Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mary in a Grilled Cheese Sandwich: With Whom Would You Choose to Share Eternity?

Ana Gantman and Jay Van Bavel published an essay in today's New York Times in which they offered a psychological explanation for a recurring tabloid phenomenon: reports by people who claim to have seen Mary in a humble and unlikely place: a tortilla, for example, the crook of a tree or a grilled cheese sandwich.

According to Gantman and Van Bavel, there is a scientific explanation for these strange sightings.   "The psychological phenomenon of seeing something significant in an ambiguous stimulus is called pareidolia,"  the authors gravely informed us.

Gantman and Van Bavel's essay is the latest in a series of New York Times commentaries assuring us that religious belief can be scientifically explained--through sociology, anthropology, or psychology. Remember T.M. Luhrmann's essay that appeared awhile back?  There is a anthropological label for people who are inflexible in their religious convictions, Luhrmann informed us.  The word is schismogenesis. I am so embarrassed not to have known that!

I confess that I rejoice every time I learn that someone has discovered Mary in a food item.  To me these little incidents are reminder, as Andrew Greeley pointed out, that Catholics live in a grace-filled world.  We see the divine in the ordinary events of our lives.  We know the Holy Spirit may come upon us unawares--when we least expect it.  After all, if Christ is present in the Eucharistic bread, surely Mary might appear from time to time in a tortilla or a cookie.

Most of the people who report these charming Marian visitations are humble people. Often they are poor and have little formal education.  As far as I know, the people at Goldman Sachs are not seeing Mary in their bonus checks.  But wouldn't the world be a better place if they did?

If there is an eternity--and I believe there is, with whom would we wish to share it? Personally, I would rather share it with a person who saw Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich than with Ana Gantman and Jay Van Basel, who would describe such an event as pareidolia.  


Ana Gantman & Jay Van Bavel. Is That Jesus in Your Toast? New York Times, April 6, 2014, Sunday Review Section, page 12.

Andrew Greeley. The Catholic Imagination. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.

Danny Hakim. Obama's Tresury Nominee Got Unusual Exit Bonus on Leaving N.Y.U. New York Times, February 25, 2013. Available at:

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