Tag Archives: fasting

Lamentation

Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young;
I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.
—Ezekiel 16:60–63

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Matthias Grünewald, Lamentation of Christ (detail) / PD-US

This reading from Ezekiel reminds me of a recent video from Fr. Robert Barron, which is definitely worth a watch: Bishop Barron on Ezekiel and the Sex Abuse Crisis. Ezekiel wrote of the corruption within the holy city of Jerusalem and its cleansing through avengers from the North. Today, the “holy city” of the Church has fallen into corruption, and it too needs to be cleansed, to endure the painful siege of repentance. God will not abandon His covenant with us. But if we are to be cleansed, we must allow Him to show us the weight of our sin; we must be willing to feel our shame and sorrow.

It has been sobering to read reports of the horrific abuse that has occurred within the Church and the deep corruption that kept it hidden for years. As American Catholics, we are mourning over these unthinkable crimes and trying to figure out how we can possibly move forward through this mess.

The Gospel reading prior to this spoke of forgiveness, which may seem untimely at the moment. The Gospel asks us to forgive, but often we don’t understand the meaning of true forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for the person who wronged you or brushing it under the rug. That’s not forgiveness; it’s denial. True forgiveness must acknowledge the sin and yet refuse to feed it. A person who forgives renounces any claim toward revenge and resists the tendency to harbor resentment. It is a daily decision, and it is not an easy one. But it is the only way that we can stop the cycle of sin and open our hearts to mercy. A truly forgiving heart is not indifferent to injustice; it is all the more deeply hurt by it, since it refuses to dehumanize either the victim or the perpetrator. It sees the tragedy of an innocent life altered irrevocably; it sees those individuals who used their God-given will for evil. And it resolves to do better.

I am reminded of the story of St. Maria Goretti and her murderer/attempted rapist, Alessandro Serenelli. Now, this is not a typical story—we should not go around assuming that all murderers and rapists will be reformed by our prayers and can be later welcomed into our families. But it is in fact what happened in the case of Alessandro Serenelli, incredible though it may seem. Though Alessandro was bitterly unrepentant for the first few years after Maria’s death, he experienced a profound conversion of heart after experiencing a vision of Maria in which she forgave him. He was moved to weep for his sins for the first time, and he began the process of true repentance. Due to Maria’s miraculous intercession (again, possible only through the grace of God and not by human means), he was completely reformed and eventually became an adopted son of Maria’s mother.

While Alessandro clung to his pride and callously denied his guilt, the seeds of sin and evil continued to fester within him. Only when he realized the depth of his sin and entered into a living purgatory of shame and regret was his heart opened to receive God’s mercy. This step was crucial: acknowledgment of wrongdoing, grief over what has been tainted and destroyed, ownership of one’s sinfulness. Unless we confront the realities of our sins and face our deepest wounds, we will never be able to receive healing. And Alessandro’s revelation of guilt—and thus his pathway to forgiveness—was made possible because of Maria’s purity and steadfast prayer.

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Alvar Cawén, Pietà / PD-US

As faithful Catholics who are shocked, saddened, and heartbroken over the recent scandals within the heart of our Church, we are called to step up and be the solution, to challenge the Church to rise up to her sacred calling. Now is the time for prayer and fasting. We will expect from the Church a higher standard, and we will start by being saints. The purification of the Church will begin with the purification of our own souls, by a deep desire for holiness and purity throughout every aspect of our lives. Jesus and Mary weep alongside us at these crimes. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion among young, faithful Catholics of the many ways in which we can carry this out, and I’ve compiled a list of resources here.

I stay with the Church because her teachings proclaim the dignity of the human person, even as some of those who represent her have trampled upon human dignity through objectification and abuse. I pray that we allow the light of truth to overcome the darkness, so that everything hidden will be exposed to the light. The truth of our own dignity and worth—and indeed that of our children—must prevail against the shadows.

Originally published at Frassati Reflections.

Romantic Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Terminate torment

Of love unsatisfied

The greater torment

Of love satisfied.”

— T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Can Catholics celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, considering that Ash Wednesday this year falls on the same date? Is the feast of love compatible with the beginning of Lent? When the obligation to do penance conflicts with the convention of romance, which of the two should give way?

