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Two Great Marian Books for the Month of October (even though it’s half-way over)

October 16, 2010

The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander

I’ve long had an appreciation for Catholic teaching on the redemptive value of suffering: that suffering isn’t just meaningless and hopeless, but that, united with the sufferings of Christ, good will come out of that suffering. (What’s not to like about  that?) And yet, I really dislike the phrase “Offer it up!” I’m sure it was intended to be an exhortation of sorts – to encourage people to bring meaning and good out of the troubles in their lives, but so often it comes out as a simple imperative. And what we do with our sufferings is such a personal expression of our faith, that the phrase always seemed trite. To encourage someone else to believe these concepts of suffering takes a loving hand, not a commanding one.

This book offers that loving hand in a very gentle way and by means of Our Lady. Mary brought Christ to the world through her faith, love and humility and we are called to do the same. Here are a few quotes to give you the flavor of it:

Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.

(pg. 60)

We must be swift to obey the winged impulses of His Love, carrying Him to wherever He longs to be; and those who recognise His presence will be stirred, like Elizabeth with new life. They will know His presence, not by any special beauty or power shown by us, but in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by an unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty.

It seems that this is Christ’s favourite way of being recognised, that He prefers to be known, not by His own human features, but by the quickening of His own life int he heart, which is the response to His coming.

(pgs. 62-63)

If such is the beauty of the world to ordinary children, what must it have been to the Mother of God, when her whole being was folded upon the unborn Christ within her?

He was completely her own, utterly dependent upon her: she was His food and warmth and rest, His shelter from the world, His shade in the Sun. She was the shrine of the Sacrament, the four walls and the roof of His home.

Yet she must have longed to hold Him between her hands and to look into His human face and to see in it, in the face of God, a family likeness to herself

Think of that! But perhaps you cannot, unless you happen to be a young priest newly ordained, waiting for the moment when you will hold in your hands the first Host that you have consecrated at your first Mass.

Each work of her hands prepared His hands a little more for the nails; each breath that she drew counted one more to His last.

In giving life to Him she was giving Him death.

All other children born must inevitably die; death belongs to fallen nature; the mother’s gift to the child is life.

But Christ is life; death did not belong to Him.

In fact, unless Mary would give Him death, He could not die.

Unless she would give Him the capacity for suffering, He could not suffer.

He could only feel cold and hunger and thirst if she gave Him her vulnerability to cold and hunger and thirst.

He could not know the indifference of friends or treachery or the bitterness of being betrayed unless she gave Him a human mind and a human heart.

That is what it meant to Mary to give human nature to God.

He was invulnerable; He asked her for a body to be wounded.

He was joy itself; He asked her to give Him tears.

He was God; He asked her to make Him man.

He asked for hands and feet to be nailed.

He asked for flesh to be scourged.

He asked for blood to be shed.

He asked for a heart to be broken. (pgs. 72-73)

If Christ is formed of our lives, it means that He will suffer in us. Or, more truly, we will suffer in Him.

“And He was made man.”

Our Lady saw at once what was meant in her case: supernaturally, He was made herself.

If He is made man in you, He will be made you; in me, me.

It is extremely difficult to lay hold of this fact. It is very hard not to think of a kind of mystical Christ just beside us, or just in front of us, suffering with infinite patience and joy, being obedient, humble, persevering, fulfilling His Father’s will.

It is really difficult to realise that if He is formed in our life we are not beside Him but in Him; and what He asks of us is to realise that it is actually in what we do that He wants to act and to suffer. (pgs. 76-77)

I read this on retreat about a month ago (a silent, Ignatian retreat and my first retreat in 20 years – it was wonderful!) because my spiritual director had recommended it and I loved how it tied into the talks on the spiritual exercises and the book I happened to be reading alongside it – Does Jesus Know Us? Do We Know Him? by Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Through the Year with Mary: 365 Reflections by Karen Edmisten

I love quote books. I’ve probably got 10 or 12 different ones on my bookshelf. They’re lovely for browsing through, “chewing” on a little something (without getting overwhelmed by the whole) and have often lead to discovering new authors and new books of interest.

This is a lovely, simple little book of Marian quotations with very brief reflections (usually simple prayers) – one for each day of the year. The quotes are varied, helpful, encouraging and inspirational. You’ll find the usual suspects of course – Pope John Paul II, St. Alphonsus Liguori (who are both particularly known for their Marian spirituality). You’ll find quotes from an incredible variety of saints from the early Church Fathers through the most recently beatified (like Blessed John Henry Newman). Of course we also find snippets of wisdom from the Bible, traditional prayers of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These more traditional sources are nicely balanced with more modern voices, including Caryll Houselander, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Day, a very healthy dose of G.K. Chesterton and a few living authors as well – like Archbishop Dolan, Edward Sri and Scott and Kimberly Hahn.

Karen, who is a convert to Catholicism herself, has a unique talent for making this book particularly accessible for those who haven’t always had a close relationship with Mary, and so you’ll many gentle, helpful quotes for Marian neophytes and non-Catholics. Several are from Martin Luther.

Thank you, my friend, for your lovely work on a beautiful book!!!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Katherine permalink
    October 16, 2010 6:52 pm

    Alicia, my husband – a convert – has never liked the “offer it up” response either. He thinks it sounds so flippant, like you really don’t want to take the time to address the suffering at hand, but find it easier to throw out that platitude. I, being a cradle Catholic, don’t see it that way; although I suppose it could sound that way if it became too automatic and said thoughtlessly.

  2. October 17, 2010 5:34 pm

    It is quite humbling to find my little book in the same post as a review of Caryll Houselander.

    One of my favorite quotes in the book is from Houselander: “She was a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song.” 🙂

    Thanks so very much, Alicia, for such a lovely review!

    • October 17, 2010 8:27 pm

      It was perfect timing in so many ways to have just read the Houselander book. It’s been applicable in my own life in multitudinous ways. I think that quote that you mention might actually be in “The Reed of God”. And you’re welcome! 🙂

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