Month: October 2007

Fr. Christian Troll – Response to "A Common Word"

[This post is a continuation of “A Common Word” and Christian-Muslim Dialogue]

Reactions to 138 (and counting) Muslims’ open letter to the Pope, “A Common Word” are diverse, yet predictable. For instance, there are those whose initial reaction is to regard it with skepticism — such as that conveyed by The Pertinacious Papist from the combox:

Mona Charen, “About that Muslim Letter to the Pope” (Oct. 19, 2007), mentions the elephant in the room, which nobody seems to want to talk about. Having said that, I’m nonetheless glad for the dialogues taking place, though I think it’s silly when people lose sight of history as well of contemporary global realities amidst their ebullient giddiness over a few exchanged token gestures. Pray God they may become more than that.

It is worth noting that the website of the document itself — http://www.acommonword.com/ — in the interest of fostering genuine dialogue, does not shirk from including straightforward criticism of the document. Case in point, among the published responses is that of Christian W. Troll, SJ. (Readers might recall that Fr. Samir and Fr. Troll were among the participants in Pope Benedict’s conference on Islam at Castel Gandolfo). (Towards common ground between Christians and Muslims?).

Like Samir Khalil Samir, Fr. Troll recognizes the significant nature of the document and appreciates the intentions of its participants :

This letter from Muslim leaders and scholars undoubtedly deserves careful attention, not least on the part of Christians. For someone such as myself, who has been engaged for decades in religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims, it represents a remarkable attempt to reach a broad consensus among leading Muslim figures. This effort certainly has among its aims that Islam should be taken seriously as a distinct and clearly articulated voice at a global level. Reading the impressive list of signatories from all parts of the world and from various socio-religious contexts reminds one that there are no longer separate Islamic and Christian worlds in the sense of geographically distinct areas. Around the world today Christians and Muslims take part in the life of diverse and thoroughly plural societies and states, amongst which must be included societies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The scholars’ letter can be read as a tangible recognition of this fact. The new phase in dialogue of which it is a part can thus be seen as a positive outcome of globalization.

That said, Fr. Troll also offers some justifiable criticisms and expresses concerns shared by many a Christian reader.

Noting the authors’ frequent references to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, which Muslims have traditionally regarded as corrupt, Troll asks:

So one naturally asks whether the authors of this document are seeking to understand the biblical texts which they have cited in their own authentically biblical context, which includes both the immediate context of any particular text and also the wider context of the whole Bible. Or could it be that these biblical texts are only accepted and quoted by the Muslim scholars in so far as they correspond with the message of the Qur’an? Be that as it may, the Islamic doctrine of the intentional alteration of the Biblical text by Jews and Christians, which is extremely significant for Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue, is neither mentioned nor explicitly modified in this document.

Troll goes on to call for “a fuller consideration” of Muhammad’s approach to Jews and Christians and increasing tensions between the two traditions such as is reflected in Sura 9.

There is also the question of the specific meaning of the document’s title:

This phrase is drawn from a famous verse addressed to Jews and Christians (referred to here as ‘People of the Scripture’):

    ‘Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)’ (sura 3:64).

In the context of Muslim-Christian dialogue it is especially important to reflect on the requirement here that “none of us shall take others for lords beside God”. Much Muslim commentary, classical and modern, has seen in these words criticism of Christian belief in the divity of Jesus. Moreover, this interpretation appears to be in line with a number of other Qur’anic passages insisting that Jesus was a human messenger of God and in no sense divine (3:59, immediately before the text in question; 4:171; 5:75; 9:31; 19:34-5). It is therefore striking that the Open Letter cites a much less polemical approach taken by al-Tabari, an authoritative early commentator on the Qur’an, to the effect that Muslims, Christians and Jews should be free to each follow what God commanded them, and not have to prostrate before kings and the like“’ (p. 14). One might ask, however, what al-Tabari imagined God had commanded Christians to do – not, presumably, to worship Jesus?

