Sheila Houlihan reviews the novella, “The Last Testament of Mary”

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How it’s New York: “The Testament of Mary” by Cólm Toibín is coming to NYC, to play at Lincoln Center, now through June 23220px-The_Madonna_in_Sorrow
How it’s Irish: Cólm Toibin is an Irish writer, and Catholicism is a big part of Irish culture.
Guest blogger Sheila Houlihan writes about Cólm Toibin’s novel “The  Testament of Mary,” and her personal response to the book, which is now a Broadway play. An appropriate reflection for Easter Sunday is Sheila’s meditation on Mary’s life.

I  returned from Israel on November 13th.  I traveled with my sister on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with my St. Ignatius Parish in Manhattan.

We traveled across the Palestinian/Israel border with its high scaled impenetrable wall. Our bus was inspected at the check point and our passports looked over by the rifle carrying border patrol. In Bethlehem, we visited the Church of the Nativity, where Christ was born. We visited more sacred sites in Nazareth, Galilee, Cana, and Jerusalem.We saw the birthplace of Mary, traveled to her cousin Elizabeth’s hometown, saw the church of Mary’s Dormition. Fighting broke out in Gaza and an extended trip to Petra in Jordan had to be cancelled.
Christmas season and holiday shopping was in full swing by then in NYC. As I browsed around for Christmas gift ideas, I spotted this little book, The Last Testament of Mary. It is only 96 pages.    I thought it could be a timely gift and good read. Indeed, it was released on the day we returned from our trip.  Being in a reflective mood after my tour and seeing that it was written by gifted Colm Tóibín, I picked it up and saw a much different premise than I was expecting.


Mary ponders what her life and His life truly were. She is human after all and wonders the need for it,
the Crucifixion, and the many cruelties and indignities her son endured. She does not have blind faith. She thinks back to His years as a child, before Joseph’s death, and before His public ministry when they were just another family and all the joys of family life they shared. She recalls it all in a reverie filled with bitterness as that it had to happen that way. She is not Mary full of Grace, but Mary full of doubt.
Wasn’t Mary forewarned and sustained by the words of Simeon, someday your own heart a sword shall pierce?
No. She thinks it was all in vain. She is growing older and resents the apostles who guard her door. They are protecting an old woman. Why did they not protect Him?
This is a much different Mary than the woman who we are told accepted everything with grace and belief.  The Mary of myriad titles in litanies. The Mary that even the Muslim Koran devotes a chapter to.
I enjoy Tóibín and am not offended by his reverse insight into Mary. I saw no intent to defame or defile.
I wished he could have conveyed more of her feelings. I would have liked a longer book including specific historical or biblical passages.
A week after I finished the book I discover this most unlikely subject book is headed for Broadway.  I eagerly await Fiona Shaw’s portrayal and wonder  if Broadway will give it their high regards.

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