Pope Francis and Islam

…with all the headlines, and all the ugly truths surrounding ISIS, and other Islamic factions, how is a Christian to think of such a religion which is seemingly intent on destroying Christians and the Gospel of Jesus? 

ISIS fighters, members of an Iraqi minority fleeing persecution, Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has made another reported phone call. This time it was stateside to the parents of journalist, James Foley. Foley was a graduate of Marquette University and, by all accounts, kept the Faith alive throughout his life and through all his travels. His parents were all too proud to tell of a letter Foley had recently written saying how he continued to pray the Rosary devoutly on his knuckles in a land with legal sanctions against all forms of the Christian Faith. Foley had been missing in Syria since Thanksgiving of 2012; this past month he was gruesomely beheaded by Islamic militants. Intent to video the atrocity from the front, Foley’s attackers cowardly bound his arms behind him, not realizing how this probably freed him to use his knuckles to pray his Rosary, the last act he would perform on this earth.

As Pope Francis reached out to the Foley family, the Italian newspaper, Il Tempo, reported that the same group of killers, ISIS, has our fearless Francis “firmly in their crosshairs” and an assassination attempt is imminent. The Vatican, of course, denies this, but the threat is real just the same. The world knows for whom Francis stands, and his enemies would like nothing better than to see him gone. In turn, Francis has said that Christians must always be pacifists, but not by practicing passive resistance to what is happening. Not stopping ISIS through combatant means would, in fact, be irresponsible and un-Christian. Therefore, Francis states: “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor … I underscore the verb stop … I’m not saying bomb or make war, just stop. And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated … One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor.” These are very measured and meaningful comments, drawing from the best of the Christian “just war” tradition: military might must always be a response to an unjust aggressor, engaged only after other attempts at resolution have failed, and taken up only by those with legitimate authority to do so.

But more importantly, with all the headlines, and all the ugly truths surrounding ISIS and other Islamic factions, how is a Christian to think of such a religion which is seemingly intent on destroying Christians and the Gospel of Jesus? At the risk of sounding platitudinous, the first thing we must do is to remember that all persons, regardless of creed, are God’s beloved children. Given the incessant barrage of misdeeds repeated on the evening news, and how the terms “Muslim” and “terrorism” are practically co-extensive, this is not always easy. Aren’t the lines clearly drawn? Does one need any more evidence of who our enemy is? When I am tempted to react to situations from such a worldly perspective, I recall St. Paul’s admonition that our enemy is not merely flesh and blood (cf. Eph 6:12). In so limiting them to merely their physical state, I have quit seeing as Jesus sees.

In the mid-1960s, the Council Fathers at Vatican II discussed how Christians should relate to other religions. The overarching message of this teaching, Nostra Aetate (In Our Age), is that:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to himself (§2).

Here, the Church teaches her sons and daughters that all truth is ultimately Christ’s. Evermore confident in that Truth, all Christians must evangelize first by recognizing how that Truth is refracted like a ray of light (however dim) in even non-Christian religions.

With regard to Islam in particular, Nostra Aetate went on to teach that

The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting (§3).

Given our post-9/11 world, would this message be expressed differently today? Given the spread of global terrorism in the name of Allah presently, don’t these words seem a tad naïve in today’s new world? Yet, this is what our Church teaches, and this is where Pope Francis continues to point us (see, for example, Evangelii Gaudium §252-253). During his recent meeting with the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem, he once again called for all theists of good will to fight against the threats of a few.

In the last of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, readers meet a young soldier by the name of Emeth. Emeth was raised in the Calormene culture, a people who were taught to follow a god named “Tash,” and to consider the ever-good Aslan as their enemy. What distinguishes Emeth from the rest of the Calormene is his obvious goodness. He is just and honest and even bloodies his own hands by taking the life of a fellow-soldier who was just about to commit an unspeakable act of murder. Immediately, thereupon, Emeth is assumed into Aslan’s bright country. Fearful of being devoured by the Great Lion, Emeth instead hears “the Glorious One” say softly to him, “Son, thou art welcome.” But in his characteristic honesty, Emeth replies, “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.” He answered, “Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I accept as service done to me … I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him … Beloved, unless thy desires had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek” (The Last Battle, ch. 15: “Further and Further Up”).

Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6), and all those beholding God forever, are now Christians. The eternal Church is fully Catholic, but how some may have found their way through those doors transcends explicit professions of faith. It seems heaven has people that RCIA programs never knew. As children of Christ, we must love all as our brother or sister, or to work to make them our brother and sister. 