Finally, on the non-negotiable convictions concerning Jesus Christ and the Trinity:

Of course, Muslims and Christians (together with Jews) agree that only God should be worshipped, but we disagree in our views of Jesus Christ, and this disagreement has profound implications for how God is understood and worshipped. For Christians Jesus is both fully human and fully divine; the most basic confession of Christian faith is ‚Jesus Christ is Lord’. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is also known by Christians as ‚the Lord, the giver of life’; God is thus known and worshipped as Father, Son and Spirit. So it is important for Muslims approaching dialogue with Christians to understand that this trinitarian monotheism is central to Christian belief and worship and is not an aspect of Christianity that can be negotiated away. In this regard there are some slight ambiguities in the Open Letter, moments at which a Christian might feel that it is suggesting that there are no fundamental differences between the theologies of the two faiths, or at least that these differences do not really matter. While the warm, inviting tone of the Open Letter’s appeal to Christians is enormously encouraging, it is to be hoped that this can be held together with an approach which takes utterly seriously the points at which Christians and Muslims differ and does not encourage a diplomatic evasion of these points for the sake of a dialogue which would suffer as a result.

Fr. Troll asks all the right questions, and it is only with due attention to such that genuine and substantial exchange between Chrisians and Muslims can develop.

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"A Common Word" and Christian-Muslim Dialogue

Muslims have conveyed in a letter to Pope Benedict what they describe as an “Unprecedented Muslim call for peace with Christians” (Reuters, Oct. 11, 2007)

More than 130 Muslim scholars from around the globe called on Thursday for peace and understanding between Islam and Christianity, saying “the very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake”.

In an unprecedented letter to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders, 138 Muslim scholars said finding common ground between the world’s biggest faiths was not simply a matter for polite dialogue between religious leaders.

“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants,” the scholars wrote.

“Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake,” they wrote, adding that Islam and Christianity already agreed that love of God and neighbor were the two most important commandments of their faiths.

The letter — “A Common Word Between Us and You” — was accompanied by an official website, which lists the signatories and recipients of the letter, along with a compilation of Jewish and Christian responses.

The full text of the letter is available for download in .pdf format in English, Arabic, French, Italian and German.

A Reluctance to Dialogue?

According to John Allen Jr., Islamic scholars involved in the propogation of the letter to the Pope have expressed disappointment at what they perceive to be a reluctance to dialogue on a more substantial level:

The charges came from Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a noted Iranian Muslim scholar at George Washington University, and John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Both men spoke at a Washington press conference yesterday to present a letter from 138 Muslim clerics and scholars to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders.

Hossein charged that the Vatican has rebuffed attempts to engage Muslims in theological conversation, instead concentrating on the diplomatic level.

“Muslims thought of choosing a small team of 4-5 people, leading Islamic thinkers, to be able to have a dialogue on the deepest theological issues with the Vatican, including the pope himself,” in the wake of controversies over Regensburg, Hossein said. “At least, that’s the condition I put down. Nothing came of that, there was no response from the Vatican.”

Esposito said he too was aware of a high-level attempt to open a new channel of dialogue with the Vatican by Muslim leaders after Regensburg that was rebuffed.

“Most of the response that has come from the Vatican, after the Islamic protest and all of these things, has been diplomatic, not theological,” Hossein said. “The very first meeting in the Vatican [after Regensburg] was with Muslim ambassadors. These are people appointed as ambassadors, many of whom know nothing at all about Islamic issues. What is being evaded all the time are those underlying differences in belief that then cause the political and social differences to manifest themselves on the surface. We have to be honest enough to tackle that, and not to hide it in the closet.” […]

“When you look at Regensburg, what you see is a diplomatic response,” Esposito said. “For that, you could have the Secretary of State or the Minister of Foreign Affairs respond. You do not see a theological response. Some people are beginning to wonder, is the position of the Vatican going to be that one deals with the Muslim world in terms of diplomacy, but does not deal with Islam and with Muslims in terms of theological dialogue?”

“I think that you do have a strong school of thought in the Vatican which does not seem to believe that there can be a theological dialogue with Islam. It’s based on what I regard as an old theological position. In those days, the whole approach was that because Islam says that the Prophet is the final prophet and has the final revelation, therefore there can’t be any theological dialogue. It seems to me we’ve moved beyond that, at least we ought to move beyond that. But this is one of the questions that has arisen, and it has not been answered during this papacy.”

The Catholic Response

From Asia News, Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, SJ provides his analysis of the letter, describing it as “a first positive step towards dialogue, which however needs to become more universal and more concrete. As Samir notes, this letter was put forth as an extension of the first letter, a reply to Benedict’s Regensburg Address, sent exactly one year ago. The same date was chosen for its publication (13th October 2007), which this year coincided with the end of Ramadan. That the signatories to the letter have arisen from 38 to 138, encompassing religious leaders and scholars; not only Sunni and Shiite but “smaller groups, sects and even diverging trends” — which, Samir hopes, “shows a concerted move towards a certain consensus.”

