For some reason, Mary is often a stumbling block for those outside the Church.

For Catholics who don’t have ready (or perhaps any) answers for the teachings of their faith, the Catholic Truth Society has produced a series of very useful booklets at £2.50 each, entitled 20 Answers to whatever the subject may be. As it is now May I have been reading the booklet on Mary who, for some reason, is often a stumbling block for those outside the Church.

Those from other Christian denominations often make a distinction between Mary as the mother of Jesus (which no Christian would deny) and Mary as the Mother of God. As the author, Tim Staples, a former Protestant, points out, to reject Mary’s most significant title and role is to deny the divinity of Christ or to split Jesus into two persons, one human and one divine. “Understanding Mary to be the Mother of God guards and defends the truth that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Blessed Trinity incarnate.”

All this might seem obvious to Catholics. The reason it is not immediately obvious to those from other Christian denominations is, I think, that they place so great an emphasis on having a personal relationship with Jesus that any person, such as Our Lady, who seems to come between them is seen as shockingly intrusive and heretical.

Yet a personal relationship is vital. Yesterday I was chatting to our former parish priest, who was once an evangelical Christian himself. He observed that Catholics can (wrongly) put love and loyalty for the Church before love for Christ, whereas it should be the other way round. He added that whatever criticisms people may make of Pope Francis, in his view the Pope sees his essential task as helping Catholics recognise that they won’t have a living Christian faith unless it is rooted in a personal relationship with Christ. Otherwise defending the “institution” becomes all-important, along with the Church’s pronounced dogmas – such as the ones on Our Lady. He reminded me that Jesus said “If you love me, keep my commandments”; the relationship with Christ comes first.

Our conversation made me think that if, when talking with other Christians, we can show them that our own relationship to Jesus is easily as strong and as close as theirs, we will sound more convincing when starting to explain the place of Mary. Discussions about faith are never merely intellectual disputes; beliefs are passionately held convictions and that passion must be rooted in love ie. charity towards our interlocutor, who has almost always been evangelised, if not sacramentalised.

The booklet also reminds the reader that our beliefs, no less than that of Protestants, are based on Scripture. Staples demonstrates by passage after passage that all Mary’s characteristic titles and attributes, such as her assumption, her immaculate conception, her perpetual virginity, can be argued from Scripture.

He also provides sound arguments against other objections, such as “But didn’t Jesus condemn ‘repetitious prayers’ like the rosary?” (this has been made to me in the past.) Question 20, “Why do I need to have a relationship with Mary?” sums up the whole booklet. I won’t repeat the reasons here so that readers might consider buying the booklet for themselves during this month of Our Lady, then opening up a friendly discussion with a non-Catholic friend. The author concludes: “If you don’t have a relationship with Mary, the real question is: why not?”