Because of our natural aversion to self-inflicted suffering and the contemporary view of love that equates it with pleasure, many of us may have initially reacted that no, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday do not mix; that the Church’s regulations on fasting and abstinence would spoil this year’s Valentine’s Day; that this year, we must choose one or the other. Some have proposed, as a practical solution, that Valentine’s Day be celebrated the day before – on what is traditionally known as Mardi Gras – or the day after.

But must it be this way?

It is an age-old tactic of the devil to exaggerate the hardship entailed by our obligations towards God. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent twisted God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and asked Eve if God prohibited them from eating of any tree in the garden. The devil continues using this tactic to today; thus, for example, we rebel against reasonable guidelines against wearing short skirts and low necklines in church because we perceive these guidelines as requiring us to wrap ourselves in sheets.

The same goes true with the mandatory fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, and warnings against celebrating Valentine’s Day in a sinful fashion. With regard to the former, it is difficult, to be sure, as I can attest from my struggle to practice portion control on ordinary days. But we tend to exaggerate the hardship it entails. We forget that 1) nothing prohibits us from making the allowed full meal for the day a special one, and 2) non-meat dishes can be delicious.

As for the latter, why must we equate celebrating Valentine’s Day with sinful activities?  Why must we assume that certain prohibited activities are the only ways we can celebrate our love – especially our romantic love – on Valentine’s Day?

We forget that Valentine’s Day was – and still is – a Catholic feast; that love – including romantic love – is something of God.  It is true that this year, liturgically speaking, Ash Wednesday takes precedence over the feast of St. Valentine. There’s nothing wrong, too, with scheduling a Valentine’s Day celebration the day before or the day after Ash Wednesday this year. But neither is there any reason we cannot, within the limits imposed by the mandatory forms of penance, celebrate our love on Valentine’s Day this year.

In fact, this year is a good opportunity for us Catholics to reclaim Valentine’s Day, to use it as an occasion to remind the world what love really is. As we take our allowed full one meal on that day in special seafood grills or sushi bars with our dates, perhaps after going to the church together to have ashes imposed on our foreheads or after having spent time together in a wholesome yet no less wonderful way (which we are supposed to do anyway on any other time of the year), we are showing to the world what we have always known and which the world has forgotten: love is all about joyful sacrifice. As we enter the Lenten season together with our dates, we remind ourselves and others that suffering is the touchstone of love, that the point of penance is not to perform arduous feats of self-denial but to love God and others better, and that with love, suffering is turned into joy.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and Lent culminates in the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. History tells us that in the year AD 136, the Roman emperor Hadrian — in efforts to obliterate Christianity — built a temple to Venus, the pagan goddess of love, on the site of the crucifixion of Christ. It took great efforts two centuries later to uncover the True Cross beneath the ruins of the temple to Venus.

This Valentine’s Day, and hopefully on every Valentine’s Day after, we can bear witness to the true meaning of love after its supplanting for centuries by a perverted understanding of it. Let us show by our example of joyful sacrifice that we know how to truly love.

____

Image: PD-US

Joy in Solitude

For all eternity we will be with God, so we should accustom ourselves to his presence.  If we want to attain heaven, we must train our habits and our loves now.  If I love food more than God, how can I expect to enter heaven?  If I love human companionship more than divine communion, will I become a saint?

A. G. Sertillanges, a Dominican, writes, “Retirement is the laboratory of the sprit; interior solitude and silence are its two wings. All great works were prepared in the desert, including the redemption of the world.  The precursors, the followers, the Master Himself, all obeyed or have to obey one and the same law.  Prophets, apostles, preachers, martyrs, pioneers of knowledge, inspired artists in every art, ordinary men and the Man-God all pay tribute to loneliness, to the life of silence, to the night.”  Any word we say must be grounded in deep thought.  All action should spring from ardent prayer.  We must be slow to speak and quick to hear.

Silence should undergird speech.  Sertillanges observes, “Speech is weighty when one perceives silence beneath it, when it conceals and yet suggests a treasure behind the words, a treasure that it gives out little by little, as is fitting without haste and frivolous excitement.  Silence is the hidden content of the words that count.  What makes the worth of a soul is the abundance of what it does not express.”  If we strive to edify our neighbors, to counsel the doubtful, and to comfort the afflicted, we must choose our words carefully.  In the abundance of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.

