Happy holidays!

To all of my fellow Catholics, Happy Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola!

“Every good Christian ought to be more disposed to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it.” –St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits

To all of my Muslim friends, Ramadan Karim!

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” –Rumi, Muslim Sufi mystic

Muslim mystic and poet, Rumi

Once again, I thank the Jesuits and the Muslim community, who have taught me so much about loving my neighbor.

(Coming soon: a post on the Oslo terror attack and its implications)

One year left: Upcoming changes in the Catholic Mass

As Catholics, we’ve really got to enjoy the next year.  We’ve got to appreciate the fact that we can effortlessly recite the congregational responses in Mass, and sing the Holy, Holy and Lamb of God without following the words or musical notes.

Advent wreath in Georgetown's Dahlgren Chapel

Because starting on the first Sunday of Advent next year, we won’t be able to do that.  When the new Church year begins on November 27, 2011, the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal—the guide that tells the priest and the congregation what to say during Mass—will be implemented.

Announced by Pope John Paul II in 2000, this change will be felt worldwide.  With the publication of a new edition of the Latin missal, missals in every language are being retranslated to better adhere to the Latin version.

When reading through the new Order of Mass, the changes at once seem insignificant and massive.  Most of the wording is very similar to the current version.  But the small changes in syntax, rhythm, tone, and imagery feel considerable for those of us who have recited these words for years and attached great spiritual importance to them.  Being able to recite the responses in Mass without effort is a kind of comfort, and a disruption of that habit will be difficult to deal with at first.

Sample changes in the People's Part. Click for the full changes.

The changes in the music will probably be saddest for me.  I had wanted to have certain versions (the Mass of Creation) of the Gloria and Sanctus played at my wedding, and now I’m not sure that can happen.

Thankfully, the words of the Our Father have been left unchanged, which in my mind is most important.

While I’m not completely happy with the decision to change the missal, I have to remember back to my middle school and high school years, when I complained about the fact that the wording in Mass was always the same.  I realized then that because the responses were unchanging, I didn’t think critically about the words I was actually saying.  Recitation became a habit that didn’t require critical thinking.   While today I don’t have as many issues with the unchanging wording, my middle school perspective can be helpful during this time of transition.

As difficult as the implementation of the new missal may be, we must recognize the positive effects it may have.  We will have an opportunity to critically examine the words we are saying, and be forced to work hard to stay engaged during Mass, rather than passively participate like we can now.  And the whole purpose of these changes in the first place was to increase our awareness of God in Mass and in prayer.

Whether or not we are frustrated, optimistic, or unsure about the new missal, recalling the Serenity Prayer seems like a good way to move forward:

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
-Reinhold Niebuhr

Information about the new missal

-Background explanations from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops

-FAQs

-Sample texts- comparing the current and new wording

What are your thoughts about the changing missal?

A sacrificial feast

Written  November 2010.

Today, Muslims are celebrating Eid al-Adha, the holiest holiday in the Islamic calendar. It is similar to Christians’ Easter celebrations, in that it is the most important holiday of the year, yet the worldwide festivities and preparations are less extensive than those during the month of Ramadan (which is similar to Christmastime in terms of the scope of celebration.) However, in Mecca, where over two million Muslims have traveled on pilgrimage, or hajj, the celebrations and rituals could not be grander, as I expect is also true in Jerusalem during Easter.

Muslims circle the Holy Kaba in Mecca
Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem during Easter

Eid al-Adha celebrates the sacrifice Abraham (Ibrahim) was willing to make when God asked him to slaughter his son (Ismaeel/Ishmael).  The story is quite similar to the Christian one, but with notable changes that speak to the differences between the two faiths.  In the Bible, the story focuses solely on Abraham, and his willingness to give up his son in order to serve God.  We never hear from Isaac, who, at least in my mind, is likely scared and confused.  In the Islamic story, the focus too is on Ibrahim, but we also hear from Ismaeel, who is about to be killed.  Understanding what his father is about to do, Ishmael welcomes the action, telling his father to kill him if that is God’s will.  Luckily, in the end, both boys survive thanks to a ram caught in the bushes sent by God, who is pleased by his followers’ faithfulness.

Depiction of Christian story

When I first heard the Islamic version of the story, I was struck by the emphasis on Ismaeel and his willingness to submit to the will of God.  His faithful trust in God’s plan is emblematic of the attitude that I’ve witnessed in so many of my Muslim friends and teachers.  So often I hear the phrase, “In ‘sha Allah” muttered by my friends in the place where Christians might say, “hopefully.”  The Arabic phrase translates to “God willing,” and is used when discussing anything that may happen in the future.  My friends work hard to detach themselves from their own wishes and instead try to accept whatever God places in their way.  This core quality is even expressed in the name “Islam,” which means “submission to God,” and “Muslim,” literally means “the one who submits.”

