MINI REVIEW: OF MEN AND MARY
Triumphs and tribulations...
After receiving this book as a Christmas gift, I've been looking forward to sitting down with this one as the premise was extremely interesting.
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 An overemphasis on spectacular events and somewhat obsessive focus on the Medjugorje apparition site (it's mentioned in all six stories in one way or another) coupled with an overall package that doesn't always live up to the book's own promise made for a flawed read, though there is still plenty of food for thought and material for meditation to be found here.
The core premise of this book is that it collects six different stories of faith and conversion through a special devotion to The Blessed Virgin Mary. As someone who certainly does not live a perfect life as a Catholic, I found this premise deeply intriguing and had some high hopes for these testimonies. Unfortunately things got off to a little bit of a weird start. It focused very heavily of Medjugorje, which is something I have only a high-level knowledge of. There is a helpful summary of this apparition site as well as the Catholic Church's official stance on it at the back of the book, but I think this content might have been better suited at the beginning. Even with this context though, I still felt as though this person's account of his experiences there were a little indulgent and melodramatic (I don't doubt that miraculous things happen there, I just feel as though the account was a bit over-the-top and confusing). Fortunately things evened out a little in the second testimonial even though there was still a heavy emphasis on more extreme/miraculous circumstances. Things got even more interesting in the third chapter when we see the conversion story of a convicted murderer and how he was even able to facilitate conversion among his other inmates. With all three of these testimonials though, I did feel as though the narrative voice of the writing was a bit guarded. The three men tell us that they were terrible sinners and to some extent, we can probably imagine what they might have done, but I left wishing that I had a better understanding of who they were and why they did what they did. Having this more personal approach might have helped me feel more moved by their conversion stories.
Fortunately, things get a lot more personal in the second half of the book with all three of the testimonies being far more raw while still remaining appropriate for what one might expect from a Catholic publication. The fourth and the sixth chapters were probably the best that this book had to offer, each for their own reasons, and they felt the closest to what I was expecting when I first picked this up. These two stories alone made this a worthwhile read even though the others were each interesting in their own way. I especially appreciated the representation of "little miracles" in these accounts and how the two men persevered through truly horrific situations. I also found myself contemplating whether I would have handled the situations they found themselves in with as much grace (though I certainly hope that I never have to find out). I do wish that the book focused more on these more modest workings of God, Mary, and The Holy Spirit since most of us don't get a grandiose wake up call. I also wish that there was a little more diversity in representing stories from people who didn't enter the church (4/6 are from men who either became a priest or a deacon - which is fine, but you don't have to enter the church to have a successful conversion). Overall, I think there is a lot of material to pray on and a lot of good food for thought. I think having some interludes between the chapters with some thoughts/questions for guided meditation may have made this a stronger package, but there's also a fine line between that sort of thing and interfering with what someone might reflect upon on their own, so perhaps it's for the best that the stories stand on their own.
Overall, I felt like this book was very nicely put together. I liked the cover (although it's a little text heavy) and felt as though the interior had some very nice formatting. It was comfortable to hold and the fonts are easy to read. There's nothing super fancy going on here, but the presentation is quite solid and the book itself is well made.
Like the people who shared their stories, this book is far from perfect, but in the end I would still recommend it any practicing Catholic who is looking for good meditation material on faith and overcoming sin (I don't really know if there is enough context provided here for this to be as powerful for non-Catholics, even though many of the people the book features weren't necessarily living Catholic lives at the start of their stories).
(+) Six unique accounts of faith and battling with sin
(+) A solidly formatted paperback
(+) Powerful life stories that are worth thinking/meditating on
(+) Testimonials progressively get better and more unguarded (chapters 3, 4, and 6 being particular standouts)
(-) A somewhat off-putting first testimonial to kick things off
(-) Not enough focus on everyday "small miracles" or lay-people
(-) The testimonials don't always live up to the book's promise