Fr. Samir’s analysis brings out much in the letter that those unfamiliar with Islam might overlook, and I recommend reading it in full. In his report on Catholic reactions to the letter, John Allen Jr. provides a helpful summary of Samir’s observations, among them:

  • The letter does not depend upon any particular view of the status of Muhammad, but instead focuses on God and neighbor;
  • The text uses a Christian vocabulary, signaling a clear desire for dialogue. For example, Samir writes, the term “neighbor” is not used in the Qur’an in anything other than a geographic sense. Likewise, the Qur’an does not refer to the “love” of God so much as “obedience” or “adoration”;
  • Samir underscores the importance of the letter’s fundamental argument, that love of God and neighbor represents the common core of the two faiths: “This is the real novelty, which has never before been said by the Islamic world,” he writes;
  • The letter takes for granted that the Christian Bible is the Word of God, something theoretically affirmed by the Qur’an but in practice often contested by Muslims. In particular, the authors cite St. Paul, even though many Muslims view Paul as a traitor who corrupted the original “Islamic” message of Jesus. (Samir notes that one popular anti-Christian work in the Muslim world is titled precisely, “Unmasking Paul!”);
  • The letter cites a Qur’anic verse to the effect that God could have commanded everyone to belong to one religion, but instead he has permitted diversity, so that followers of different creeds may “vie with one another in good works.” Samir notes that this is the penultimate verse in the Qur’an in chronological order, so that it cannot be understood as abrogated. He calls it “a beautiful choice for ending the letter”

(Samir also offers some criticisms as well — for instance, where the letter invites Christians to “consider Muslims not as being against them, but with them, on the condition that Christians do not declare war,” he reminds Muslims that problems in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan are a political issue involving the United States, not the “Christian West”:

Muslims tend to see the West as a Christian power, without ever realising the point to which the West has been secularised and far from Christian ethics. This line of thought strengthens the theory of a clash of cultures (or religions), right at a time when steps are being taken to fight such a theory!

Likewise, it is an open question as to how the Muslims will respond:

… considering that priests continue to be kidnapped, apostates persecuted, Christians oppressed? Up until now there has been no comment from the Islamic side. But I think that with time this document could create an opening and a greater convergence.

According to AsiaNews.it, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has promised a response to the letter:

“We shall certainly respond,” [Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran] said in an interview to Vatican Radio, “because it is a positive signal sent to Christians. As I have said before there are some new elements. For example, when they mention Jesus they quote the New Testament, not the Qur’an. The text itself is not polemical and contains many positive aspects.”

“There is a willingness to collaborate on peace through religion,” the prelate added. “The letter says that Muslims and Christians represent 55 per cent of the world’s population and this has great potential to contribute to peace in the world. The positive elements in this message must be taken up.”

Cardinal Tauran was interviewed recently by the French daily La Croix. He welcomed the Muslim letter with appreciation. Zeniw News reports:

Cardinal Tauran called the letter a “positive initiative, insofar as the text proposes cooperation based on common values: acknowledgement of one God, love of God for all mankind and the necessity to love one’s neighbor.”

“One aspect that struck me in a particular way is that, perhaps for the first time, the text signed by the Muslims presented Jesus of the Gospel with citations from the New Testament, and not from citations of the Koran,” he added.

The cardinal also praised the appeal as “an eloquent example of a dialogue among spiritualities.” He noted that the text was signed both by Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and “demonstrated that with good will and respectful dialogue, we can rise above prejudices.” […]

at the same time noting some impediments to fruitful dialogue:

The president of the dicastery said, however, that theological dialogue with Muslims would be difficult: “Muslims do not accept that one can question the Quran, because it was written, they say, by dictation from God. With such an absolute interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of faith.”

(Cardinal Praises Muslims for “Eloquent” Letter: Says Good Will Can Help to Overcome Prejudices Zenit News October 18, 2007).

