Last spring, conservative blogger and columnist Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation was published. Seeking to find a new way for Christians to approach the conflict with secular society and values that they face every day, Dreher’s book explores how “Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents” can move forward with St. Benedict as a model.” [Editor’s note: Here is a list of CWR reviews and articles about The Benedict Option.]
In the wake of Dreher’s book, numerous critiques and other alternatives were put forward by a range of commentators and critics.
The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis (TAN, 2017), by prolific Catholic author and speaker Carrie Gress (www.carriegress.com), is one of the most unusual and interesting of those books. It looks at the role the Blessed Virgin has played throughout the history of Christendom and beyond, showing how Mary has played a major role in major geopolitical shifts, including freeing Spain from Islamic occupation and inspiring St. John Paul II in his fight to bring down communism. Mary is the key to restoring civilization to Christ and protecting our children and our faith, according to the book.
Gress recently spoke with Catholic World Report via email about The Marian Option and how Mary can save civilization.
CWR: How did the book came about?
Carrie Gress: The book was not something I was looking to write. There seemed to be an abundance of articles and ideas about different ‘options.’
I gave a lecture at Acton University on the topic of The Benedict Option, largely because I was trying to figure out what Rod Dreher was actually saying (this was before his book was released) and it seemed like an interesting project. But while researching The Benedict Option, it struck me that all of the concerns that Dreher presented have been dealt with in one way or another by the Blessed Mother. For example, on the issue of evangelization, it was her apparition at Guadalupe that led to the largest mass conversion in history (that we are aware of) – somewhere between 4-10 million people became Catholic because of her visits with Juan Diego and her image left on his tilma. Islam, secularism, plagues, wars, disease: by sifting through history, it was easy to see how dramatic a role she has played in combatting all of these issues.
During the Acton lecture, I presented what I thought Dreher was doing with The Benedict Option, but then I tacked onto it this idea of a Marian Option and it was really well received. That afternoon, I went on Al Kresta’s show and we ditched the original topic we were to discuss and talked about The Marian Option. People were really drawn to the idea and I felt like I was just scratching the surface.
From there, I started thinking about a book. I approached two publishers. I had never worked with TAN, but one of their authors is a friend of mine and recommended I pitch it to them. They took it quickly and I got to writing.
CWR: Why do you think there needs to be an alternative to the Benedict Option?
Gress: The Benedict Option, in the book form, ended up really just promoting the message that Christians should be better Christians. But initially, Dreher spoke of something more radical – that we should be moving intentionally into communities and preparing for the worst that might come.
I didn’t find either answer satisfactory, but the original idea – that we should be moving to intentional communities – seemed too idealistic. It struck me to be a cookie-cutter model that people had to fit themselves into, without concern for our particular gifts and demands of life.
Moreover, St. Benedict was a great saint and I have a strong devotion to him, but I don’t think his vision applies to our current situation. Yes, there are parallels with the fall of Ancient Rome, but there are also a lot of differences – like the internet, drones, surveillance – that prevents people from really getting away from the rest of the world like they could in St. Benedict’s day.
Additionally, if you look at history, we can see that God sends saints who are the antidote to the heresy or significant problem of an age. Our issues, by and large, have a lot to do with women – specifically the issue that contemporary women have not only accepted abortion as something acceptable, but also see it as something to celebrate. This is a remarkable reality if you look at the rest of history. Most wars were men fighting strangers, but women have been convinced that it is their own child who must die. So much of what contemporary women stand for is diametrically opposed to Our Lady, who has long been the model Christian.
We live, then, with an anti-Marian spirit. Mary and those who follow her lead, are the antidote to this.
CWR: What exactly do you mean by the “Marian option”?
Gress: The Marian Option is different from other options because it is more primary. Mary isn’t just another saint, but she remains with us, leading us, guiding us, mothering us. She knows the mission given to us by God better than we do and she knows what it cost her son to give us new life. In light of that – and we can see this in history – she has help direct souls to their own specific mission. Her guidance isn’t a cookie cutter, but she works with a soul exactly where he is at, encouraging, leading, preparing, and so on.
