Written by Victor S.E. Moubarak
The first “Any Questions” session held by Father Ignatius in the church center proved so successful that some members of the congregation asked him to hold another one. They enjoyed asking questions about church matters in general and the Catholic Church’s teachings in particular, and learning from both Father Ignatius and Father Donald answering honestly rather than “toeing the party line”; as one parishioner called it.
“Are you sure that the hot chocolate drinks and free cakes aren’t the real attraction here?” asked Father Ignatius.
He was assured that this was not the case and it was agreed to hold another meeting at which parishioners could invite guests.
The night in question was well attended with about sixty people packing the church center and sitting cinema style facing the top table. Father Donald was not available and he was replaced by the Reverend Harold Barnstable, the vicar from a neighbouring church. He knew Father Ignatius well as the two priests were members of the Area Ecumenical Council, a body set up to encourage contact and co-operation amongst churches from various denominations. The Reverend had brought a few parishioners from his church to the meeting with him.
After the first few questions about the benefits of church unity and what obstacles lay in the way of such a goal a young man stood up at the back of the room and said:
“Father Ignatius, I do not attend your church. One thing I can’t understand about you Catholics is your devotion to Mary. Granted, she was the Mother of Jesus, but no more than that. Yet you Catholics pray to her all the time and ask her for favours.
"Christ said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.’ What can be clearer than that? Paul re-iterates this message in his letter to Timothy when he says, ‘there is one God, and there is one mediator who brings God and mankind together, Christ Jesus.’
"I consider devotion to Mary as blasphemy to God. What do you have to say about this?”
The Reverend Barnstable shuffled uneasily in his chair as he recognized the questioner as one of his parishioners. However, he politely looked sideways at Father Ignatius and said nothing.
Father Ignatius smiled and said calmly “I agree …”
This silenced the audience who knew him too well and expected a rebuttal of the points made by the visitor. They were not disappointed. Father Ignatius continued:
“Viewed from you perspective, and considering the Bible quotations you mention, it can be seen as blasphemy to pray to Mary and ask her to mediate for us and present our needs to Jesus, and to God. So let us see your point from a different perspective.
“Let me ask you something first. Have you ever prayed for a sick relative or friend to get better?”
“Well … yes …” hesitated the young man.
“That’s good …” replied Father Ignatius gently, “it shows charitable loving intentions from you towards those people. You didn’t say ‘let them pray for themselves to get better’ but you prayed for them. You mediated on their behalf, or, to put it in more common parlance, you put in a good word for them.
“You said to God ‘Dear Lord … you know my friend is a good chap … please heal him from his illness!’ ”
The audience laughed.
Father Ignatius continued, “By praying for your sick friends you mediated on their behalf. And if it is God’s will, He sometimes answers our prayers.
“In the same way, there’s nothing wrong in my opinion if the Virgin Mary puts in a good word for me with Jesus when I ask her. God knows I need it!”
The audience laughed again.
“You see …” went on the priest, “at the wedding in Cana when the wine ran out, the servants went to Mary for advice and guidance. She was a guest at the wedding, no more. They didn’t go to Jesus direct, or to the bridegroom, or to the best man, if they had such a thing in those days … but they went to Mary.
“She interceded on behalf of the married couple; and Jesus at her request performed His first miracle.
“I believe this to be very significant … is Jesus encouraging us here to ask Mary to mediate for us?
“Some may not agree, but I personally see nothing wrong in asking the Virgin Mary to intercede on my behalf, and I ask her often to do so.
“But let me answer your specific point as to whether my praying to her is blasphemy … as you called it.
“God saw fit to choose this young lady to be the Mother of His only Son. Obviously He holds her in high regards.
“I too … hold her in high regards. This is why I recite the Rosary daily.
“Do you honestly think that when I get to meet God face to face He will punish me for daring to love Mary, the Mother of Jesus? Will God view my honouring her as blasphemy? I think not.
“By praying to her, takes nothing away from my reverence to God and Jesus. Like you, I accept God as my Creator and Jesus as my Saviour; and I also pray to Mary to mediate on my behalf.
“Nothing wrong with that … and certainly no blasphemy intended!”
“I understand …” replied the young man sheepishly.
“It was a good question,” continued Father Ignatius, “but let me get back to your two quotations from the Bible.
“When Jesus said He is the way to God, and when St Paul re-affirmed this, they were referring to Christ as being the Son of God and our Saviour through His sacrifice on the Cross.
“They were not saying that we should not honour the Virgin Mary who holds a high place in Heaven. And no where in the Bible are we told not to pray to her or ask her to mediate on our behalf.
“We’re all sinners, and we need as many friends on the other side as we can muster. I also pray to Saint Ignatius of Loyola after whom I was named.”