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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Catholics and Muslims

The flap over the mosque near ground zero in New York has set me to thinking about several things in regard to our understanding of the Muslim religion. I am not writing this blog entry to take a stand on that issue, but I do think that several things need to be pointed out.

I certainly appreciate the sensitivity to victims of 9/11, but sensitivity notwithstanding we sometimes need to point to facts rather than emotions. And one fact is that the Muslim religion did not take down the World Trade Center towers. Islamic extremists who distort Islam performed that terrible deed. Another fact is that the US Constitution makes it impossible to ban the construction of a house of worship on private property. All this having been said I do hope that the Immam and some of his followers could sit down with political leaders from New York and come to some common agreement. Right now it seems that they're talking through the airwaves but not directly to each other.

I also believe that this debate has surfaced a great deal of Islamophobia. I am not saying that all opponents of the project are guilty of this, nor has most of it come from New Yorkers, but from people all over our country and elsewhere.

When there is fear and anger there is usually ignorance. As a Franciscan, an order entrusted by the Church with Catholic-Muslim dialogue, I believe that we need to learn more about Islam. We need to understand where we agree with Muslims, and where we disagree as well. Maybe each one can take it upon him/her self to try to engage a Muslim in informal discussion about their faith. Perhaps we can try to read literature which explains the Muslim faith.

Here are a few interesting points of which you may not be aware:

1. Allah is not another god. Allah is God. If you go to Mass, say in Lebanon or Syria, it will be in Arabic and the prayers will be directed to Allah, the Father of Jesus. Allah is the Creator. Yes, Muslims believe some different things about Allah than we do, but Allah is God.

2. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet.

3. Muslims believe in the Virgin birth of Jesus and honor Mary.

These are a few things to ponder. I'm sure there is a lot more.

Finally, if the New York mosque is built perhaps they could contact local Christian and Jewish clergy and establish a program for dialogue. I'm going to write a letter to my provincial in New York and suggest that we Franciscans might explore that possibility.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Midsummer Feast

This coming Sunday the Church will take a break from ordinary time and celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. It was on the feast in 1963 that I received the Franciscan habit. A year and a day later on August 16, 1964 I professed my first vows as a Franciscan. I was 18 for the first event, 19 for the second. Much has changed in the world, the nation and the Church during that time and needless to say much has changed in my own life. An understanding of this great feast of Mary perhaps can shed some light on those changes.

For some it might be tempting to dismiss this feast as something tough to explain in light of modern science and our present understanding of the universe, but I think that a deeper look at the true meaning of the feast shows its timeliness, even though the theology around it may need to be reworked.

With the Church's teaching that Mary is assumed body and soul into heaven a statement is made that our salvation and redemption is not just spiritual. It offers the hope that all human beings share in the hope of resurrection, of body and soul, of the whole person. So why do we insist on praying for the salvation of souls and not the salvation of people? If salvation is only spiritual then the material world is devalued. Is it any wonder that we continue to pollute the environment? Is it any wonder that we can't seem to strike a healthy balance with our sense of sexuality, bouncing constantly over the years from puritanical prudishness to hedonism. And further, is it any wonder that so many Christians struggle to see the quest for justice as an integral part of the Christian mission. If we only have to save our souls why struggle against earthly injustice.

The Gospel text for the feast, from Luke 1, ought to guide us in understanding this feast. The author of the third gospel places on Mary's lips a canticle in which she praises God for what has been done to her in becoming the mother of the Redeemer, and then goes on to proclaim that in this child of hers God, "has cast down the mighty from their thrones, . . .has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty." That doesn't sound like a merely spiritual salvation to me.

It is interesting too that Pope Pius XII in proclaiming this doctrine in 1950 was trying in his own way to offer hope to a humanity so torn by the ravages of World War II.

And so dear readers of this blog please do reflect on the deeper meaning of this feast and ask for what kind of salvation do we strive. What did Jesus really come to bring about?