Thursday, August 25, 2011
Unlike Christians, who believe that Jesus was the Son of God and part of the Trinity, Muslims believe that the Holy Prophet Mohammad was a man and that he followed Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus as the last of the great prophets to receive divine revelation. A Muslim believes in the revelation of God through the Quran that was given to Mohammed.
Mohammad was born in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, in the year 570. As an adult, he worked as a traveling merchant, which put him in contact with Christians and Jews, who worshiped one God. The Arabians at that time worshiped many gods, but Mohammad was attracted to this notion of one God. When he was 40 years old, he had a mystical experience, receiving the first in a series of revelations that lasted over 23 years. During those revelations, the Quran, God’s Word, was revealed to Mohammad. It contains 114 chapters or suras, which cover topics from reverence for Allah – God – to practical ways of living.
The Five Pillars of Islam are five basic acts which are a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith. They are: the creed, or profession of faith that Allah is the one God and Mohammad His prophet; prayer, which is said up to 5 times a day; fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; almsgiving, a sharing of earthly prosperity; and lastly, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
When Mohammad died suddenly at age 62, Islam – which by then had spread throughout the Middle East – was left in a state of disarray. There was a struggle between those who followed Mohammad’s son-in-law Ali – they are the sect known as the Shiites – and those who wanted another man, Abu Bakr, to be the leader; they became the Sunnis.
When it comes to Catholics and their relationship with Muslims, we once again look to the Church document Nostra Aetate, which says: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God." That said, we make an effort to set aside the misunderstandings we may have of each other, especially the harmful stereotypes we may have of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Instead, we are called to invest our time and energy in learning about the deep connections of our faiths, and to engage in fruitful, God-filled dialogue.
Friday, August 19, 2011
When it comes to the Catholic Church’s relationship with other religions, the message is clear. Nostra Aetate, a Vatican II document that addresses this, says, "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and life, those rules and teachings which …often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.”
The places of origin of the world religions fall neatly into two geographical areas, the Near, or Middle, East and the Far East. Shared beliefs among the three Near Eastern or Western world religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – make sense because both Christianity and Islam spring from Judaism and, therefore, share a similar worldview and concept of God. These religions are monotheistic, a word which means “one God.” Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all trust in that single all-powerful, all-knowing divine being who is entirely responsible for creation, yet exists apart from it. This is in contrast to the Greek or Roman gods, like Venus and Apollo, who were physical beings who lived on earth. And while these Olympian gods toyed with people for their own amusement, the Western faith traditions all believe that human beings, made in the image of the Creator, can and should enter into a relationship with God.
As Catholic Christians, we know a little more about Judaism because we hear a reading from the Old Testament every Sunday.
A fundamental difference between Jews and Christians is that Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah spoken about in the Hebrew Scriptures. Other differences are found in what is celebrated and when. For example, while Christians attend services or Mass on Sunday, Jews may attend a Friday evening service, but primarily celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, with home rituals.
Major Christian holidays reflect important times in Jesus' life, like Christmas and Easter. Jewish holidays, on the other hand, commemorate significant historical events and agricultural observances. This includes Passover, which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, and the Festival of First Fruits, which recalls receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The Church, says Nostra Aetate, recalls what St. Paul said about Jews: " ‘theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh,’ the Son of the Virgin Mary.” The Church also reminds us that “the Apostles … as well as most of the early disciples … sprang from the Jewish people.” And so we acknowledge our differences and celebrate our shared beliefs and history in our relationship with our Jewish neighbors.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
When non-Catholic friends and co-workers know that you are Catholic, they often ask frank questions like “Why do Catholics worship Mary?” or “Why do you have idols in your church?” Your response is probably something like, “We Catholics don't do that - it would be completely against our beliefs!”
According to the Vatican, in 2009, there were almost 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. You would think that with so many of us, misunderstandings would be minimal. Apparently not. But those experiences of having our own religion misunderstood should help us to realize that we have a responsibility to be informed about other religions in the world. After all, we don’t want to make those same mistakes.
When we look at various world religions, we learn that, first of all, we have much in common. Secondly, if we ever hope to see an end to the world's religious conflicts, we must understand and respect the beliefs and practices of others.
For guidance, we look to the teachings of the Church, especially Vatican II. Almost 50 years later, we're still trying to absorb it all. While some major writings have received a lot of attention, some of the shorter documents remain virtually unknown. One of them was (and is) a milestone in Catholic thought. Its title is not very exciting: The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, also known by its Latin title, Nostra Aetate.
Nostra Aetate says that the Church, “In her task of promoting unity and love among men … considers above all … what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.” Nostra Aetate recognizes that people come to various religions for answers: Who are we? What is the meaning of our life? Why is there suffering? How do we find true happiness? What happens after death? Where did we come from, and where we are going?
The document goes on to say that, from ancient times until today, various peoples have perceived that there is a “hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history.” For some peoples, this has led to the recognition of a Supreme Being, and filled their lives with a profound religious sense.
While Pope John XXIII wanted to have the Council make a strong statement about the positive nature of Judaism and Christianity's historical ties, the final document came to include other non-Christian traditions as well. We will spend the next two weeks looking at some of the world religions, what we have in common, and what all Catholics should know about them.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Seven months ago, on the first Sunday in January, our 3 -Minute Catechesis gave you a glimpse at some Church history and a hint of changes coming. It talked about how the Mass has been changing, gradually, over the last 45 years. In the late 1960s, these changes included the priest facing the congregation during Mass, and lay people taking more meaningful roles in liturgy. These and other changes were implemented because the Church is the people, and we are called to "full, conscious and active participation" in the Church's liturgical life. To that end, more changes are coming soon, this time to the language of the Mass.
Let’s be honest: many of us don’t really like change. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Change can be hard. Your grandparents may have told you that what they liked most about being Catholic was that Mass was always the same, no matter where you went. Back in the day, Mass was in Latin everywhere in the world. And then came Vatican II in the 1960s and changes were made to that Latin Mass. It was then that Catholics began to hear the liturgy in the vernacular, the language of the people.
Within five years of its introduction, most Catholics preferred the liturgy in a language they understood. That doesn’t mean the transition was without bumps, of course, but considering that few Catholics believed the Mass could change at all, the switch was an astonishing success.
English-speaking Catholics the world over are preparing for another change, one that will begin on the first Sunday of Advent, just 4 months from now. The Mass itself is not changing, but some of the words of the Mass are changing. Why? Because the new words are a closer translation to the original Latin Mass in language and meaning. The new translation will allow us to easily connect not only to the early Church but to Scripture, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
There will be opportunities through the bulletin, newsletter, 3-Minute Catechesis, and Sunday morning workshops to learn about the new translation and to practice the unfamiliar words, phrases, and sung responses and prayers. It cannot be stressed enough that while our beliefs are unchanging, the way we express those beliefs can and will change over time. Price Pritchett, a businessman and author of a book on work habits, wrote, “Change always comes bearing gifts. It's up to you to find them.” When it comes to the New Roman Missal, we’ll be looking for those gifts together.