Our Diocese of Knoxville 25th Anniversary Eucharistic Congress set for September 13th and 14th will feature a line up of speakers that some people, including many outside of the diocese, are calling improbable. We will have two cardinals present and sharing their thoughts, Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia, and the “featured speaker” of the weekend, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York. We’re all looking forward to hearing Cardinal Dolan (I know I am), but the two other speakers in the “adult” section (as opposed to the youth speakers, who are also incredible) are also people who could be the headliners themselves at anyone’s Eucharistic Congress or any other conference. The first is Father Robert Barron, who you might know from his television series Catholicism. The second is someone who has had an impact on the spiritual lives of many converts, myself included, Dr. Scott Hahn.
Listening to Dr. Hahn’s tapes or watching his videos or his programs on EWTN is par for the course for me. I still find his spiritual insight extremely rich and his ability to impart his depth of theological knowledge in a pastoral way that almost any interested person can understand is a very special gift. His famous conversion story was presented to me by a priest friend, Father John Putka, SM as I was on my own journey to the Church in the late 90’s and as it has for many others, it had a profound impact on me, since Dr. Hahn had many of the same common objections to Catholicism that I had, even though unlike him, I did not come from a Calvinist tradition. You can imagine my glee, then, when I discovered in the mail a couple of weeks ago that my wife had sent to Lighthouse Catholic Media for a new-to-me CD from Dr. Hahn. This recording, however, was unlike anything I had ever heard from him before.
It is called Abba or Allah, and it is Dr. Hahn’s attempt to explain to the average Catholic the difference between our faith and that of Islam in light of what he says he believes is one of the biggest threats to Christianity in the third millennium: militant Islam. This is an uncomfortable topic for some Catholics, especially since we don’t want to have a bad relationship with friends or neighbors who might be Muslim. This was underscored a few weeks ago when the aforementioned Cardinal Dolan made a controversial visit to a mosque. It might surprise some people to learn that I had absolutely no problem with Cardinal Dolan visiting a mosque, Pope Emeritus Benedict also visited a mosque, it must be recalled. Visiting someone’s place of worship in a spirit of goodwill is a far cry from saying “I embrace your theology.” I have visited many other churches in a spirit of goodwill and Christian charity, but no one who really knows me can mistake me for anything other than a Catholic.
I also agree with Dr. Hahn’s strong assessment of the nature of threat that militant Islam poses to Christianity and Christendom in our age. I firmly believe that, next to secularism, militant Islam poses the single biggest challenge to the faith, and I have believed this for a number of years. It should further be stressed that when I use the term “militant Islam” I am not just referring to the jihadist terrorist sorts one sees on the news, but to those whose definition of jihad is much simpler in that they aim to convert Christendom.
The Muslim idea about God’s very nature is fundamentally different than our own. Dr. Hahn does a very effective job of illustrating this in this video snippet from his presentation:
Dr. Hahn’s encounter with the Muslim scholar was by no means unique. One of the most profound experiences of my college life was the summer that I stayed behind to take a few classes and ended up living for nearly four months with a Muslim student from Jordan. The experience was eye-opening, and I learned more about Islam during that time than I had ever known before, and I daresay more than most Americans, especially those critical of Muslims, have even thought about. It is also something that changed the way I view my own prayer life.
I learned that Muslims have a great reverence for Jesus and for the Blessed Mother, and they even see Jesus as a messianic figure who performed many miracles, but they do not see him as divine and they are adamant about that belief. The very idea of the Trinity is something that they find abhorrent, and yes, they do see Christians as “people of the book,” but whatever nice things that various Islamic groups may say about Christians, Islam still teaches that we are infidels, or unbelievers, because we do not profess the Shahada-the Muslim answer to the Creed.
I also have come to believe that the real reason Islam is gaining ground in the West is not just because of immigration from Islamic countries, but because so many Muslims take prayer so seriously. I will never forget observing my roommate, Firas, at prayer. He and his friends used special prayer mats, beautiful woven rugs of the kind found in the Near East, to pray on. They washed their hands and feet and made sure their shirts were clean, because they really believed that in praying they were entering into the realm or the presence of God. Prayer is an event for these people, and it is serious business. By contrast, many of us do not pray with this same sort of zeal, fervor, or frequency. This is despite the fact that the Church has given us extremely effective means of frequent prayer.
Christendom and Western society was once organized, quite literally, around faith. Sundays were not days of work, and until relatively recently in history, the Western calendar revolved around the feasts and seasons of the Church, even in many Protestant ecclesial communities. Today, everything is open on Sunday and half the world works as though it is just another day. There is no time for the God of our fathers, but endless time for the gods of profit and pleasure. Meanwhile, some imam on top of a newly-constructed minaret in a mosque that was once a Church is shouting “…hasten to prayer…hasten to success…God is most great.”
So I agree with Dr. Hahn that militant Islam is among the biggest challenges that the Church faces today, but not because of some crazy suicide bombers who want to have their 70 virgins. The real reason that militant Islam is a threat is because so many of their people are to be found praying while so many of ours are to be found engaged in the pursuits of this poor passing world. The solution is not to be afraid of Muslims, but to witness to the Gospel by our lives, which at their very core should be lives of prayer.