The headlines and the threats broadcast across the internet make division and dehumanization all too easy today. Religious differences can be convenient excuses to take our own frustrations and prejudices out on others with whom we rightfully disagree. Yet, the moment the truth becomes a means by which we belittle or besiege another, it is no longer the truth, but just an extension of our own pettiness. Dialogue and engaging others challenges our categories, not because Christianity might be wrong, but because we usually realize what poorly-trained missionaries we really are. So, it’s simpler to sit at home and judge from afar. But we must be different than “the world.” This is where Love calls: for each in his or her own way is called to proclaim the Gospel, and to pray for all peoples, whether openly on our beads, or in secret on our knuckles.

Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ About Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.

Comments

  1. Avatar Bill Bannon says:

    Vatican II’s statement on Islam was not complete because it was stated at a time when the discrepancy between peaceful Muslims and violent Muslims was not made manifest in current events. The concept of abrogation is key….later Koranic verses can nullify earlier Koranic verses. Violent jihadists see the later violent passages of chapter nine of the Koran as nullifying the earlier tolerant passages of chapter two for example. Peaceful Muslims like those close to Pope Francis see the violent passages of chapter nine as being restricted to that period in history when Muhammad was violent later in life. Those two radically different views on chapter nine are de facto two different religions in the area of morals regarding control of other people and violence. There are two Islams…or three when you include Shia. There is no high authority figure over all others in Islam who can reconcile them on the nature of chapter nine. Historically that figure didn’t work when present in Christianity. ISIS lives by chapter nine and they see it as abrogating any peaceful passage from the Koran that Pope Francis or anyone tries to show them. Dialogue is only possible when two groups have radical similarities on tolerance. That is not extant herein.
    Pope Francis and his two predecessors in their very late life periods were very anti bomb/ anti war….to the media not in the catechism as much. Likewise their public verbal anti death penalty campaign toward abolition actually conflicts with the precise words of their own grudging acceptance of executions as rarely necessary in ccc #2267.
    That anti bomb aspect in Pope Francis is understandable given how the principle of double effect was demonstrated for Francis just recently in Gaza as killing far more civilians that active enemies.
    But does Pope Francis have a real solution for Israelis once Hamas fires rockets from behind human shield situations which even the Geneva Conventions don’t see as sacrosanct in their rules of war.
    Pope Francis will be ignored in his blanket sound bite opposition to bombs to the reporter on the plane… which USA bombs just helped save thousands of Yazidis poor people on Sinjar Mt. when we bombed not civilians but contingents of ISIS at the base of Sinjar Mt. who had planned that month to advance up the mountain to slaughter what they consider devil worshipping Yazidis who combine Christianity with Islam and Zoroastrianism. Bombs just saved probably a hundred infantry lives of Kurds and Iraqis in the retaking of Mosul Dam because bombing removed entrenched ISIS forces, artillery pieces, checkpoints, and vehicles the taking of which especially the first named….would have cost a hundred Kurd and Iraqi infantry lives without the use of bombs. Bombs also just saved thousands of people of Erbil and Amirli which latter was beseiged by ISIS from June into August while no religious figure I heard of was using Pope Francis’ tools of dialogue and understanding to repulse ISIS….including Pope Francis.
    Bombs will become controversial later when they are used in Raqqa, Syria by the U.S. which city is Syrian headquarters for ISIS and where the Syrian air force just bombed a bakery last week run by ISIS. Civilians were killed along with ISIS fighters. The question military people will have for their chaplains will be this: when is a civilian innocent of enabling terrorists if in fact many of them are on video as taking an oath of allegiance to Islamic State….why didn’t they flee Raqqa as thousands of Christians fled Mosul and thousands of Yazidi fled Sinjar City? The Yazidi reported that their Sunni neighbors turned on them in Sinjar and helped ISIS identify who was Yazidi. Is that an innocent civilian who should not be bombed or is it an enabling civilian? I think there are over a hundred Popes of the past who would have tougher answers than Pope Francis on that one. But again, bombs which Pope Francis would not urge in a media moment on the plane back from Korea…bombs just saved thousands of actually innocent lives on a mountain top, also at Erbil and Amirli, and just saved a dam which could have been bombed eventually and killed thousands along the river with their farms. ISIS however was not going to do that as long as it had leaders and many soldiers in Mosul…downstream. Bombs just helped save another dam in Anbar Province. To the extent that Pope Francis makes wholesale opposition to what in effect is the modern machaira or sword of Romans 13:4 which scripture says the state wields as God’s avenger…to the extent that he is simplistic when suddenly answering with sound bites to a reporter, to that extent leaders can ill afford to pay attention to sudden answers as being Catholic doctrine especially when they know that the Pope Julius II’s and St. Pius V’s of history would have very different answers on bombing in our context not just in theirs were they suddenly to appear.

