Summary: If you should find yourself in a dialogue opportunity with a Muslim, take a long time to listen.
Thursday of 3rd Week of Easter 2017
Joy of the Gospel
It’s important from time to time to remind ourselves just how the NT came into existence. First there were stories and lessons communicated orally in gatherings of the followers of Christ–the Church. Different communities treasured stories about the One Jesus, but kept and adapted for language to suit the Spirit-felt needs of each community. As time and papyrus permitted, these began to be set in writing and shared with other communities. Those that were used over and over again, and thus judged by the leaders, the bishops and presbyters, to be orthodox were bound into volumes and eventually became what we know as the NT.
Because deacons were ordained for service from the early days, there were what we might call “deacon stories” as part of the collection. The ones about Stephen and Philip survived in the NT. Philip was a great evangelist, and this is one of his stories. It gave St. Luke a tale of how the Church approached those who worshiped the one God, but were not Jews. These people valued the OT, and the story of the people of God, and especially the prophets. So Philip used the Song of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah to tell the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus. Tradition tells us that this new Christian returned to Ethiopian and began what we now call the Ethiopian church. It is founded on the understanding that Jesus died to save all people from sin, and bring them together into a believing community with the sacraments as their basic worship.
All people, every one, are called to Christ. The Holy Father, having written generally about our dialogue with non-Christians, now turns to followers of Muhammed. ‘Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”. The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.
‘In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.’