A few weeks ago, I participated in the Muslim Students Association annual Fast-a-thon, an event in which Georgetown students fasted in solidarity with their Muslim friends and classmates in order to raise money and awareness for a cause.  We fasted from sunrise to sunset, without food or water, as if it were the month of Ramadan (which took place earlier in the year.)  At the iftaar meal at the end of the day, I was fortunate enough to give a reflection on fasting and sacrifice in Islam.  The following is what shared:

Hi, my name is Jordan Denari.  I’m a member of the Muslim Students Association; I live in the Muslim Interest Living Community on campus; and I’m a Catholic.  A lot of people have asked me if I’m converting to Islam, which is not surprising given my involvement.  But no, I’m not converting.

However, learning about Islam here on campus has been crucial to my religious growth and has in many ways brought me back to my Catholicism.  Through my attendance at and participation in MSA events, I’ve seen the beauty in Islam, which helped me to find the beauty in my own faith, which I had been unable to see for a long time.

Last year’s Fast-a-thon is really where all of that learning began.  Two of the biggest things I noticed about fasting in Islam—as I hope you’ve also noticed—are the emphases on sacrifice and community.  Fasting from food, drink, and negative thoughts all day for a month is clearly a sacrifice, especially when compared to the less intense forms of fasting I’m familiar with in Catholicism.  To my surprise, I quickly realized that Muslims were excited to fast, not only because their sacrifice was giving glory to God, but also because of the sense of community at the iftaar dinners, where Muslims gather together every night to celebrate their daily sacrifices.

I was struck by the power of these themes, and wondered why I wasn’t seeing them in my own faith.  That encouraged me to take a closer look at Catholicism and find those themes—sacrifice and community—that are so prevalent in Islam.  Through a lot of exploration last year, I found those things, but it was only while reflecting for this talk that I was able to see how similarly these themes intersect in Catholicism as they do in Islam.

That intersection is found in the Eucharist, the communion meal that occurs during Mass, in which we commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice.  As Catholics, we too are called to sacrifice as Jesus did by serving the marginalized in our communities in order to bring God’s goodness into the world.  Every week, when we gather as a community for the Eucharist, we are celebrating the sacrifices we live out every day in our own way.  We may not be sacrificing food or water, but we are sacrificing our own time, our own goals, to follow the will of God.  In that way, the Eucharist is very much like the iftaar meal we are sharing in tonight.  At both meals we join in community to celebrate the sacrifices we make for God.

Finding this intersection point in the Eucharist makes the communion ritual that much more meaningful for me.

Last year’s Fast-a-thon was for me the unconscious beginning of a process of religious learning here at Georgetown.  I hope all of you make this meal a conscious start to your own growth.  I encourage you, whether you adhere to a specific faith or not, whether you believe in God or not, to take advantage of the opportunities you have here to learn from people of other faiths.  It not only fosters inter-religious and cultural understanding, but it also has the potential to increase your understanding of yourself and God.

I want to thank the Muslim community on campus for its support and for bringing us here tonight.  And especially, for helping me become a better Catholic.”

While Muslims today are slaughtering animals in remembrance of Abraham and Ishmael’s sacrifice, I am reminded of the Church’s own ritual slaughtering—the Eucharist—in which Jesus is offered up as a sacrificial animal, so that we, like Isaac and Ishmael, can be spared.  Unlike my Muslim brothers and sisters, I don’t have to wait another year to engage in my faith’s sacrificial ritual.  Fortunately, I just have to wait until Sunday.

Want to read and hear the Qur’anic passage from which the Ibrahim and Ishmael story comes? Qur’an, Chapter 37 (As-Saffaat), Verse 103

Want to learn more about Eid al-Adha and see pictures from the Hajj in Mecca?

 

 

Click here to see photos from the Washington Post.

 

 

Summary of the holy day

Al-Jazeera Special Report: Hajj 2010

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Also, today is the 21st anniversary of the murder of 6 Jesuits at the University of Central America in San Salvador.  This weekend at the Teach-In we celebrated their lives and their sacrifice.

“Revealing Ramadan” & “Choosing to be Catholic” preview

To accompany Ramadan, the holiest month is Islam which started this week, Speaking of Faith re-released their program, Revealing Ramadan.

While I’m not Muslim, I see Ramadan as a time to learn more about Islam and how it is practiced in the U.S. and around the world.  I listened to this program last year during Ramadan and it greatly helped my understanding of the spirit behind this season and this faith.  I hope it helps you too.

Nick and I after serving at a Mass over which our great-uncle, John, presided.

In the next several days, I’ll be posting a series of excerpts called “Choosing to be Catholic” about my experiences being Catholic.  I have been writing this essay for most of the summer, but it seems appropriate that it will be finished during Ramadan.  In addition to learning more about Islam, I am trying to look at and further understand my own faith.  As is commonly said, only when you know yourself can you begin to know others.

A Catholic priest’s defense of Islam in Europe

In his open letter to Dutch MP Geert Wilders, UK Catholic priest Frank Julian Gelli criticizes the MP’s Islamophobic statements.  As a fellow Catholic, I am encouraged by Fr. Frank’s remarks, and I hope more Catholics in Europe and the US come to share his view. Thanks to Saladin128 for the link.