Fasting, prayer, and solitude form a chord of three strands not easily broken.  The Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness to remind us that this world is not our home.  Moses fasted for forty days and received the law.  John the Baptist went into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord and to call all men to repentance.  Jesus fasted in the wilderness to overcome the devil.

Let us shun earthly comforts, soft living, and physical pleasures if we wish to enter heaven.  A Jesuit prayer reads: “Remember, Christian soul, that thou hast this day, and every day of thy life:  God to glorify, / Jesus to imitate, / The Blessed Virgin and the Saints to invoke, / A soul to save, / A body to mortify, / Sins to expiate, / Virtues to acquire, / Hell to avoid, / Heaven to gain, / Eternity to prepare for, / Time to profit by, / Neighbors to edify, / The world to despise, / Devils to combat, / Passions to subdue, / Death perhaps to suffer, / And Judgment to undergo.”

Let us fight the battle because the reward is glory.  The Blessed Virgin told Saint Bernadette, “you will not have joy in this life but in the next.”  Let us look forward to eternal consolations, spurning Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises.  Remember the White Witch and Edmund.  She promised him Turkish delight but gave him slavery.

This is my Father’s world; / I walk a desert lone; / In a bush ablaze to my wond’ring gaze / God makes His glory known. / This is my Father’s world; / A wanderer I may roam. / Whate’er my lot, it matters not; / My heart is still at home.

Beyond My Comfort (Food) Zone

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Ash Wednesday (Carl Spitzweg)

It is very appropriate, I think, that I received my diagnosis of wheat and milk allergies during Lent, three years ago. After all, I was already in a mode of Lenten sacrifice, and it felt good and natural to cut out these foods from my life and stick to a very basic diet. Also, I had been very sick and was relieved to find a way to start feeling better. The only difference was that instead of giving up gluten and dairy for Lent, I was giving them up forever. Easter came and went, and I still couldn’t eat any Cadbury eggs or dinner rolls. I tried not to think too much about what I would miss in the long term—that I’d never again enjoy gelato or my favorite pizza—and instead focused on one day at a time. There were still foods I could delight in, like avocados and peanut butter and Chipotle burrito bowls. It was a big lifestyle shift, but it got a little bit easier the more I got the hang of it.

Initially, when I started to see that I could go without some of my favorite foods, I realized that there are so many things in this world that we become so attached to, so many “needs” that aren’t really needs at all. This, of course, is why people give things up for Lent: to detach from the things of this world that are tying us down and holding our attention away from God, to offer a small sacrifice in light of God’s ultimate sacrifice. Before my diagnosis, I would never have dreamed I could live without bread. But of course I can. Any of us could, if we really wanted or needed to; it’s surprising how much we can live without. And honestly, I should consider myself lucky: lucky to have plenty of gluten-free, dairy-free food options, lucky to have found the root of my sickness and to start feeling better.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate was the full extent of my emotional attachments to favorite foods. Not only did I love bagels and Oreo milkshakes, I identified as a lover of bagels and Oreo milkshakes. I realized the extent to which food becomes a part of our identity, how we define ourselves: our regional, cultural, and individual tastes represented in our favorite meals. What Philly-born Jersey girl doesn’t eat bagels, soft pretzels, cheesesteaks, and pizza? What Irish girl refuses a buttered scone? What person who has ever lived in the Eternal City doesn’t long for a cone of Giolitti or a plate of good Roman carbonara? Me, apparently. I was willing to do whatever it took to change my diet and cleanse my body of allergens, but I wasn’t yet fully comfortable being the person I must become: the kind of person who brings salads for lunch, who shops at Whole Foods, who double-checks every ingredient label and asks twenty questions of the waiter at a restaurant. I was more of a SpaghettiOs girl than a salads and vegetables girl, and my cooking skills were laughable. I never had a problem with that before, but now I had to change. I had to speak up at restaurants and tell waiters very clearly about my allergies; I had to send entrees back to the kitchen after realizing that they contained cheese. As someone who is very shy and mild-mannered, this put me totally out of my element, and I had to learn to be less embarrassed about speaking up.

