A funny thing happened in the rectory office this week: I got a Quran in the mail! Addressed to the “Office of the Priest,” this heavy box with its handsomely bound volume was sent by the Council for American-Islamic Relations to me, and to many other priests, one may deduce. You know CAIR; they’re the ones who put out that “coexist” bumper sticker that seems to be awfully popular with some of our neighbors.
Offered to me “as an educational resource,” it is a translation with commentary by Leopold Weiss (later Muhammad Asad) who “had a profound knowledge of the Judeo-Christian tradition” and is “among the select group of well-known 20th-century converts to Islam who subsequently took up scholarship.”
The form letter that accompanied the book stated “We hope you will receive this in the spirit of interfaith cooperation and understanding in which it was intended and make it part of your reference library.”
Well. Isn’t that…special? I am honestly a bit flummoxed by this, and somehow can’t help but feel there is a bit less air to breathe in my office. I admit to being less than complete in my study of Islam and the man who started it, and not very advanced at all in my study of the book he wrote. I am more familiar with the history, origins, and progress of the religion based upon it, especially in relation to geopolitics and culture. Perhaps that is why I detect a whiff of audacity, and possibly even aggression.
I wonder what response I would get if I were to deliver a similar copy of the Sacred Scriptures in Arabic, with commentary, to all the mosques in Montgomery County? Unlike single-author, self-identified “holy books,” our Scriptures have a wide range of sources, styles, and circumstances of origin over a remarkably broad swath of human history, with a singularity of subject and message -- that is, the person Jesus Christ. Perhaps that would make them less “impressive” to followers of the Quran. I don’t know.
I do know that the monolithic singularity of the Quran can be impressive to people who seek a single and solitary authority that presents itself in a way that is systematic and dismissive of competing authorities. Like this gift I received, the Quran contains everything in one “box,” both literal and metaphorical. That sort of manageability, masterability, and portability can be very appealing.
This month, it would be easy to walk blithely through the remaining days of our annual observance of the Paschal Mystery, marking the Ascension of Our Lord and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost with enthusiasm and observance not terribly different from, and possibly even subordinate to, that of our other festivities, like Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and graduation. That, now more than ever, would be a mistake.
Do not take for granted the gift God is giving you in your faith in Jesus Christ. He is the foundation of all that you cherish in your identity, relationships, and life. Resolve now to plunge anew into the holy teaching that sustains you in your knowledge and love of Him. Reopen your study of the Sacred Scriptures; renew your contemplation of the Sacred Mysteries; reassert the priority of prayer in your life. Like everything of value, our faith requires maintenance and effort, lest it lapse into disrepair and be vulnerable to destruction.
The Lord Jesus Christ will defend us against all who would harm us, but only if we cling to him, remain ingrafted to Him, the True Vine. Otherwise, we will wither, and “people” will carry (us) off to be burnt. (cf. Jn 15:1-8) And that does not strike me as funny.