My introduction to Dr. Edward Sri’s writing was a few years ago, when he wrote a thoughtful, bite-sized book about the Mass. His latest book, Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross, caught my attention in part because I loved his writing so much in that earlier book.
Walking with Mary is one of my favorite reads this year, and one of my new favorite Mary books. Dr. Sri weaves his scholarly expertise with a tone that’s approachable and even, in parts, whimsical. He unpacks what amounts to a few phrases of Scripture and puts them in context, explains their significance, and then uses them to paint a picture of the person of Mary of Nazareth.
Seeing Mary as a person is something that’s a bit of an obsession of mine. So much of the time, I’m tempted to keep her on the pedestal at the front of church, pristine and untouched. She’s a distant ideal, not a here-and-now reality.
This book combines devotion to Mary and the Word of God in a way that’s enjoyable and educational. In 145 pages, Sri taught me some key lessons about Scripture and the Mother of God, and I don’t even need an extra brain to process them!
In lieu of dropping everything to attend one of Dr. Sri’s classes, I took an opportunity to ask him a few questions about Walking with Mary.
If you enjoy this (and you will…I assure you, YOU WILL!), be sure to tune in for the series of videos he’s doing about Mary. Here’s a link to the first one (I’ll embed it at the end of the interview too).
I also have permission of the publisher to share an excerpt from Walking with Mary, so that will be at the end as well.
Dr. Sri, tell us what inspired you to write this lovely book.
For much of my career, Mary and the Bible have been a key focus in my research, writing and teaching. I have often explored how the Scriptures shed light on Catholic beliefs about Mary, but especially in recent years, I have also become increasingly drawn to the ways the Bible beautifully tells us about Mary’s interior spiritual journey.
There are many good books about Mary and the Bible that focus on Marian doctrine, Marian apologetics, and Marian devotion. But there are not many works that delve into the Scriptures to help us understand Mary’s pilgrimage of faith and the ways God was calling her step-by-step, from Nazareth to the Cross, to ever greater levels of trust and surrender.
And in the process [of writing this book], I began to see more profoundly how the Scriptures also reveal many lessons we can learn from Mary for our own walk with the Lord.
The image you use of walking with Mary is one that speaks to me so very deeply. How did this image inspire you as you wrote and compiled the information for Walking with Mary?
I hope readers will come to know the human Mary, the young virgin of Nazareth whom God led gradually throughout her life to a deeper union with His and His plan of salvation. I want to put the reader in Mary’s shoes and walk with her throughout her life at the key moments when the Lord was inviting her to take another step out in faith.
The book considers, for example, what the angel’s words to her at the Annunciation would have meant to her. What would Simeon’s words about the sword piercing her soul have meant for her? What would it have been like to be Mary at Christ’s first miracle at Cana or to be at the foot of the cross?
While Mary certainly was blessed with unique graces and privileges—she is the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, and the Queen of Heaven and Earth—John Paul II reminded us of Mary’s humanness. He taught that Mary had to make a profound pilgrimage of faith, like we do. Like us, she too faced moments of joy and moments of sorrow. She experienced times when God’s purposes were very clear to her and times and times when she did not understand—times when all she could do is keep all these things and ponder them in her heart.
We all can all relate to many aspects of Mary’s journey of faith, and her example has much to teach us about our own walk with the Lord.
For many people, Catholic devotion to Mary is just plain weird. One thing I love is how you use the Bible as the basis for each of the chapters in your book. What inspired that decision and how do you use that as your jumping off point for your discussion of Mary’s life and example in the book?
Even though Mary does not appear often in the New Testament, she does appear at pivotal moments: the Incarnation and birth of Jesus, the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, and his culminating death on the cross. And these passages, though few, are rich in meaning, providing windows into her soul and the work of God in her life.
Moreover, the Bible reveals her to be the first and model disciple. She is the first in the new covenant era to hear and obey God’s word, and she does so with great love as a servant of the Lord (Luke 1:38). She remains faithful to God’s revelation to her and her Son’s mission all the way through his death on Calvary and even after his ascension into heaven as she prays with the disciples in anticipation of Pentecost (Acts 1:14).
As a model of faith, trust, love, and obedience, Mary is someone all Christians should aspire to imitate. If we walk with Mary throughout her life, she can teach us much about how to walk with the Lord as a faithful disciple.
I read that you hope that, no matter what faith tradition your readers come from, that they can be inspired by Mary’s example to be a disciple of the Lord. Who do you expect to be most helped by your book?
Some Christians are afraid of Mary—thinking that she somehow distracts us from our relationship with Jesus. But everything Catholics believe about Mary is meant to lead us to love and praise Jesus more.
I think many Protestant Christians will find in this book a welcoming introduction to the mother of Jesus from a Biblical perspective. Protestants often do Bible studies on heroic characters of the Bible, considering what lessons we can learn from them for our lives. Mary stands as a key figure at the turning point of salvation history: she is the mother of Jesus! And, as I explained above, she is revealed in the New Testament to be a model of faith.
I’ve heard from some positive feedback from Protestants who have attended my presentations or viewed my video reflections on Walking with Mary. One recently told me, “Wow…This is very helpful. I’ve never thought of Mary in this way.” And that’s my hope – that the book will help people to know and love Mary more and inspire them to walk in her footsteps as a faithful disciple of Jesus.
In your life, how is Mary an example and model of living an integrated Catholic life? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned to apply from her in your own life?
There are so many ways Mary’s walk with the Lord has been an inspiration for me. I’ll mention just one that is related to the overarching theme of the book.
