My undergrad program was at a Free Methodist college and most of my friends and people that I knew at college were Non-Denominational Christians. I learned a ton from my professors at college and from my friends at college about who God is and about the life he was calling me to. And I genuinely believe that I wouldn't be where I am today without the things that I learned at Roberts.
I grew up in a predominantly Catholic small town in Upstate New York; I share this only to say that before going to college I hadn't had anyone really question me on the finer points of Catholicism. I had people in high school ask me the "normal" teenage questions: "How do you know that God exists?" "If God exists why does he let bad things happen?" etc. But once I got to college I had people asking me things like, "Why do Catholics believe that they're actually eating Jesus' Body and Blood?" "Why do Catholics worship saints?" "Why do you have to go to confession?" "Why do you have to go to Mass every Sunday (even if you are also going to a different church, too)?" "Why do Catholics believe you can buy your way into heaven?" "What's the deal with Mary? Why do Catholics worship her like God?"
To say that I was unprepared for their questions would be the understatement of the century.
Slowly but surely, I learned how to answer these questions with kindness and sensitivity, and I learned how to always bring things back to what was most important: Jesus and his love and saving plan for us.
Mary was harder for me, in part because their arguments sort of made sense. We do have prayers that are directed toward Mary, we do call Mary the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God, some people do pray the rosary during Mass, etc. So, do Catholics worship Mary?
In short: No.
Mary always leads us to Jesus. We believe that she is our spiritual mother because it's what Jesus told us when he was hanging on the cross; He gave Mary to John as his mother and thus gave her to all of us. We ask Mary for her intercessions because she is an expert intercessor; in scripture we see Jesus perform His first miracle and enter into Ministry early because Mary asked him to. When we pray the rosary, the Hail Mary's are background music while we meditate of the mysteries that surround Jesus' life.
Mary always leads us to Jesus.
She teaches us by example how to hear God's words and obey His will with a joyful heart. She teaches us by example how to pray and how to ponder things in our own hearts. She teaches us by example how to love the Lord above all else and how to view our life through His lens.
I pray especially for Mary's intercession this month that we might come to know the Lord more fully.