What I began to learn is that my “sense of self” really didn’t matter in the way I thought it did. Lent is a dying of the self to make room for new life in God, and giving up my favorite foods was very much a Lenten process for me. We have tendencies to latch onto certain characteristics of ourselves—likes and dislikes, the traits that we think make us “unique” or “special” and seem inextricably part of who we are, but aren’t really what’s important. The truth is, these arbitrary preferences are part of how we experience the world, but they don’t ultimately matter in how God sees us. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying and appreciating the good things around us, but we need to remember that in the end, they are only things, and there are much greater spiritual riches to be tasted. Sometimes God asks us to put aside certain things—things that are good in and of themselves—so that we don’t become fixated on them, so that He can help us to stretch and grow beyond our own self-imposed definitions and limitations, beyond our comfort zone.

In losing my favorite foods, I lost the ability to re-taste the memories embedded within them. And this is the hardest part for me: to know that I will never again taste regular yellow cake with chocolate icing and be transported to all my childhood birthday parties once again, that I will not again consume the Sant’Eustachio chocolate-covered espresso beans that sustained me during my European travels, that even if I were to go back to my college dining hall, I wouldn’t be able to get the same old yogurt-and-granola mix that I used to eat every night as I laughed with my friends at dinner. Because I am so drawn to memories, this is especially difficult.

One of my favorite prayers begins, “Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will.” When I first started to say this prayer, I used to wonder why memory was included in the list—it seemed a little out of place. Freedom, understanding, and will—sure, these were great things to submit to God, but why memory? What does it even mean to offer one’s memory, and why would it be important? I reasoned that my memory was part of myself and I wanted to offer my whole self to God, but I didn’t fully understand why it was included in the list.

Now I’m beginning to understand a little better. When I offer Jesus my memory, I am handing over the lens through which I perceive the events of my life and asking Him to replace it with His own view. I am giving Him something to which I am very closely attached, something I cling to out of the desire to know my own story. I am recognizing the fallibility of my own memory and the perfection of His; I am recognizing that He, as the One who transcends time, is the ultimate Memory-Keeper, the ultimate Storyteller. So instead of living in the past and instead of resenting the need to undergo these sacrifices, I can trust in Him to tell my story, and He will shed light on the path ahead of me.

1. Ash Wednesday by Carl Spitzweg / Public Domain
2. Photo by pfctdayelise / CC-BY-SA-2.5

Making Every Friday “Good”

Easter is coming; fast! I mean the action, not the adjective.  It’s a command.

Once Easter comes, it seems, we forget about this wonderful act of self-denial. We break our fast and indulge in whatever it is we gave up for the past 40+ days. (Yes, Lent is longer than 40 days, and actually ends on Holy Thursday, but don’t break out the chocolate until Easter, please!) While this is not wrong or sinful, the Church reminds us that we don’t simply place sacrifice on the shelf until next year.

By fasting and abstaining during Lent, we learn to control our desires, to conform our desires, and our will to the will of the Father. We learn through this voluntary act of self-denial that it is possible to reject the things of this world. We learn that it is possible to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel, as we heard on Ash Wednesday when ashes were placed on our heads. Repentance and conversion are brought to life when we fast and abstain.

This is a life changing undertaking. The act of denying our desires and our wants, if done correctly, can be mini-conversion moments for each and every person seeking to follow Christ more closely. In a recent homily, Pope Francis exclaimed that “conversion is not the question of a moment or a time of the year, it is an undertaking that lasts one’s entire lifetime.” Conversion is not just limited to one part of the year. Therefore the acts that lead us to personal conversion cannot be limited to one time a year. This is why the Church, in her wisdom, has instructed the faithful to partake in one form of penance each Friday during the year and not simply during Lent.

Rather than forcing people to do something, the Church, following the example of Christ, invites us to commit an act of penance every Friday of the year. Those in this “New Evangelization Generation” can ask their parents and grandparents if they had meat on Fridays during the year. The answer, if they were practicing Catholics, would be “No.”  While the rule has been altered, the principle remains—Catholics are to treat each Friday as a day of penance, a day of conversion.

Canon Law states that

“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).” (CIC 1438)

Furthermore, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a Pastoral Statement on this very topic. In it, the Bishops state, “Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.” (no. 23)

The Bishops also give Catholics in the United States ideas for how they might consider carrying this out. (For the entire document, click here: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm)

This is something that we can truly make our own in our individual and family lives. This past year, my family and I have been trying to abstain from eating meat every Friday. This year, we may try something different, like adding family morning prayer to our morning routine or fasting from sweets and snacks. However, the what is not as important as the why in this instance. We fast and abstain to allow Christ to transform our lives by saying no to desires and yes to conversion.

