina

Marian Feast

Monday November 02nd 2009, 10:02 pm

David Mills has a new book out, Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God, and I reviewed it for the Pittsburgh Catholic. Thusly:

In ordinary family life, no one is so near to us as our mothers. We emerge from their very bodies. As babies we feed in their arms and feed from their substance. No voice is so familiar to us as Mom’s. If there’s one person we know on this earth, it’s Mom.

Yet many of us — maybe most of us — would be hard pressed to state her basic biographical facts. Quizzed on them, we might fail outright.

We Catholics can be that way with the Blessed Virgin Mary. We’re effusive in our devotion to her, emotive in our prayer, constant in the upkeep of her icons and shrines and backyard statues. Yet sometimes we’re sketchy on the scriptural and historical foundations, the bottom-line doctrines spelled out in the simple and ancient formulas of the Church.

We’re lost, then, when we find ourselves having to explain ourselves, and our rosaries and scapulars, to non-Catholics who dismiss our practices as superstitious or idolatrous.

Author David Mills knows that the best thing to do when lost is to ask directions. That’s why he cast his new book, Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God (Servant, $12.99) in a helpful question-and-answer format. He anticipates the most commonly asked questions, both curious and hostile, and in response he provides basic answers: just the facts, no embellishment, no speculation, no diversions, no raptures of purple prose or poetic flight. Mills sticks as close as possible to the official documents, from Scripture and the Church Fathers to the Catechism and the popes.

The questions range from “When was Mary born?” and “Did Mary die?” to “Does the Church teach anything about Mary that can’t be found in the Bible?” Sometimes the queries can be dispatched with a single sentence. Sometimes the answers require several pages. I am a cradle Catholic whose non-Catholic wife for years found Marian doctrine to be an insuperable obstacle to conversion. So I am quite familiar with the territory, and I can say with confidence that Mills anticipated all the major and minor objections I faced, faced them squarely, and answered them honestly and persuasively.

Along the way, he also explains the many mysterious titles of Mary as well as her feast days in the Church’s calendar.

Mills begins the book with his own testimony, the story of his personal migration from a nonreligious upbringing to evangelical Christianity, then to Anglicanism, and finally to Roman Catholicism. (Mills lives in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and was received into full communion at St. James in Sewickley.) For Mills as for many would-be convert, Marian devotions was a major stumbling-block on his road to Rome. Even when it was no longer an intellectual obstacle, he at first dismissed the traditions as “the sort of thing that some people liked and others didn’t but that no one had to practice” – especially not a “preppy” New Englander,” as he calls himself. “Some of it embarrassed me. It seemed a little too … Italian … It just wasn’t me.”

Even after his conversion to Catholicism, he scored himself “a C- in knowledge of Mary and a D- in devotion.”

Then a co-worker’s simple, natural affection for the Blessed Virgin inspired him to go deeper in his study and practice – and that eventually inspired him to write a beautiful book. It’s a useful book, too. It would be a perfect gift for RCIA candidates, new Catholics, middle-aged Catholics who don’t remember their CCD lessons, and Protestants who are puzzled by what the Catholic Church teaches.

God created Mary and called her for a unique place in the history of our salvation. The Scriptures testify to that fact. Mills shows us plainly that she is not, as some would have it, a woman whose “womb was merely the delivery system by which the Father brought His Son into the world.” Mary herself prophesied that “all generations” would call her “blessed” – and would have very good reasons for doing so. We fulfill that prophecy in our generation, by the traditional devotions. It is good, though, that we have David Mills to explain those very good reasons why we do what we do.

It would be good to have him address all life’s questions. His answers are simple and clear, brief when possible, but never cut short. He sticks to the facts and spares us his opinions. Such habits make this book the most valuable resource for discussions of a subject that is far more contentious than it should be. Civil conversations can proceed from these pages. Mother will surely be pleased.

Also check out David’s Discovering the Real MaryMarian Diversity, and The Greater Blessings.