Homilies and Reflections on Our Blessed Mother By Fr. Renato L. Puentevella S.J.

Published by ADDU University Publications Office. Davao City 101 pages

Karl M. Gaspar CSsR


Before I read my review, I would like to thank the organizers of this book launch for the honor of being able to give this review. It is but a coincidence, but on this day that we have this book launch, we are celebrating the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Being a Redemptorist Brother, the Our Mother of Perpetual Help icon is very important to our identity as a religious congregation. In fact, last year, we the Redemptorists all over the world celebrated the 150th year Jubilee of the turning over of this icon by Pope Pius IX to our Fr Superior General with the words: make her known! Thus, I am just so glad to do my task at this event on the feast day of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Now my review:

There is no question that Mary, a simple peasant woman who became the Mother of God and Our Blessed Mother, remains truly an icon for million, believers all over the world. There seems to be no diminishing of her popularity. Long after she left this planet, she continues to figure in the consciousness of peoples and communities around the world. News stories about her continue to flood various media channels. Whether in visual art, music and films, she has remained a constant presence. This is, of course, especially true for members of the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity.

As a tradition in the Philippines, the month of May is reserved to honor Mary and to deepen our devotion to her. The Flores de Mayo and the culmination of the month are important dates in the calendar of Catholic parishes and Base Ecclesial communities. Even at the height of the Marawi hostilities the Franciscans of Baloi in the Prelature of Marawi did not allow the war situation to block the culmination of their Flores de Mayo.

Recently, there have been a lot of buzz in terms of her apparitions in Fatima, since this year, 2017, we are celebrating the centennial year of her appearance to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal six times in 1917 every 13th of the month from May to October. Pope Francis travelled to Fatima not just to honor Our Lady of Fatima/but to canonize two of the children. Duplicate images of Our Lady of Fatima journeyed in the whole world, including the Philippines.

Meanwhile, controversies hound other claims of apparitions. Just recently, the former Archbishop of Lipa, Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles announced that the Holy See had reiterated its negative judgment on the supernatural nature of the apparitions.   It was claimed that on September 12, 1948, Mary — as Mediatrix of All Graces — appeared to Sr. Teresita Castillo, also known as Sr. Teresing, who was just 21 years of when it allegedly took place in the Carmelite convent in Lipa City. On September 12, 1948, the young nun was outside praying when one of the garden vines began to shake. She then heard the voice of the Virgin Mary, who asked Teresita to kiss the ground and return to the same spot for fifteen days.

Another controversial site of an alleged Marian apparition is the one that supposedly happened in Mejugorie, a once-obscure village in Bosnia. Recently Pope Francis voiced his serious doubt about the authenticity of the alleged continuing apparitions of the Madonna. Six children first reported visions of the Virgin Mary in 1981 in a scenario reminiscent of famous apparitions in the French town of Lourdes in the 19th century. But despite this, pilgrims continue to visit Mejugorie. This is true of the site of the Marian shrine in Simala, Cebu. Th9 Local Church of the Archdiocese of Cebu has distanced itself from this site of alleged miracles but hundreds of pilgrims continue to flood this shrine.

So what explains the intense interest and enthusiastic fascination of the thousands of Marian devotees for Our Blessed Mother? Now comes a book — MARY QUITE CONTRARY: Homilies and Reflections on Our Blessed Mother — by Fr. Renato L. Puentevella S.J. This book constituted by two parts (In Praise of Our Lady and Mary and the Spiritual Life including 31 essays shows the reader why one Marian devotee has this interest and fascination. Claiming that this book is a long overdue tribute to Mary, the author hopes that other Marian devotees or non-devotees alike would find reading this book worthwhile.

Fr. Punetevella claims that he is not “a theologian or a Marian scholar” and thus modestly assert that he is unqualified to write about Mary. True enough the published literature on Mary by theologians and scholars have been compiled through centuries that they now constitute the theological discourse on Mariology. But MARY QUITE CONTRARY is a wort y addition to this literature. Whatever may be lacking in theological depth and scholarly breath is more than made up by the very personal take of the author’s grasp of the significance of Mary in our faith-life as Christians. The author, however, does make an effort to bring in a bit of scholarship to this book by quoting the writings of Joseph Landy, James Donelan and Raymond Brown.

