Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader asks:
Before I re-read volume 1 of “Mary, Mother of the Son” I wanted to ask if you think it is worthwhile or advisable to try to address my friend’s claim that Catholics worship Mary. For brief background, he is a former Catholic who was poorly catechized and now belongs to a large non-denominational church.
I believe you’ve said that even after your conversion, you aren’t drawn to a strong devotion of Mary, even though you accept all the teachings of the Church (perhaps I am mixing you up with someone else; my apologies if I am). Since Marian devotion is such a contentious issue for so many Protestants, is my effort better directed at other areas of apologetics, like the Real Presence, authority of the Church, etc., and then working on the Mary angle?
I look forward to hearing your advice if you have any to offer.
Not knowing your friend, it’s hard to say where to start. I generally approach such conversations as a doctor would—by looking for presenting symptoms. What seems to be the big issue with your friend. It will be different things for different people. If “Mary worship” is the big bugaboo then start there. But if that’s just a toss-off complaint and the real energy is directed elsewhere, then start there.
However, as you do, be aware that there are other dynamics you must pay attention to. For people who have ditched the Faith for some form of non-denom Protestantism, there are usually two things to pay attention to: emotion and theological rationales for actions based on that emotion.
The emotional component typically comes first. And with great frequency it comes down to this: I was lonely as a Catholic because Catholics in my parish sucked at giving me love or mediating to me any sort of living experience of a God who love me. Evangelicals made me feel welcome and loved, so now I’m Evangelical. Piled on top of that fundamental dynamic is then a whole geological strata of after-the-fact theological rationales for a choice that was based, not on theology but on the fact that Evangelicals answered a deeply felt need. That’s where stuff like “I read my Bible and realized to my *horror* that Catholics were worshipping Mary and *that’s* why I left the Church!”
Bunk. All that after-the-fact rationalizing is just theological excuse-making for a choice made on completely different grounds.
My point is this: you can argue all day that Catholics don’t worship Mary (which is perfectly true, we don’t). But that won’t address the engine that is driving the ex-Catholic if his real reason for being ex-Catholic has nothing to do with the theological rationale he is offering. What also has to be addressed is “The love of God is present in the Catholic Church and there is a place there for you.”
This doesn’t mean that theology doesn’t matter. It does. In addition to addressing the emotional component of the person, you must also address the intellectual. This means, among other things, taking things in order. So while you might persuade your friend that, in justice, it is wrong to perpetuate the lie that Catholics regard Mary as a goddess, you will not get too far in discussing her place in the life of the Church till you have settled matters like the authority of Sacred Tradition and the *way* in which the Church reads its Bible. Folks in non-denom sects are instructed in a way of reading Scripture that seems sound, but is, in fact, a departure from the way in which the authors of the Bible themselves read it. If you are looking through a cracked lens of Evangelical tradition at the Bible, you will not see it as clearly as if you are looking at it through the lens of apostolic tradition.