Lastly, in an interview with Il Foglio, Cardinal Scola expressed high hopes:

[W]hat is of note is the number and quality of those who have signed the document. This is not only a media event, because consensus is for Islam a source of theology and law. . . . even if those who have signed avoided a juridical formulation to the document, it is still true that no text produced by the most extremist salafi groups has ever been able to claim a consensus equal to that witnessed by the 138 signatures at the bottom of the open letter.”

while reminding the reader of its preliminary nature:

“One cannot ask of this document more than it can give. It is only the prelude to a theological dialogue, which, in an atmosphere of greater reciprocal esteem, proposes to investigate the contents of the two pillars (love of the one God and love of neighbour) in the two religious traditions.”

Some Personal Thoughts

Reading the letter, I suppose it depends on how the reader receives the following:

. . . as Muslims, and in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we ask Christians to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions … that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God … (Aal ‘Imran, 3:64).

Let this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us, for our common ground is that on which hangs all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40).

Naturally Muslims and Christians will derive different meaning from the Scriptures and the sayings of Jesus. After all, Jesus’ citation of the Shema (“the LORD our God, the LORD is one”) and admonition to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and
with all your strength” — will undoubtedly be read and understood by Jews and Muslims in a different light than our own.

According to the London Times (October 11, 2007):

The first reaction to the letter, from the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, a leading Anglican expert on Islam, appeared to be critical.

Dr Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan, welcomed the Muslim scholars’ deisire for a dialogue, but said that the appeal was based on the Muslim belief in the oneness of God.

“What I would say to that is that Christians uphold belief in one God vigorously but our understanding of the oneness of God is not the Muslim understanding,” he told The Times. “We believe in God as source from whom everything is brought into being. Jesus is God’s word and presence for us but is also human.”

He added: “One partner cannot dictate the terms on which dialogue must be conducted. This document seems to be on the verge of doing that.”

So, is this document to be understood as a call to conversion and an embrace of Islam? (The alternative being, what, the sword?)

Or, is this a call to move past diplomatic niceties and engage in serious interreligious dialogue, to increase and deepend our knowledge of each other and our religious convictions — and yet, in spite of our fundamental theological disagreements, to:

“. . . let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.

It is notable that the document concludes with a recognition — a theological affirmation — of religious pluralism:

And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which God hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a law and a way. Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (Al- Ma’idah, 5:48)

Further Reactions to “A Common Word”

Muslim Responses to Benedict’s Regensburg Address

Further sources in Christian-Muslim Dialogue

  • Bishops endorse Christian-Muslim dialogue, provide guidelines for improvement Catholic News Agency. October 15, 2007:

    An association of various national bishops’ conferences in western Africa has issued a communiqué encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue as “the only way that we can truly cultivate respect for each other. […]

    The letter states that Muslims and Christians share similar “fundamental religious values,” which include belief in the uniqueness of God, the need for prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage. The bishops cited similar sexual morality as a ground for dialogue, since both faiths share belief in the dignity of the family and both condemn promiscuity, homosexuality, prostitution, and abortion.

    St. Francis and Christian-Muslim Relations Zenit interview with Lawrence Cunningham. March 29, 2006.

  • “Christian and Muslim Perspectives on Interreligious Dialogue” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s talk to the Muslim Council of Wales on June 9 at the University of Cardiff.
  • Christian Muslim Dialogue – A Survey of Recent Developments, by Msgr. Michael L. Fitzgerald, M.Afr. April 10, 2000. A survey of recent developments between Christians and Muslims in the last 30 years.
  • “Deeper Ecumenism”: An Approach to Inter-Spiritual Dialogue, by Stratford Caldecott. Oasis :

    In order to clarify the approach of the new pontiff to this dialogue between religions, there are at least two types of wider ecumenism which need to be distinguished from each other: let us call them “deep” and “shallow”. Deep ecumenism is an engagement with what might be termed “difference in identity”. In this case the believer approaches another religion in full fidelity to his own distinct religious identity, but with the willingness to seek a truth that transcends us all, aspects of which may be revealed in the other. Shallow ecumenism, by contrast, glosses over difference for the sake of superficial or pragmatic friendliness. Instead of difference in identity, it seeks diversity in equality. Though better than nothing, it is an approach which tends to bracket the real differences between self and other (perhaps out of a fear of facing them) along with the question of ultimate truth. At its extreme, this becomes a “least common denominator” ecumenism that concentrates only on what is common and discards all that distinguishes Christianity from other religions.

