A recent call to a locksmith led to more than I bargained for: a discussion of the Virgin Mary and intercessory prayer.
I'd been testing keys from a box left by our new church's former owners when someone came for confession. Distracted, I closed my office door only to lock every key to the building within. There was no choice but to summon a locksmith.
After a couple tries, a young man with a dry sense of humor arrived. “I bet you're everyone's best friend,” I joked.
“Yeah, until they get the bill,” he replied, without missing a beat as he knelt to work.
He began with the simplest methods, testing keys on his ring before trying a credit card. He also sized me up with a sidelong glance. Given my black robe, I'm used to it. Something in his expression didn't approve, so I suspected he was no Catholic, despite his Latino heritage..
My guess proved correct, as he began to question me firmly, between taps with a mallet on the pick he'd inserted to loosen the lock's components. Is Orthodox the same as Catholic? To my ambiguous response that we have many things in common but aren't the same, he paused to squirt some lubricating solvent before following up with a squint.
“You guys worship Mary like they do?”
As he picked and pounded, I responded to his loaded question with my best apologia for the love Orthodox Christians have for the Mother of God—that we don't worship any but the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but turn to Mary as prime example of what it means to be a Christian. We don't pray to her, but ask her to pray for us.
My answer seemed to mollify him, as his ire returned to its primary target.
“My Catholic family says you have to ask Mary for stuff, then she asks Jesus for you. But I always point out that didn't work so well when she tried it.”
“The Wedding at Cana. She asked Jesus to turn water into wine, but he told her, 'Woman, mind your own business.' ”
Not an exact quote, but I asked what Jesus ultimately did.
“Well, he did it. But, he would've anyway. It wasn't because she asked him.”
Yet that's not how St. John wrote it. And Christians for centuries understood his text to teach the value of intercession.
If a friend with cancer asked you to pray for them, would you say, “Jesus will do what he wants. Don't ask me to pray for you”? Is intercession a waste of time or inappropriate?
By now, the locksmith had used his final tool—with teeth like a key. The lock popped. The door swung open. Our conversation, however, did not.
I invited him to attend a service and learn about the beliefs of ancient Christians. He said Calvin was good enough, and invited me to pay the bill.