The Vegetarian and Vegan Guide to Fasting and Abstinence During Lent

I spent most of my young adulthood as a vegetarian (a life-stage which ended after marriage to a carnivore; you just cannot force that kind of gastronomic commitment onto someone else). As a vegetarian, something always troubled me when Lent came around and my friends and family members were “suffering” on Fridays, sullenly picking at plain ramen or whatever they chose to replace a properly balanced meal while I enjoyed my stuffed peppers or mushroom risotto or black bean quesadillas, not suffering at all.

Of course, this whole “not suffering” thing is not exactly Lent-appropriate. Friday abstinence from meat is meant to interrupt your average Catholic’s lifestyle, forcing him or her to reflect on the suffering of Christ on the Cross and in the imago Dei of less fortunate human beings by changing his/her meal planning style and eating something unusual or less desirable to his/her diet.

The vegetarian and vegan lifestyle is not at all interrupted by Friday abstinence. Vegetarians and vegans can still participate in the fasting days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) by eating one normal-sized meal and two smaller meals which do not quite add up to the one normal-sized meal, but the remaining abstinence days still can (and ought to be!) a chance for you to unite your suffering to Christ, to be “interrupted” in a way that points you to God during the Lenten season.

Here are my suggestions for interrupting your life style:

Vegetarians:

  • -Go Vegan on Fridays. Just like it’s a fairly small adjustment for meat-eaters to switch to fish, you can cut out eggs and dairy products to make a small change in your diet.
  • -Check out these “5 Creative Food Fasting Ideas” suggested by blogger Billy Kangas—warning, the “food desert fast” is not safe for vegetarians; you will not be able to get the nutrition you need.
  • -Try the Orthodox fast (explained for the vegans below) for a larger life style change.

Vegans:

  • – Check out these “5 Creative Food Fasting Ideas” suggested by blogger Billy Kangas—warning, the “food desert fast” is not safe for vegans; you will not be able to get the nutrition you need.
  • -On Fridays, practice the fast observed by our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox fast is largely vegan (actually, they allow products derived from animals without backbones [like honey], but you can continue your normal vegan-ness and add on some of the other practices), but in addition they fast from:
    •         -alcohol
    •         -olive oil (some push this to ALL cooking oils)
    •         -sex (assuming you are already married)
  •     -Eat only two meals a day…no snacking

Lent is a time for conforming your will to God’s through small sacrifices throughout the season. I hope you find these suggestions helpful.

Feasting for Grinches

A monk friend of ours likes to complain, jokingly, about the incredible inconvenience of the Liturgy of the Hours. When you are feeling bright and chipper, you are bound to end up chanting songs of gloom, doom and lament. When you are sporting your Eeyore-shaped glasses and life seems grim, King David wants you to break into a raucous song of praise with all of creation.

I feel the same silly annoyance with the seasons of the Church at times. Introvert that I am, I look forward to the times of penitence. It is easy for me to make the figurative trip into the desert and wait for God to speak in the blessed, blessed silence.  It’s not that I enjoy fasting and mortification, but the simplicity and quiet of Advent and Lent are a balm to my soul.

Seasons of feasting, on the other hand, are a challenge. We are at day four of the twelve days of Christmas, and already I feel my spirit flagging. It’s like watching my toddler play. He runs around at warp speed and hollers with pure joy for having little legs to stomp in mud puddles. My mama heart melts watching him, but the sheer magnitude of his exuberance is totally exhausting.

Fortunately for me, the Church doesn’t permit chronic asceticism. When faced with the magnitude of God’s love made manifest in a tiny child born in Bethlehem, the only proper response is to rejoice. Rejoice! Or as my sister likes to say, “Party like a Catholic.”

The rigors of Lent and Advent are purgative. Through them we are stripped of our old-self and transformed. The seasons of Easter and Christmas are just as necessary to our growth in holiness, however.  We are, after all, made for a life of joy and everlasting happiness with God.

For today, and for every day of this holy season, the Church invites me to come out of myself and to adopt the heart of a child. I must join my voice with the heavenly hosts singing and praising the glory of God nestled in the manager. Like my son, I will stomp my feet, clap my hands and sing at the top of my lungs. I will give all of my heart, mind and body to please the Infant King. My sanctification in this life and my calling in the next is joy, so today I will rejoice.