  • Christian-Muslim Relations in the 21st Century by Cardinal Francis Arinze. Talk given at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in Georgetown University, Washington D.C., 5 June 1997.
  • The Challenges in Christian-Muslim Dialogue Bulletin 44, May 1992: – Fr. Elilas Mallon offers some food for thought concerning an over-emphasis on Muslims as an ally in the “culture war”:

    As religions which are accustomed to being culturally and even politically dominant, Islam and Catholicism can look upon the Catholic–Muslim dialogue as a type of alliance against a third party. Whether that third party be atheism, communism, secular humanism, etc., the purpose of the dialogue becomes strategic. The dialogue becomes a subtle or perhaps not so subtle “you and me against them”. In a “you and me against them” situation, it is not important that I know who you are or that you know who I am. What is important is that both of us know whom we are against. This attitude, even in its subtlest forms, is fatal to interreligious dialogue as envisioned in all the documents published by the Roman Catholic Church and in the writings of Muslim intellectuals such as Mohammed Talbi, Mohammed Arkoun and others, as well as the work done by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue …

    and the importance of understanding Islamic jurisprudence:

    A very important and long-term challenge to the Catholic–Muslim dialogue can be found in the attempt to understand each other’s theological methodologies. Although the term sounds particularly, if not peculiarly, Western, its import should not be overlooked. Through the centuries both Roman Catholicism and Islam have developed highly sophisticated methods of handling religious questions and of articulating their respective faiths. Disciplines such as exegesis, philosophy, moral reasoning and jurisprudence have enjoyed long histories in both traditions. It would be disastrous, however, to think that both traditions use and understand these disciplines in the same way. Islamic disciplines such as fiqh, kalam and tafsir are highly developed sciences with their own internal laws and logic, and which may or may not correspond without remainder to Roman Catholic Jurisprudence, theology and exegesis. Although this may seem somewhat academic, it has important consequences for the catholic Muslim dialogue, especially in the area of morality.

    It has been the case recently that Roman Catholics and Muslims find themselves on the same “side” in public discussions on matters of sexuality. Given a particular moral question, Roman Catholics and Muslims often arrive at similar or identical conclusions. It is mistaken, however, to believe that both Catholics and Muslims have arrived at the conclusion in the same way. It is of the utmost importance that both Catholics and Muslims understand how the other tradition theologizes. If there is not a thorough understanding of how the dialogue partner arrives at religious/moral conclusions, the stage is set for disillusion and a sense of betrayal. Without an understanding of how the dialogue partner theologizes, Catholics and Muslims become perplexed when, after having arrived at the same conclusion regarding one question their different methodologies lead them to radically different conclusions on other questions. Abortion, birth control, divorce, capital punishment and war are cases in point.

Much Ado about "Bella"

Barbara Nicolosi wonders what the fuss is all about with Bella:

I have been getting loads of email asking (and sometimes demanding!) my opinion of the indie project Bella that opens (frantically) this weekend in several cities. I have thus refrained from making an official comment about the project because it seemed to me there was no upside. There has been an aggressive and, frankly, stupefying marketing blitz in the Catholic, pro-life universe for the film, and the folks behind the film have recruited an impressive number of good-willed, Catholic and pro-life notables to give the film a thumbs-up. I can’t figure out where the momentum is coming from – as the film itself is not that good – except that everybody in Christendom is eager to support something in the culture instead of always saying “Bleck.” (Which Christians really wouldn’t have to always be saying if we paid attention better to the good work that is out there to be seen…but that’s another post.)

So, we have ourselves a real-live, mind-numbing bandwagon going here to get behind Bella if you love Jesus and care about the babies! I have been contacted three separate times in the last two months trying to get me to say something in support of the film, and my response was, “Why do you need me? You have nearly the entire orthodox Catholic world telling you it’s the greatest Catholic, pro-life film ever made?” A producer on the film subsequently left a message on my voicemail noting that my refusal to support the film had its source “in the demonic.” Really? “Demonic”? It couldn’t just be that I found the film plodding, easy, sloppy and uneven? In short, I don’t think Bella is great. It’s not really “Catholic” (in the sense of overt spirituality). And it really isn’t pro-life (in the usual sense of that term).

I can sympathize with her discomfort. I haven’t seen the film, but when something is hyped to this degree it tends to put me off as well.

Circumstances being what they are I don’t get to see movies in the theater that often, and in the offchance I do make it I’d probably take Barb’s recommendation and see The Assassination of Jesse James.