    • Avatar Jack Gordon says:

      You make some very good points here, Bill. The sentence that most bothered me in this article comes near the end: ” Religious differences can be convenient excuses to take our own frustrations and prejudices out on others with whom we rightfully disagree.” If the “differences” in question are in fact one religion’s endorsement of hideous violence, it’s hard to see how we are taking “our own frustrations and prejudices out on others” if we choose not to die and instead decide to defend ourselves with the weapons we have.

      The wording of Nostra Aetate concerning Mohammedanism is vague at best — read the section in question carefully and you will see what I mean — and I think that is so for a good reason, viz. the council’s fathers really were not very knowledgeable about the reality of Islam; things like taqiyya, jihad, and abrogation never entered into their thinking. I agree with you that, had the document been written, say last year, its authors would have used wording much less embarrassing than what they penned in the 1960s. I am thankful for the authors’ ignorance, though, because it leaves a lot of interpretative wiggle room.

      What Francis and many other prelates simply refuse to consider is that Islamic State and people like bin-Laden may indeed be the most faithful Mohammedans, the most rigorous followers of what Mohammed actually dreamed up in the early 600s. And their peculiar take on the matter almost guarantees their words will fall on deaf ears everywhere as others notice that everywhere Mohammedanism prospers, rape, beheadings, honor killings, and ghastly terrorism soon follow. It is telling that Catholic prelates physically in contact with Islam where they serve are those most likely to eschew the naive views of our current pope. Their shouts of alarm don’t sound to me at all like Francis’ nuanced observations.

      • Avatar Bill Bannon says:

        Jack,
        Pray everyday like I do for the captured women who are being raped everyday by ISIS people as we all write what we write and as Catholic writing in the idea realm will move on to other things….while the captured face dread everyday and are not moving on from dread. Next to the situation of constantly raped women, all writing seems shallow. Jean Paul Sartre once said, ” I have seen children starving in the streets of Asia, over against this a book does not act as a counterweight.” Pray for the captured and for all those fighting ISIS at the risk of capture themselves. Stay with the captured women in prayer after everyone moves on to other concepts.
        The women are living a nightmare and Pesh Merga soldiers and our US bombs at the foot of Mt. Sinjar saved hundreds or thousands more of Yazidi women from the same fate. Brand with a hot iron the captured women into our ongoing and future prayers O Lord.

  2. I think the problem in the media is not the equation of ‘Muslims with terrorism’ but rather ‘terrorism as an aberration of Islam’. This is no doubt to prevent equating Muslims per se with terrorism. But the truth of the matter is is that ‘Islam and Islamic terrorism….terrorism committed in the name of Islam…are one and the same’. This is not difficult to work out by the religion’s self-understanding. It is also true that there are true servants of God within Islam. But Islam has to be stopped. It has to be removed from the West because it’s proliferation will be of violence more than servants of God. How can we in the name of God’s Grace blowing where it will sacrifice future generations to Islam. If there I s no one to preach the Gospel how will it be heard? Preaching the Gospel is our mandate and to Baptise…while CS Lewis and the Church is right on Grace it doesn’t absolve us from holding back Islam per se. We must or effectively we have become Gnostics.

    • Does this mean if a threatening movement is about money, as has been tracked to various terrorist outlets, we have to divest ourselves of currency as well? The 9/11 Saudis who attacked also visited strip clubs and lived a rather hedonistic life in Florida. Was that just an advance taste of martyr’s paradise? I think not.

      Perhaps it is accurate to say that sin must be stopped, and let’s make sure we address that matter broadly: our clergy and bishops, and even our very selves.

  3. There’s a difference between being a child of God in the order of nature and in the order of grace; the former is true of everyone, the latter is true of ONLY validly baptized Christians. Muslims are NOT adopted sons of God and heirs of eternal life. Besides, their religion explicitly denies the divinity of Our Lord and mocks the Trinity as a pagan fable. We cannot just sweep the differences under the rug in the name of dialogue.

