The Thinking 

A Blasphemous Play about Mary

February 13, 2017


STEPHEN IPPOLITO writes from Australia:

I do hope this finds you and your family well.

A reader’s comment to you on February 7th under the post “Disgusting Pictureswas timely for me as I happened to be on the brink of writing to you at that time to express just the opposite impression of your site.

One of the most important of the many edifying features of The Thinking Housewife, it seems to me, is your regular publishing of beautiful works of religious-themed art, especially of the Madonna and Child, for which you must be commended.

As someone who daily struggles to maintain, let alone to grow, his faith, I particularly enjoy the  life-affirming devotional art you sprinkle through the site depicting Our Lady and Lord together.

Such images recall to my mind the beautiful thoughts expressed upon our Lady’s nature by both St Maximilian Kolbe and St Louis Marie de Montfort. The former ventured of her: ” The creature most completely filled with God himself, was the immaculate...” whilst the latter observed: “She is an echo of God,  speaking and repeating only ‘God’. If you say ‘Mary’ she says ‘God’ “.

These are, surely, succinct expressions of the very essence of Our Lady’s  nature and the key to the standpoint from which she must always be approached, namely that Our Lady’s will is always and wholly at one with God’s own.

We know this to be true because we first see it in her initial meeting with the divine in the form of the Angel Gabriel at the annunciation when, according to St Luke, Our Lady freely consented to God’s revealed plan for her to bear and rear Christ: “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; Let it be done unto me according to your word” and because we have the credible modern testimony of numerous seers such as the little shepherds at Fatima and of St Bernadette at Lourdes that Our Lady even today steps back into human time to bring to us her son’s wishes and counsel.

It is for this reason that I was very disappointed, although hardly surprised,  to recently read  a newspaper’s  interview with the playwright of the latest “important” play to open here, staged by what is arguably Australia’s premier theatre company. I don’t know if the subject would be of interest to your readers or not, but here are my thoughts on the play for what they are worth:

“The Testament of Mary, based on the book by Colm Toibin, purports to explore the truth behind Our Lady’s own lived experience, as a woman and mother,  in the face of Our Lord’s final sufferings and sacrifice on the cross.

The subject matter is, of course, not necessarily objectionable of itself, as we know that Our Lady was and remains a fully human and loving mother and a person of the most exquisite sensibility and therefore must have felt immense pain as she witnessed her son’s final sufferings. Although generally a believer in the old saw that one should trust to the tale rather than to the teller, and so I will often see a play or film that has been poorly reviewed in order to judge it for myself, Toibin is so emphatic in this interview about what he was trying to achieve with the play and about how he perceives Mary, that I could not bring myself to attend it and make no apology for that.

What strikes me most about the article, as I hope it would to your other readers, is how poorly the author serves his  audience by following his politically correct progressive bias to strip Christ of his divinity and Our Lady of her agency in the divine story of Christ’s life and death. Instead,  and in keeping with the narrative favored by the progressive elites who set and enforce opinions in the west, Our Lady is painted as merely just another hapless, voiceless female “victim” of male neglect and lack of empathy in what is no more than a mere private family tragedy.

It seems to me that one need not be a Roman Catholic at all, but need only read the Bible with a basic degree of attention, to comprehend that Mr Toibin’s Mary is entirely a creature of his own invention.

The lived and continuing reality of Our Lady, as disclosed in the gospels and as borne out by her visitations to us since, is that she was at all times an informed, engaged and willing participant in all aspects of her son’s life including his final trials, from conception onwards.

Toibin and his interviewer make much of the fact that Toibin, who is Irish,  “grew up Catholic” and prayed the rosary as a child. It seems that this is inserted to support Toibin’s express contention that the play “comes from belief and respect“. Yet the play, as Toibin and his interviewer describe it in the article,  gives the lie to that claim.

The play, we are told  “…turn(s) the sainted immaculate virgin into an ordinary woman, a mother who does not think her son needs to die , for anyone, any reason, or any belief”;  and shows us that “Her (ie. Mary’s)… take on purported miracles is sceptical, to say the least” and, further, that “…(Mary) thinks her son should avoid his friends – and live.” 

What kind of Catholic, lapsed or otherwise, could so little understand the basics of Catholicism, as to portray Our Lady in any such way? Who could read the Bible, however superficially, and conclude that the figure of Christ’s mother was just an “ordinary” woman or one who saw her son as anything other than just who and what He said He was?