(Thomas Peters and Stephen Greydanus beg to differ).

Pope Benedict on Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue

On October 19, 2007, Benedict received in audience delegates from the Mennonite World Congress. Zenit News Service reports:

Since it is Christ himself who calls us to seek Christian unity, it is entirely right and fitting that Mennonites and Catholics have entered into dialogue in order to understand the reasons for the conflict that arose between us in the sixteenth century. To understand is to take the first step towards healing. I know that the report of that dialogue, published in 2003 and currently being studied in several countries, has placed special emphasis on healing of memories.

Mennonites are well known for their strong Christian witness to peace in the name of the Gospel, and here, despite centuries of division, the dialogue report “Called Together to be Peacemakers” has shown that we hold many convictions in common. We both emphasize that our work for peace is rooted in Jesus Christ “who is our peace, who has made us both one… making peace that he might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross (Eph 2:14-16)” (Report No. 174). We both understand that “reconciliation, nonviolence, and active peacemaking belong to the heart of the Gospel (cf. Mt 5:9; Rom 12:14-21; Eph 6:15)” (No. 179). Our continuing search for the unity of the Lord’s disciples is of the utmost importance. Our witness will remain impaired as long as the world sees our divisions. Above all, what impels us to seek Christian unity is our Lord’s prayer to the Father “that they may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21).

Here is the text of Benedict’s greeting to the Mennonite representatives.

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"Pray Without Ceasing"

Good piece on constant prayer from Papal Household preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa, commenting on this Sunday’s gospel:

The West formulated the principle of constant prayer in a more flexible way so that it could also be proposed to those who do not lead a monastic life. St. Augustine teaches that the essence of prayer is desire. If the desire for God is constant, so also is prayer, but if there is no interior desire, then you can howl as much as you want — to God you are mute.

Now, this secret desire for God, a work of memory, of need for the infinite, of nostalgia for God, can remain alive, even when one has other things to do: “Praying for a long time is not the same thing as kneeling or folding your hands for a long time. In consists rather in awakening a constant and devout impulse of the heart toward him whom we invoke.”

Jesus himself gave us the example of unceasing prayer. Of him, it is said that he prayed during the day, in the evening, early in the morning, and sometimes he passed the whole night in prayer. Prayer was the connecting thread of his whole life.

But Christ’s example tells us something else important. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we can pray always, make prayer a kind of respiration of the soul in the midst of daily activity, if we do not set aside fixed times for prayer, when we are free from every other preoccupation.

On that note, from Teresa Polk (Blog by the Sea), “a collection of thoughts on how to pray silently in a noisy church.”

Torture and Religious Liberty

Torture and religious liberty, by Lawrence Swaim InFocus (Via Bill Cork):

Four former detainees at Guantanamo — Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal al-Harith — are litigating in Rasul vs. Rumsfeld to hold government officials accountable for torture they endured while being held there. (All were found innocent of terrorist activity and released in 2004.) Represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the four British citizens first cited violations of the U.S. Constitution and international law, but these were thrown out by the district court because the alleged misconduct (beatings, painful shackling, interrogation at gunpoint, use of dogs, extreme temperatures and sleep deprivation) was seen as occurring during the “course of war.” But allegations of deliberate attacks on religion were not so easily ignored and are currently being considered by an appeals court in Washington, D.C.

The former Gitmo detainees allege they were forced to shave their beards, were systematically interrupted while praying, denied the Qu’ran and prayer mats, made to pray with exposed genitals and forced to watch as the Qu’ran was thrown into a toilet bucket. Obviously, the only reason for such abuse would be to crush inmates psychologically by insulting their religion. Therefore it could, if proven, violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which seeks to protect religious expression.

Archbishop Neiderauer and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Some kind of scandal in Catholic San Francisco last week (what else is new?) involving Archbishop Neiderauer and Most Holy Redeemer Parish, “a Christian Community in the Roman Catholic tradition” which “prides itself in being an inclusive Catholic community — embracing all people of good faith … regardless of their background, gender, race, social status or sexual orientation.”

