American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary: This latest contribution to the spiritual literature about Our Lady carries the blessing of one of the country’s leading experts on the Virgin of Guadalupe, Fr. Virgil Elizondo, who calls it “a must for anyone who has any doubts about the power of Mary’s motherly presence.”
Deirdre Cornell, daughter of one of the editors of The Catholic Worker newspaper, Tom Cornell, has studied the figure of Mary extensively both as a theology student and later as a missionary, working with the immigrant community in Newburgh, New York and as a Maryknoll lay missioner in Oaxaca, Mexico. In this text, she focuses specifically on three representations of Mary: the well-known Virgin of Guadalupe, and the lesser known Virgin of Juquila and Virgin of Solitude.
Deirdre’s pilgrimage to these shrines is interwoven with historical and cultural anthropological information about popular devotional practices in Oaxaca and in the Mexican Catholic diaspora on this side of the border, and also with narratives of her own experience as a missionary and mother of five (her youngest twin girls were born during her stay in Mexico).
Much of what Deirdre (I have to call her “Deidre” because I remember her from when she was a girl and I, a college-age guest in her parents’ home) says resonates with me. Like her, I was put off by the image of Mary in traditional European Catholicism -- this impossible to achieve combination of maternity and virginity, praised for her submission to a patriarchal God and a patriarchal Church. Mary was put on a pedestal but never really respected. So, like Deirdre, I happily embraced Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the inculturated Virgin who chose a poor indigenous man, San Juan Diego, to bear her message and fearlessly told a bishop what she wanted, when, and where. I welcomed this Mother who accompanies her children in the struggle in the fields and now in the annual Antorcha Guadalupana relay that links the communities of origin to Mexican Americans’ new homes in el norte. Our Lady of Guadalupe looks down benevolently from the walls of soup kitchens and homeless shelters on her suffering people. This is the Mary that Deirdre so lovingly brings to us in her book, and you should get acquainted with Her too. (Orbis Books, 2010. ISBN: 9781570758713)
Bendecidos, Sanados y en Victoria: This second volume in the series “Colección Esperanza” published by Minuto de Dios in Bogota, Colombia, is a set of reflections about the charismatic renewal and, specifically spiritual healing, by Fr. José Eugenio Hoyos, spiritual director of the Renovación Católica Carismática in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. For better or worse, I am too familiar with the subject -- and with what the book could be -- to be able to give it more than a mixed review.
On the positive side, Fr. Hoyos does an excellent job of situating charismatic healing in its rightful place. He begins the book with a passage from the Book of Sirach (38:1-9) that demonstrates that, contrary to common misconceptions, spiritual healing is not intended to be used instead of conventional medicine, but complements it. He amply supports the practice through Biblical citations.
Fr. Hoyos also demonstrates how charismatic healing interacts with the major sacraments of the Catholic Church, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Again, the charismatic renewal, Fr. Hoyos insists, does not claim to supplant traditional Catholicism, but can invigorate it. His book recognizes the centrality of sacramental faith. It is also effective in explaining the healing power in the hands of the lay ministers of the Renovación and how this is distinct from the laying on of hands by consecrated men of God in the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, for example. This being said, Fr. Hoyos steadfastly rejects the common belief that only ordained people can lay hands effectively.
Ironically, the book fails most in what it initially set out to be – a compilation of healing testimonies gathered from Fr. Hoyos’ extensive experience in healing ministry. The testimonies are relatively few, relatively new, concentrated in the final chapters, and occur outside of the Diocese of Arlington even though most of Fr. Hoyos’ ministry has taken place there. Are we to believe that he is a prophet without honor in his own community who cannot work miracles there? Yet, I’ve personally listened to hundreds of testimonies during my brief time in this movement.
The second problem is lack of depth. Fr. Hoyos presents a media-ready image of his elite corps -- the Ministerio de Sanación, Liberación e Intercesión, the black and white clad ministers who do most of the work in the healing Masses. This “too good to be true, too blessed to be stressed” image actually does a disservice. The real miracle is that this group of people who are frequently struggling with their personal problems and doubts, is able to put their own issues aside and lovingly focus God’s healing energy on the suffering souls who come to the Masses. I am one of them and I can assure you that we are far from saints. We have chronic health problems, marital crises, economic and immigration difficulties, even depression and addiction. We struggle with anger, spiritual laziness, fatigue and hopelessness, but we have chosen charismatic prayer as an alternative to giving up. Some personal stories and perspectives from senior members of the Ministerio would have made this book richer and deeper.
With respect to the third gap I note, I suppose it would be unfair to expect a book titled “Blessed, Healed and Victorious” to address what happens when that is not the outcome – at least not from a normal human perspective. What do you say to the person who prays and prays and never receives healing? What do you tell people who have repeatedly interceded with God for a loved one who lived a saintly life but still died way too young and in pain? What comfort can you give the young woman who wants so much to have a baby and sees so many other women become mothers after they receive a healing touch but in spite of all her entreaties to God never knows the joy of carrying a child? We ask people how they are and expect them to parrot back “bendecido, encendido y en victoria” when the truth is anything but “blessed and fired up”. This is because we cannot answer this question adequately, so we run away from it and insist that others put on a happy face instead of accompanying them where they are.
Finally, this book suffers from poor editing. In some ways, it’s still more of a scrapbook than a book. There are entire chapters that seemingly have nothing at all to do with spiritual healing and are there only because they are ideas Fr. Hoyos found interesting – the metamorphosis into butterflies, the oft-repeated footsteps of Jesus reflection (“…that was when I carried you”). A somewhat edited version of Fr. Hoyos’ own healing story, which he says led him to get more seriously involved in this work, has been placed at the very back for some unaccountable reason (most of us, knowing it was there, looked for it first!). There are factual errors, e.g. the reference on p.62 to “La Lengua de Rafael Azcona”. This was actually a movie called “La Lengua de las Mariposas” and the script was by Rafael Azcona. There are stylistic errors too. For example, although the book is written in Spanish and published in Latin America, it inexplicably uses the English method of Biblical citation throughout the text. Between these sorts of missing details and the use of vapid stock photos, one gets the impression of a title that was rushed to print before it was really ready for prime time.
In conclusion, I would hope that, since this book has been quite popular, it will go to a second edition. At that point there will be an opportunity to bring it up to the standard of some of Fr. Hoyos’ other works, expand it, and give it the depth and personalization it deserves. Until then, we are "orando y perseverando". (Libreria Minuto de Dios, 2010. ISBN: 9789587350500)