The way to live this out is very simple and practical: the sacraments, but also a daily rosary, and Marian Consecration. When we make the simplest act to welcome her into our life, she responds generously. What it really boils down to is that we have to invite her into our life and from there she will lead us. The end of the book features many more suggestions about how to practically live out The Marian Option, but essentially the it is about fostering a real relationship with her.
Often, we get discouraged when we try to change the world with something big, but the Marian Option is different. It works by offering the humble pieces of our daily lives, like praying the rosary, that can change the world. I talk about this at length in the book, how something as small as praying simple prayers are like the stones that David rolled around in his fingers, that he used to kill the giant Goliath.
CWR: Of course, devotion to Mary is a longstanding Catholic tradition, and one that was only recently (in the grand scheme of things) abandoned by many other Christians. Why do you think it is important to retain this devotion to Our Blessed Mother?
Gress: This is a huge question that has a lot of facets to it to answer, but the short answer is that there is a very clear pattern – when Mary is abandoned, the faith is abandoned. We can see this in individual lives, but also among the continual splintering of the Christian faith. Mary is a type of spiritual glue, who, like a good mother, keeps the family together, but also keeps us united to her son.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman said it best, when speaking of his own experience of Anglicanism: “Son and Mother went together; and the experience of three centuries has confirmed their testimony, for Catholics who have honoured the Mother, still worship the Son, while Protestants, who now have ceased to confess the Son, began then by scoffing at the Mother.”
CWR: At one point in the book, you mention the story of Fr. Hubert Schiffer, S.J., who with his colleagues miraculously survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Can you briefly recount his story, and say a little about how this illustrates the Marian Option?
Gress: It is a remarkable story of how four Jesuit priests were near ground zero when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. They were well within the blast zone, one mile away, but all emerged from their damaged rectory with minor injuries. All around, most of what was around them was simple gone – completely vaporized. The photographs are incredible – to see a church standing in the middle of a charred-out city. These priests attributed their protection to Our Lady’s hand in the midst of that terrible event. They said: “[W]e were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the rosary daily.”
I put a lot of examples of the miraculous happening to those who trust Our Lady into the book. She will do the miraculous for her children, even the things that seem impossible. It was the faith and devotion of these priests that witnessed to the world that Our Lady truly was protecting them, like many others that came before them.
CWR: How can Our Blessed Mother help us combat the attacks on motherhood in today’s society?
Gress: As I mentioned above, we are living in an anti-Marian age, which is why there is such a wide gap between the modern woman and the model of Our Lady. Historically, she was the model of Christian womanhood, but to suggest such a thing to a secular audience now is simply laughable, and in some circles, could lead to a police escort out of a building. What these women don’t realize is that their understanding that women could in fact be equal to men comes from Christianity. It comes first from Christ, but as devotion to Our Lady grew over the centuries, it was she who really formed the minds of Christians to understand the true dignity of women.
I’m actually working on a book this topic right now that will be out next May, but the crux of it is that we are living in an age of an Anti-Mary: women have opened themselves up to a spirit that in no way reflects the values we can attribute to Our Lady. There is open opposition to life and motherhood, there is a dramatic effort to belittle men, to negate the family, while simultaneously emphasizing self-importance. It is no accident that the quote, “The future is female” has become popular, even if it is non-sensical.
This is where The Marian Option can really shine because when we turn to Mary, not only is she helping to bring healing, clarity, charity, guidance, peace and joy to our life, but she is helping us to pass it along to others. The most basic form of evangelization throughout history has been through family members and deep friendships, and The Marian Option helps us to re-enact that basic type of passing the faith along.
CWR: Is this a personal book for you? Did it come from a very personal place?
Gress: It started in a very intellectual place. It was remarkable for me to start sifting through all of these historical elements and to see them woven together – especially those elements that cover geo-political events, like the connection between Spain, Columbus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Battle of Lepanto. I found connections I’d never heard of before and marveled that more hadn’t been written on these sorts of layers in Marian history.
But as these stories became more and more real, I found myself going deeper in my trust in Our Lady and coming to know her as a real person. I have had a Marian devotion for most of my life – all of my adult life certainly – but something else came in. A new confidence that she really is in control, that I can lean into her more than before with every issue, concern, worry, and so on. So, yes, this book has changed my life in the sense that I can see so much fruit – more joy, more peace, more trust in my life because I’ve gotten to know her better.
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