  4. There are no “servants of God” in Islam, and anyone who dies as a Muslim cannot be saved. We can and should pray that somehow, even in ways unknown to outside observers,individual Muslims may be given some sort of interior inspiration and/or vision that grants them the opportunity to make an explicit act of Faith in Jesus Christ and the Most Holy Trinity before their soul leaves the body.

    Personally I find C.S. Lewis’ to be unconvincing on the issue of salvation,as if sincerity in any religion or lack of one is all that is necessary for salvation. This seems to contradict the words of Jesus Christ Himself in scripture and the general belief of both Roman Catholics and Orthodox until about 60 years ago.

    I’ve no problem with deathbed conversions unknown to outside observers but i reject utterly the idea that one can be saved without an explicit faith in Jesus Christ before the soul leaves the body. Don’t quite see how to believe otherwise is anything more than a dumbing down of soteriology and a reduction of salvation to “sincerity”.

  5. Seems like the movie “Of Gods & Men” that came out a few years ago speaks to this issue eloquently. The real response of these real monks in the face of the real threat of terrorism inspires me. They didn’t waste the precious time they had left judging who was going to get into heaven or using their beliefs as a weapon against the people who were against them. In other words, they followed in Christ’s footsteps all the way to Calvary.
    It might be helpful to recall to mind that Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven…”
    http://www.plough.com/en/articles/2011/february/christian-de-cherg%C3%A9-a-story-of-forgiveness

  6. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    Thank you Father Meconi,SJ, Here is the just war theology appearing in the history of humankind . 1940-1945 the US defended itself from the aggression of Japan and Germany including the necessary atomic bomb which stopped Japan. Defense against any unjust aggressor is allowed. Yet Jesus redeemed all men with His death on the cross and resurrection. so men can attain eternal life with Faith that is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen

  7. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    The ISIS reminds me of the Apache Geronimo who was not representative of his nation but with about 24 followers raided defenceless people in Arizona and New Mexico. Yet it seems morally correct to destroy those who are renegades.

  8. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    When reflecting on events in the Middle East, one needs to recognize centuries of conflicts. Christians have not always been saints in these events. Motivation for military action is not always what political statements would have citizens believe. If there were no economic incentives, would the United States be involved at all?

    Francis of Assisi did not get permission from the Catholic Cardinals when he crossed the battle lines to meet with the Sultan during the Fifth Crusade. The Catholic leaders assumed Francis would be killed, if he attempted to cross the lines. He was not killed, in fact, he engaged in dialogue with the Sultan, who the Crusaders considered the evil one. His efforts did not stop the killing of Christians by Muslims and Muslims by Christians. He did show, however, a way to work for peace. Are not the teachings of Jesus calling missionary disciples to find non-violent means to work for peace more than to use technology as a means to destroy cities and their populations in attempts to save?

    Francis, Bishop of Rome, is not a pacifist in his statements. He does say to stop the evil perpetrated against innocent people. But he cautions that stoping evil aggression does not mean war. He stated that war is always irrational and destructive. Are not his efforts a reflection of Gospel values to be found in Jesus’ teaching to love our enemy?

  9. neither I nor anyone else knows what “Islam” teaches because islam has no one authorized to speak for it.

    it is just as wrong to proclaim that islam is a religion of peace as it is to proclaim islam is a religion of violence.

    islam is a religion that has no defined beliefs that are universal to all muslims.

    islam is defined by the local leader who is either most persuasive or most ruthless.

    so, in reality, islam has as many faces as there are imams who possess the allegiance of their followers.

    proclaiming what islam teaches is as difficult as proclaiming what Christian Protestantism teaches.

    in fact, what either teaches is nothing. what teachers within either tradition teach is possible to know. it is impossible to know what “islam” or “Protestantism” teaches.

    consequently, it is meaningless to discuss “islam”, at least until someone is identified who speaks for all muslims. I will not hold my breath waiting for that person to appear.

  10. Islam does not believe Jesus is the son if God. It does not believe Jesus ever died, much less resurrected. Need I even begin with the ‘property’ status of women in Islam? This is not rocket science. The author or the pope can speak all the pretty words they want about this unmerciful, deadly cult. Reality is what it is and it ain’t going away. I recommend Hilaire Belloc’s, “Moslems, their beliefs, practices and politics” and anything Written by Winston Churchill about Islamists.
    Wake up.

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