Mary’s faith cannot be reduced to one moment—her “fiat” at the end of the Annunciation scene. She had to renew her fiat repeatedly throughout her life as the Lord called her to take that next step in faith. Mary’s faith journey took her from Nazareth all the way to the cross. And that’s important lesson for all of us who desire to follow Jesus.
God is continuously calling us to take the next step with Him in faith. Maybe it’s advancing in generosity, patience, or purity. Perhaps it’s an invitation to spend more time in silence, more time in spiritual reading, or more time in prayer and the sacraments. Maybe Jesus is calling us to give more of ourselves to the people around us—a spouse, a child, a colleague, a friend.
Considering Mary’s journey of faith, I know I’ve been inspired to be more on the lookout for the next steps of faith to which the Lord may be calling me: to prayerfully consider in what ways He wants me to grow spiritually…to “keep and ponder” like Mary did the way events unfold in my life and ask, “What is the Lord trying to teach me through this?”
It’s easy to fall into complacency and the status quo in our spiritual life. Mary’s life inspires me to be attentive to what the next steps might be in my walk with the Lord. And I pray that her intercession helps me to be faithful to taking those steps now and all the way up to the hour of my death.
A Video Series by Dr. Sri
Here’s the first of Dr. Sri’s videos on Mary. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see the rest!
An Excerpt from Walking with God
This excerpt is used with permission of the publisher.
We all have experienced moments in life when we have had to take a step toward something unknown. It could be moving to a new city, going through a job restructuring, or starting a new relationship. Walking into uncharted territory often comes with a bit of fear and trembling.
Similarly, although walking with God in faith can be a thrilling adventure, it also has some unsettling elements. If we truly allow him to guide our lives, we will be challenged to step out into the unknown, give up control, and rely more completely on him. And that is not something we easily do. But it may be comforting to know that while our Heavenly Father invites his people to follow him with ever greater levels of trust and surrender, he calls them to take only one step at a time.
We see this in biblical heroes like Abraham. God promised him many blessings and descendants, but Abraham first had to leave his home and move to a distant land, trusting that God would bless him there. Similarly, Moses had to take those first steps out of Egypt into a barren desert, unsure of what trials he would face as he led the Israelites toward the Promised Land.
We see this also in the saints throughout the Christian era. These holy men and women did not become saintly figures overnight. They all had to learn to walk with the Lord one step at a time. And at each step they were confronted with new opportunities to grow in love and service. Saint Anthony of the Desert was drawn to sell all his possessions and give his money to the poor. Saint Augustine was called to give up a quiet life of prayer and study to serve as a busy bishop administering church affairs and attending to his people’s daily needs. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was inspired to seek out the people who hurt her and frustrated her the most and show them small acts of kindness. Some of the saints were drawn to give up something they liked, move to a new place, or let go of something comfortable and familiar. God called Saint Francis Xavier, for example, to leave Europe and bring the Gospel to the Far East. He prompted the extroverted Saint Teresa of Avila to give up extra socializing in order to cultivate a deeper interior silence and union with him. At still other times, God drew the saints closer to him through intense trials and darkness, persecutions and misunderstandings. Saint John of the Cross was mistreated and imprisoned in a dark, cramped dungeon for nine months by his fellow Carmelites. But it was precisely through his being deprived of all worldly security and comfort that he gained a deeper mystical understanding of the spiritual life and experienced a profound encounter, in the very core of his being, with a God who lovingly pours himself out to fill our emptiness and gives inner strength to souls amid the darkness. Mother Teresa faced decades of painful spiritual darkness in which she did not sense God’s closeness in her life, but eventually came to see that her feeling unwanted and forsaken allowed her to identify herself more with the loneliness and isolation of the poor and with Jesus himself who experienced suffering and rejection on Good Friday. Like a child learning to let go of the chair and walk, the saints gradually—through many ordeals—learned to abandon themselves ever more completely to God and walk in his ways.
The same is true for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We may know the Mary of sacred music, sacred art, and sacred theology—all of which beautifully express important aspects about the mystery of the mother of God—but how well do we know the humanness of Mary? How familiar are we with Mary’s pilgrimage of faith and the important steps the Lord invited her to take throughout her life? Mary was endowed with unique graces and privileges in Christ’s kingdom, but she was still a woman who had her own faith journey to make—and one that we can relate to in many ways. She experienced the joys of parenthood and the blessings of following God’s plan. But she also experienced the devastation of watching her son be misunderstood, rejected, and killed on the cross. Sometimes she was treated with dignity and honor. Other times she was humbled and oppressed. On some occasions God made his will clear for her, and she wholeheartedly committed herself to what the Lord was asking in that moment. But there were other times when it was not so apparent what the Lord was doing in her life and what she was supposed to do next.
When Mary was confronted with God’s call at pivotal moments in her life, she chose to remain open to the Lord’s plan for her every step of the way, even though what lay ahead for her was not always clear. Not everything was revealed to her all at once. There were moments when Mary did not understand what was happening and moments when she was not in control—moments when all she could do was prayerfully keep all these things and ponder them in her heart, awaiting God’s fuller revelation to her (Luke 2:19, 51). Like all followers of Christ, Mary had to walk by faith, and not by sight.
Excerpted from Walking with Mary by Edward Sri. Copyright © 2013 by Edward Sri. Excerpted by permission of Image Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mom and author whose nose is probably in a book if she’s not scraping something off of her shoes. Her latest book is A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism. Check out all of her books at http://sarahreinhard.com/writing/my-books/.
Visit Sarah’s website: http://sarahreinhard.com/
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