The clearest clue that Toibin’s play is not really about Our Lady at all but simply evokes her name as a clever marketing hook for a play which is really just another progressive screed about disempowered women suffering under the western patriarchy is in the exchange where Toibin is asked whether he “sees any connection between his story of a woman’s disempowerment and the rise of Donald Trump”.

There is surely nothing of Heaven or of Grace in Mr Toibin’s play.

Whilst the natural suffering of Our Lady in her son’s final days can’t and shouldn’t be denied, Toibin and his interviewer diminish Our Lady when they seek to define her solely by her temporal grief and by squeezing her into the progressive narrative of the emotionally ignored mother of a wayward human son who really ought to have kept better company.

Ordinary mortals have not, for one thing, looked upon the face of the divine in life. Nor have they been vouchsafed the knowledge that their son is God and that his suffering and death, however painful,  serves to redeem mankind and therefore carries a transcendent meaning.

But most of all, and like all art and thought that proceeds from today’s dominant progressive right-think, Toibin’s play has nothing at all about it of that quality that most distinguishes his purported subject, which is divine grace. This is such a shame because grace appears to me to be the single quality of which our age stands most in need.

“Grace” is a complicated concept, appearing in both the Old and New Testaments and appears to derive ultimately from two root words: the Hebrew “Chesed” and the Greek “Charis“. Both carry the broad meaning of salvation or comfort in affliction or adversity, primarily through God’s loving kindness. I have heard it nowhere better defined than as “God’s love in action”.

Instead of attending Mr Toibin’s play I invested my time much more profitably and in a way far more in keeping with Our Lady’s gracious reality by revisiting Robert Bresson’s beautiful film: “Diary of a Country Priest” (1951).  Have you seen it?

That film depicts the personal trials of a genuinely pious priest as he attempts to minister,  in the very bleakest of surrounds, to  all those about him despite being rejected and disappointed by all, including the local gentry and community leaders, his own parishioners, his fellow priests and even his bishop.

All about him serve themselves only and are quite cruel. Throughout his travails, this “true priest” bears his sufferings, including intense physical pain, with immense fortitude and the loving humility that springs from his complete devotion to God’s will. His dying words far better reflect Mary’s reality and those who follow her than does Mr Toibin’s work: “All is grace“.

The world of the Thinking Housewife is a very graceful place, me thinks.

Laura writes:

Thank you for your appreciation and good wishes.

A little background on The Testament of Mary:

The “Testament” play is based on Toibin’s 2012 short novel of the same name, in which Mary is depicted as an elderly woman who does not believe in Jesus’s Divinity and dislikes Jesus’s disciples. It was initially staged as a monologue in Dublin in 2011.

Within months of its publication, a stage adaptation opened on Broadway.  Within months. The book was published by Scribners in November and the play was announced in January. That is extraordinary. It is expensive — very, very, very expensive — to put together a Broadway production. Powerful people strongly supported this play, which was nominated for three Tony Awards.

Here is the Irish actress Fiona Shaw, who played the title character, in a scene from the play, which I have not seen or read:


The play drew protests from Catholic groups. But both the book and play received positive reviews and widespread publicity in the mainstream press. AnnaLise Quinn described the book for NPR as “elegantly subversive.”

“Lovely, understated and powerfully sad, The Testament of Mary finally gives the mother of Jesus a chance to speak. And, given that chance, she throws aside the blue veil of the Madonna to become wholly, gloriously human.”

Despite three Tony Award nominations, the play closed a month and a half early. I do not know whether the protests were a factor in its short run. It continues, I believe, to be performed in small theaters around the country.

The appropriate Catholic response to blasphemy is not simply to protest (please write to the Sydney theater calling for its cancellation) but also to pray and do penance for those involved in these productions. We should offer up our own sufferings in reparation for these horrible blasphemies.

It never ceases to amaze how the greatest woman who ever lived is shunned, distorted and hated by those who promote female power. In societies which revere the Blessed Virgin, the position of women is exalted.

Yes, I have seen the movie Diary of a Country Priest, which is based on the French novel by Georges Bernanos. The book is very good and the movie, as I recall, was faithful to it. The priest dies alone of stomach cancer in a rented room. His death is sad and inspiring.

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