In FIDES Weekly Bulletin for Seventeenth Week, I saw excerpts from a publication by Prof Michael Ogunu who has written a series of articles in FIDES on Our Lady of Fatima 1917 Apparitions. The excerpts recalled some Marian miracles and that prompted my present article.
The mention of Marian miracles immediately brought to my mind a book titled The Marian Option: God's Solution to a Civilization in Crisis, released this year and written by one Dr. Carrie Gress. Even though I have not seen the book myself, I have seen and read extensive excerpts from it as well as commentaries ex-raying its topic and its contemporary relevance. I got attracted to the book precisely because it touches on Marian miracles over the centuries; it shows the many times and ways that God has chosen to intervene in human affairs through Mary, the Mother of God. The book can therefore speak to us in Nigeria about the power of Mary's intercession to bring personal and societal transformation. One commentator has this to say about the book: “In The Marian Option, Dr Carrie Gress says even if it does appear that the power of evil is winning in today's world, we know that Mary is still more powerful”.
Who can deny “it does appear that the power of evil is winning” in today's Nigeria? Let me take the example of what happened in August, an event that seems now to be dropping out of our memory. I mean the incarnation of evil manifested in the sacrilegious massacre of innocent worshippers at St Philip's Catholic Church, Ozubulu in Anambra State. It may be an isolated case for that State. But nationwide, the face of evil is too palpable to escape notice. Without being pessimistic, one can liken our situation to what the Psalmist saw about his milieu millennia years ago and then prayed God to intervene against the wicked: “O Lord, shatter their plans, for I see violence and strife in the city. Day and night they prowl about its walls, while malice and evil prevail inside it. Forces of destruction are at work undermining the city; threats and lies haunt its marketplace “(Ps 55/54: 9-11).
This is where Dr Gress's Marian Option comes in. She unabashedly says Mary is the answer to stem the tide of evil and misshapen world views threatening to engulf us in today's increasingly amoral, materialistic and secularist society worldwide. The author calls for immediate, concerted and fervent cry for help addressed to “the most powerful woman that ever lived, the humble handmaid of the Lord”. Some may be pooh-pooh the idea as naïve and simplistic, but Gress points to significant events throughout history credited to Mary's intercession.
An online Catholic platform, CRUX, interviewed Dr Gress on her ideas. I believe that the content of the interview has important things to say to us in Nigeria especially to us in the South East currently observing one month's intensive prayer ordered by our Catholic Bishops for the crises in the region. That is why I give excerpts from the interview here. I have edited and in places amplified it for greater interest and relevance to our situation:
CRUX: Why “Marian Option”, against other options proposed to save today's civilization?
GRESS: 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 Our Lady of Guadalupe, which healed a major rift between the Spanish and the Natives of Mexico, while also converting 4-10 million to Catholicism – perhaps the largest mass conversion in history. St Dominic and the Albigensian heresy is another. 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. [I add this: The world renowned international TIME Magazine published a Cover Story on Mary, December 30, 1991. It wrote: “When her womb was touched by eternity 2000 years ago, the Virgin Mary of Nazareth uttered a prediction: 'All generations will call me blessed'. Among all the women who have ever lived, the mother of Jesus Christ is the most celebrated, the most venerated, the most portrayed, the most honoured in the naming of girl babies and churches. Even the Koran praises her chastity and faith”. The magazine further reported: “John Paul II (now St John Paul II) is firmly convinced, as many others, that Mary brought an end to communism throughout Europe”]
CRUX: You write of the importance of the Rosary and consecration to Mary. Why are these devotions important?
GRESS: 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 Vatican approved Marian apparitions (15 of them, like Fatima, Lourdes, out of about 2500 reported), Mary has repeated her request for the Rosary over and over throughout the centuries. The Rosary isn't just about Mary but 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. These mini-pilgrimages or retreats also foster a deeper relationship between us and Christ and his Mother. Marian consecration takes this relationship to an even deeper level because it honours the gift that Christ made of his Mother to the world while on the Cross. 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.
CRUX: You highlight Mary as woman and mother. In today's debates on women issues and non-traditional families, what can we learn from Mary?
GRESS: 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 [e.g. in Nigeria, divorce rates, broken families, rape, domestic violence against women, struggle for women equality, or women seen and treated as sex objects or as good only “for the other room ”- apologies to President Buhari]. All of these show that women are not happy with what society has in offer for them.
Many people have the impression that Mary offers women a life of a doormat. 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 beyond being slaves or sensual objects – has much to do with Mary. We take this very Christian idea for granted today, but it is highly unusual among other religions [e.g. the status of women in Islam].
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 our true happiness, order, beauty, peace and so on. Mary wants to lead us to these things, but again, part of that depends on our trust and cooperating with her. It seems no coincidence that Pope Francis has been promoting the devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. Most of us have complicated struggles in our lives and particularly in our families, but Mary can get to the very heart of these.
CRUX: You mention the triumphs of Mary like at Lepanto and Guadalupe. But those were times when dominant culture was predominantly Christian. Is it naïve to believe that a “Marian Option” can change this secularized-as-never-before world?
GRESS: Yes, it may seem hard to believe, but I think the evidence of the power and reach of Mary's intercession is overwhelming when looked at altogether. 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. St Padre Pio [stigmatist priest, died 1968, canonized 2002] also made clear that the Rosary should be our weapon of choice for the times in which we live. Like the tiny stone David hurled at Goliath, the tiny stones of the Rosary can do much more than we can imagine.
MY EPILOGUE: Mary is officially declared “Queen and Patroness of Nigeria”. If there is any nation that should take the “Marian Option” seriously, it is us. We should therefore be the first to believe and continue to act out the conviction that the Goliath-like threat of evil in our midst can be bested with “the tiny stones of the Rosary” and other Marian devotions. After all, did God not foretell in the Book of Genesis that “the woman” would have an “offspring” who would crush the head of the serpent Satan, the Evil One (cf Gen 3:15)?