Five Commonalities Between Christianity and Islam

Mosaic depiction of Mary holding an Arabic text, Convent of Our Lady, Greek Orthodox Church, Sednaya, Syria.

Among all kinds of cultural, political, and interfaith dialogues, the one between Christianity and Islam is arguably the most interesting. Many of my friends from the Western world regard Islam as some kind of a mysterious, exotic, almost “unknowable” religion. However, some scholars, such as Hillaire Belloc, view Islam not as a totally separate religion, but one of the Christian heresies.

Historical speculations aside, Islam does have many things in common with Christianity, particularly with the Catholic Church (a.k.a. THE Christianity!). Living in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation gives me the privilege to be up and close with their teachings and practices on a daily basis. Remember that some cool dude in the past said: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one”? So here are five common grounds between Christianity and Islam that can be used as a possible bridge towards unity:

1.     Arabic

The Muslims are big on Arabic; they believe Arabic is the language of heaven. Some Muslims, at least those where I live, think so highly about this language to the point of believing it is exclusive to Islam.

Now I’m not asking Christians to be fluent in Arabic, but we can try showing, little by little, that we use Arabic too. How do we do that? By turning to our Eastern Church brothers, of course! If you have Muslim friends on Facebook, for example, why don’t you try sharing videos about the Byzantine Divine Liturgy or a Coptic Holy Mass?  Or you can do it like me: every now and then, I like to put up an image of an Arabic calligraphy of the Lord’s Prayer as my online avatar or display picture. This usually opens an opportunity for conversations and an enforcement of mutual respect.

2.     Fasting

We know that Muslims fast during their holy month of Ramadan, but do they know that we fast too? Almost all Muslims whom I encounter here apparently don’t! After I tell them, I can see that they generally become more respectful and open towards us. Make sure you are well-versed about the rules of Catholic fasting and their dogmatic reasoning, if applicable. Some of the smarter or more interested Muslims will certainly ask you that.

3.     Veils

This is where the case of mantilla (chapel veil) comes in handy. Regardless of what Islam actually teaches, the Muslims themselves usually view women veiling as a symbol of modesty and piety. You can use this as an opportunity to talk about the traditional practice of veiling in Christianity, and maybe even introduce the mantilla to them. Show them pictures of first ladies from various nations wearing veils while visiting the Pope. Exchange teachings about how the two religions view the human body in general, and the female body in particular (Theology of the Body, anyone?!).

4.     Prayer beads

Catholics have the rosary (and lots and lots of chaplets), Muslims have their tasbih. Most of my Muslim friends had not known that Catholics had prayer beads too, until I happened to pray the rosary in front of them (I did this a few times because there were no other rooms suitable for private praying sessions). They always got pleasantly surprised and good-naturedly asked what I prayed about. Sometimes they even asked the technical stuff, like if there’s a specific time to pray it, or a specific use. So as Catholics, make sure you can explain our garland of roses (in a beautiful manner, preferably!), and don’t forget to ask the same questions back in order to forge friendly back-and-forth’s.

Speaking of the rosary…

5.     Mary

If Protestants think Catholics worship Mary, they should take a look at how Muslims exalt Maryam umm Isa (Mary, mother of Jesus). Sure, our Muslim neighbors do not make statues or images of the Blessed Virgin—that’s because Islam forbids against the depiction of animals and humans—but they grant her titles like umm Nut (the mother of Light), Tahirah (she who was purified), and Marhumah (she who was enveloped in God’s mercy).

Moreover, both the Catholic Church and Islam teach that Mary is an immaculate conception and is preferred by God above all women. This is shown by at least two verses from the Quran:

“My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female – Allah knew best of what she was delivered – the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast.” (S. 3:35-36) — This passage illustrates the joy of Imran (Joachim) and Anna at the birth of Our Lady, and their plea to God that their daughter and her offspring may be spared from Satan.

“Behold! the angel said: “O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee – chosen thee above the women of all nations.” (S. 3:42) — This is a passage about the Annunciation, one of the most important events in the Quran.

Fr. Ladis J. Cizik has written an entire article on the idea that Marian apparitions are part of a bigger peace plan with the Muslims (“Our Lady and Islam: Heaven’s Peace Plan”). AsiaNews recently published an article about this common devotion of Our Lady (http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Millions-of-Muslims-devoted-to-Our-Lady-and-eager-for-exorcism-28577.html).