Father Ignatius was pragmatic kind of man. He was realistic and somewhat matter-of-fact about things that were as they were and perhaps could not be explained to everyone's satisfaction.
God, being God, often gave him opportunities to explain his beliefs and to re-affirm them both to himself and to others. As happened the other day.
He was in church, sitting at the front pew, just by the statue of the Virgin Mary, looking at the votive candles burning slowly, and reciting the Rosary.
Mrs Castle came out of the Sacristy to do some cleaning. She was not the usual cleaner; but a replacement for Mrs Bell who had gone on vacation, and recommended her friend Mrs Castle.
Mrs Castle was not a Catholic. She went to the Anglican church in town.
Seeing the priest praying in front of the statue she stopped and said, "Excuse me Sir ... I have seen you sit here and pray often. I was wondering ... like, is that not wrong? We were told by our vicar that it is wrong to pray to statues. He said it was idolatry!"
"Your vicar, the Reverend Grainger, is he not?" he asked.
"Well, the Reverend Grainger is correct. It is wrong to pray to statues," said Father Ignatius as Mrs Castle sat down, "this is something that many Catholics do not understand. And I suppose it is the fault of our Church which does not teach its people clearly about our doctrines, rules and other traditions!
"You can see around you in this church many statues. That's St Peter over there. Saint Anthony and St Francis of Assisi over there at the back. And this St Therese.
"It is wrong to pray to the statues. They are only images made of stone, like St Peter, and some sort of plaster like St Francis and St Anthony. St Therese's statue is carved from wood. And the Cross you see at the altar is made of wood and the figure of Christ is metal. It is idolatry, as your vicar said, to pray to them or light candles or place flowers to them.
"But many Catholics do. And some, many in my view, do it without understanding. They believe that by lighting a candle they will gain some sort of favour, or get a miracle from the Saints.
"This is wrong. God and the Saints cannot be bought with a candle, a bunch of flowers or a few repetitive prayers.
"These statues should serve as a reminder of who these Saints, these once living people, are; and what they may have looked liked. Very much like you having photos of your loved ones, children and grand-children in your purse or at home. A reminder of loved ones close to you.
"And when we place flowers or candles, it should be as an act of respect. And act of veneration. Not in any way a bribe or worship of the statue, or even the Saint himself. You should only worship God."
"But you do sit here and pray to Mary over and over again, reciting the Hail Mary on the Rosary," Mrs Castle pointed out.
"Yes, you are right," replied the priest, "first of all, let me explain that I am not praying TO Mary. I am asking the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, to pray to God for me. Very much the same as when you ask a friend for a reference for a job application. Mrs Bell suggested that you come and clean the church whilst she is on vacation. She put in a good word for you. When we pray we should be asking Mary and the Saints to put in a good word for us with God and Jesus. I guess it does no harm.
"When dying on the Cross, Jesus said to Mary, 'this is your son,' meaning the disciple John. We Catholics believe this to mean Jesus gave Mary as a mother of us all.
"Are we right? Are we wrong? I guess we can debate this until the time we're in Heaven and we can ask Jesus in person!"
Mrs Castle laughed. He certainly had a way to get to the point quickly.
"The sad thing," he continued, "many Catholics do actually pray TO the Saints, thinking they are doing this just as praying to God or Jesus. This is wrong. They should be asking the Saints to pray for them to Jesus and God.
"Of course, some non-Catholics believe we should pray to Jesus and God alone. There is no need for an in-between like a Saint. They may well be right. But I wonder, does it do any harm to ask St Mary, or any other Saint to pray for us to God?
"Let us look at this another way. God must have thought Mary was a special person. That is why He chose her to be the mother of His Son, Jesus. Would He really be angry with me when I'm in Heaven because I spent time praying to Mary? He honoured her to be the Mother of Jesus. Is it wrong that I should honour her too?
"And the same applies to the disciples and other Saints. Jesus chose them as His followers. Other Saints since then have been honoured by the Church for their exemplary lives. Will God be angry that we have asked them to pray for us?
"Remember, praying TO the Saints is wrong. But praying, which means asking them, to plead to God on our behalf, is the right thing to do."
She smiled and said nothing.
"As for repetitive prayers," he added, "it helps one focus their mind on God. To take away any other thoughts, worries and problems from our mind and focus on God alone. By reciting the Lord's Prayer, the Credo, or the Rosary or whatever else. It's like a mantra.
"Some people prefer to just talk to God instead. This is all right too. As long as we keep our hearts and our minds open to listening to Him.
"Our prayer should be, 'Speak Lord, this is your servant listening,' not 'listen Lord, this is your Master speaking!' "