Mary Marrocco poses with her book, 'On Becoming Bread.' Photo by Michael Swan

Author gives readers food for the soul

  • August 24, 2019

Theologian, therapist and author Mary Marrocco is not the sort who imposes pat formulas or rules of thumb to living her Catholic faith. But she does have one rule.

“The canon is the plumb line,” she tells The Catholic Register on a sunny afternoon over coffee on increasingly trendy Queen Street East in Toronto.

She means, of course, the canon of saints — not just the sprinkling of saints listed in Eucharistic Prayer I, but the entire long history of saints and saint-making in the Catholic Church. Her first ever column in The Catholic Register featured St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the great patron of missionaries who never left rural Normandy in France.

Marrocco has been writing her “Questioning Faith” columns for The Register since 2007, rarely straying from her plumb line. 

She often writes about canonized saints and never forgets the hidden saints who walk through our everyday lives. She has winnowed down more than a decade of column writing into her new book, On Becoming Bread: Reflections and Stories to Nourish Your Spirit.

When Catholics wonder about euthanasia and end of life, poverty, abortion, violence, the reality of salvation and the ties that bind Christians, they should wonder with confidence, says Marrocco. Because they never wonder alone — the saints are there to wonder and probe and question along with them.

“My aim is to stand up to these questions with a moment in the Church’s life: a teaching, a feast day, a saint or renowned Christian, a liturgical expression, a hymn,” Marrocco writes. “How do these Church moments engage or rephrase the question, what new questions do they raise, and where do they lead us?”

For long-time Register readers, there’s nothing mysterious about what Marrocco is up to. She provides spiritual reading.

By writing the column, Marrocco claims she has learned how much desire there is for spiritual reading.

“Maybe if you said to people, ‘Do you do spiritual reading?’ they might look at you funny. But they probably do it without knowing it, or are interested without calling it that,” she said.

Having studied the early Church for her PhD thesis, Marrocco often finds herself turning to Church fathers and mothers — ancient, desert mystics from St. Ephrem to St. Augustine. It was St. Augustine’s surprising emotional honesty and insight that pushed Marrocco into psychotherapy. 

She understands how the centuries and the barriers to ancient Greek and Latin make it difficult for most people to approach such ancient sources of Christian thought. However, she hopes her book will make these saints seem a little more accessible.

“We expand our membership in the community just by meeting them,” she said. “I think sometimes Catholics are scared of such figures because they feel like they’re not worthy of them, or they don’t have the intellect or lack understanding. They don’t want to get it wrong.”

The more Catholics get to know the early Church, the more they will learn how the first Christians lived their faith. The idea behind On Becoming Bread is that people should confidently and concretely live the truths of their faith.

“It (the book) is for people who are interested in theology and spirituality and people. That’s really my focus,” she said. “That’s the commitment I make to the reader.”

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