I had been looking forward to reading this book for months. I was in the middle of another book when the Marian Option arrived last week; but once I read the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down. The title of course brings to mind Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. Gress is quick to explain that the Marian Option is not offered as a criticism of Dreher’s thesis. Rather, what she terms the Marian Option is a fundamental orientation compatible with all schools of authentic Catholic spirituality and all of the so-called “options” for addressing our civilization’s crises. Mary is, after all, the icon of the Church – the corporate body as well as each individual soul. What God has done in her and through her, he wishes to do in each of us…and that is how civilization will be renewed. This book is about intimacy with the Trinity, about serving Christ with the heart of His Mother. It is about holiness, and how Jesus entrusted our growth therein to His Mother.
Dr. Gress argues – quite successfully in my opinion – that cultures thrive when the Blessed Mother is venerated. She deftly points out how as western culture’s veneration of Mary deepened, so too did its esteem of womanhood – motherhood in particular. Men, instead of regarding women as trophies or objects of gratification, were instead led to ponder the mystery at the heart of every woman and to embrace men’s God-given mission of laying down their lives in service to wife and children. Women, in turn, recognize the incredible dignity with which the Creator has endowed them – their unique genius for cooperating with God to bring new life (both individual and cultural) into the world and nurture it to adulthood. When Mary’s place in salvation history and our devotional lives is forgotten – or worse yet, rejected – then Christian culture begins a process of deformation: the exaltation of the “I” in place of the “we,” marital breakdown, contraception, abortion, moral relativism, militant feminism, same-sex “marriage,” gender “confusion,” etc. We see the results all around us. The answer? We must accept Jesus’ gift from the Cross, Mary, and allow her to mother us into a life of radical discipleship.
Cultural change always begins small – look no further than Mary and Joseph in the cave of the Nativity…or Mary and the small cluster of disciples awaiting Pentecost…or Mary and Juan Diego and the conversion of the Americas…or Mary and Cardinal Wojtyla behind the Iron Curtain. Mary is always there, waiting to introduce us, as she has countless millions of other disciples, into deeper intimacy with her Son, greater receptivity to the stirrings of the Spirit, and heroic obedience to the Father.
There is a great deal to love about this book but at the top of the list, at least for me, is the way Dr. Gress explains the theology of consecrating oneself to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She pulls together insights from saints such as Bernadine of Siena, Louis Marie de Montfort, Maximilian Kolbe, and John Paul II, as well those of theologians like André Feuillet and Johann Roten. (My “to read” list has grown as a result.) I especially appreciated her discussion of Mary’s relationship to each Person of the Trinity; it is extremely well done.
At just over 200 pages, this book is not so thick as to intimidate. As soon as one begins reflecting upon what he or she has read, however, the scope of the discussion and weighty insights give it the feel of a much longer work. The Rosary is a subject woven throughout, but Dr. Gress also discusses Marian apparitions, devotional items like the Miraculous Medal and Brown Scapular, as well as drawing a number of historical connections of which I was unaware. (Fulton J. Sheen fans likely know of the connection between Fatima and Islam, but who knew that the same was true of Lourdes? The Marian Option is filled with these kind of historical gems.)
There is a great deal of buzz about this book and deservedly so. The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis is a gorgeous book, both inside and out. (Seriously, online images cannot do the cover justice!) I heartily recommend picking up a copy and allowing the Lord to renew the fire to live your vocation.