Indeed, the reflections of this book are very personal arising out of the author’s long years in the ministry and how Mary constantly was a source of i spiration for his vocation as a Jesuit from the time when he came of age when Mary gave him the “courage to fly off to the novitiate without my father’s permission” to the long years when Mary bailed him “out of a number of times when I got into hot water, metaphorically speaking” including a near drowning at a beach in Cagayan de Oro City.

The essays cover quite a number of the mysteries of the Rosary where Mary takes center stage like the events around the Annunciation, Visitation, the birth in Bethlehem and the Assumption. There are also essays related to the historical moments recorded in the Sacred Scriptures: the appearance of Gabriel (Lk 1:29), her encounter with the prophet Simeon (Lk 2: 35), her visit to her cousin Elizabeth where she sang the famous Magnificat (Lk 14:7-11) of the Magis (Mt 2:11), the wedding at Cana Jn 2:3-4) and her presence at Calvary (Jn 19: 25-27). True, there is no text in the Bible indicating Jesus appearance to Mary after he rose from the dead, but the author posits that there was no need for any of the Evangelist to write of this appearance as common sense informs us that the son would surely first appear to his beloved mother.

Why is the book’s title — MARY QUITE CONTRARY? Taking off from a nursery rhyme, the author explains the choice of the title by indicating that Mary is “a bundle of contradictions” including these opposing poles: that she was conceived without sin but that she, too, needed to be saved just like us; that she was a virgin but a child took shape in her womb; the reference in the Bible that Jesus was her first-born but this gives rise to the question that Mary had other children; that a simple village maiden could become Queen of Heaven; and that people’s devotion to her expressed in reverence for icons and statues violate the Ten Commandments’ exhortation that there be no other gods.

One of the essays in this book is “Mary’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame”. Indeed, the Warholian fifteen minutes of fame could also be appropriated for Mary as her appearances in the biblical texts are quite limited. However, despite this, Mary casts a long shadow in the minds of the believers. In the author’s words: “Mary, after her fifteen minutes, moved into a hidden life of care and service. For years, she quietly nurtured Jesus, taught him, buried her husband, and finally, let her son go as all mothers must. Then she stayed home to help others, going about unrecognized, growing deep into prayer and, most of all, being a special help to the has-beens… Mary’s fiteen minutes of fame, then her long obscurity, gained for her the position of the patron saint of the has-been’s — the lost, those who have strayed, the hopeless sinners, anyone striving to reinvent ways of loving and living again after their fifteen minutes of fame are over. Through her long apprenticeship, Mary became for them the mother of hope, renewal and compassion.”

This is where Ino Cueto’s missiological discourse of debo-misyon comes in. The challenge for Marian devotees today is to resolve another contradiction, namely, the tendency for devotees to remain only at the level of devotion/hat tends to take on only a personal and privatized aspect of Christian faith one one hand/and the challenge of Mary’s Magnificat on the other hand. Today ,.. we Christians need to find a way to bridge these two poles, otherwise, Mary will be fetishized, only as a religious item and not allow to challenge us to take up our missionary role of helping to build a Reign of God there we all enjoy the fullness of life!

Lastly, just a comment on the book’s look. The size, layout and overall design are quite inspired choices as the reader finds reading the text quite easy on the eyes. So also the decision to interface the text with illustrations of art works. A collection of the artworks of four artists find their way to the book’s pages. But the better option would have been to include only those of the accomplished Mindanawon visual artist – Mark Tolentino. His depiction of Mary in the context of the aesthetics of Muslim art (as Gabriel appears to her, in the Nativity scene, the Assumption, as Queen and Mother of God) and many others that do not appear in this book would have suffice.

Thank you.

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