Here’s a timeline, with credit to the excellent coverage and Thomas Peters (American Papist):

  • The head of the San Francisco Archdiocese, Archbishop Neiderauer, was caught on video dispensing communion to two cross-dressing “queer nuns” at a gay-friendly parish [video footage]. The “sisters” — “Sister Delta Goodhand” and “Sister Edith Myflesh” (note the mockery in the name itself) — belong to the organization Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; a “leading edge order of Queer Nuns defining San Francisco Values since 1979.”
  • The Catholic blogosphere raises hell (justifiably so). Archbishop initially dismisses the criticisms in response to LifeSiteNews.com:

    “At Most Holy Redeemer Church Oct. 7, I noticed no protest, no demonstration, no disruption of the Sunday Eucharist,” said Archbishop Nierderauer. “The congregation was devout and the liturgy was celebrated with reverence. Toward the end of the Communion line two strangely dressed persons came to receive Communion. I did not see any mock religious garb. As I recall, one of them wore a large flowered hat or garland.”

    His accounting of events seem rather dubious and contrary to what occurred in the video.

  • Bishop issues public apology in Catholic San Francisco:

    After the event, I realized that they were members of this particular organization and that giving them Holy Communion had been a mistake.

    I apologize to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and to Catholics at large for doing so.

    The manner of dress and public comportment of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is deeply offensive to women religious and to the witness of holiness and Christian service that women religious have offered to the Church and to the world for centuries. The citizens of San Francisco have ample reason to be grateful to women religious for their unfailing support of those most in need, and to be deeply offended when that service is belittled so outrageously and offensively.

    Someone who dresses in a mock religious habit to attend Mass does so to make a point. If people dress in a manner clearly intended to mock what we hold sacred, they place themselves in an objective situation in which it is not appropriate for them to receive Holy Communion, much less for a minister of the Church to give the Sacrament to them.

    Therefore I conclude that the presence of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the Mass on October 7th was intended as a provocative gesture. In that moment I failed to recognize it as such, and for that, as I have said, I must apologize.

  • On the same day that the Archbishop publishes his letter denouncing the religious mockery of “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” the bulletin of Most Holy Redeemer Parish published an email from “Delta Goodhand,” one of the very same blasphemous “Sisters” videotaped receiving communion from Archbishop Niederauer:

    Just a quick note to recognize the wonderful Mass yesterday at your Church to welcome Archbishop Niederauer. Your entire congregation was so welcoming and it was great to be able to participate in the Mass. The service was absolutely beautiful and I know that I personally walked away very inspired by both the Archbishop’s message and the angelic voices of your choir ringing in my ears! […] You are a wonderfully inclusive Church!

    (LifeSiteNews reports that the letter was later removed from the online edition of the parish’s bulletin at the Archbishop’s insistence).

  • Catholic News Service — the publishing organ of the USCCB: The Pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Parish: Reaction to archbishop giving Communion to ‘nuns’ overblown:

    “It is most unfortunate this incident has clouded the fact the archbishop came to meet with his people and celebrate a beautiful and reverent Mass together — and that is what really happened,” said Father Stephen Meriwether, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Parish.

    “This incident has been blown way out of proportion,” he told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper. […]

    To David Differding, co-chair of the parish liturgy council and master of ceremonies at the Oct. 7 liturgy, the critics “can’t get over the fact that God created gay people. That’s my impression. They want to put up every roadblock they can.”

    Jesuit Father Donal Godfrey, one of the Mass concelebrants, said the way the two men were dressed was “disrespectful to religious sisters,” but he said he felt “it probably wasn’t their intention (to offend.) They knelt in all the right places. They stood in all the right places. Except for the way they were dressed, they weren’t doing anything disrespectful.” […]

    Asked about reaction he had received, Archbishop Niederauer expressed concern about the impact of Web logs, or blogs.

    “The blogosphere is a kind of dangerous, endless recess in a global schoolyard,” he said, “where the bullies with the biggest bullhorns can shout whatever they want.”

  • Wrapping up: The bishop on the “bullies” of the blogosphere, by Carl Olson (Ignatius Insight):

    The message, apparently: beware of those bullying bloggers, but don’t be overly concerned about homosexual activists, cross-dressing “sisters,” and pro-gay parishes that ignore and/or mock Church teaching while supporting “gay pride” parades filled with nudity and depravity. Forget the bullies, where are the teachers and schoolyard monitors?

Related:

Apologizing San Francisco Archbishop Has History of “mistakes” Related to Homosexuality, by John-Henry Westen. LifeSiteNews. Oct. 12, 2007.