Photography by Tucker Redding, SJ
On January 27th, 2017 the Jesuit community engaged in a prayer service to encourage “sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths [that] may produce the fruits of peace and justice” (Pope Francis 2016). Three seniors shared
their faith stories Friday morningi: Matthew Clayton, Will Vincent, and Abbas Hussain.
Mrs. Crowder, Director of Campus Ministry, provided additional context:
The Catholic Church, particularly since the conclusion of Vatican II, invites its members to dialogue with other religious denominations – to recognize the similarities and to value the differences present in our systems of belief. From our Christian perspective all humans come from God and God exists in ALL humans; thus our Christian belief calls us to love one another as fully as we love God. Furthermore the Catholic Church encourages us to engage in open dialogue with others meeting them where they are learning about their beliefs and traditions in their own merit without judgment.
REFLECTION: MATTHEW CLAYTON
About a year and a half ago, I began learning Hindi, the official language of India. This was primarily because I had a zealous desire to become bilingual, and since I was working at an Indian restaurant, the option for immersion was viable. What started as a mere linguistic adventure quickly transformed into a deep appreciation of Indian culture, from food and music to literature and even religion.
At that time, I did not consider myself to be very religious. In fact, I had long been estranged from the Church, and I didn’t quite know what I believed. That being said, you can imagine the uneasiness that I felt when I learned that the vernacular of 425 million people is closely linked to their religion. In fact, the very first word I learned in Hindi has a spiritual connotation: Namaste. Although a greeting loosely used as “hello,” Namaste translates literally to “the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you.” Despite my habit of excoriating religious institutions, I could not help but recognize the beauty conveyed in just three syllables. This term comes from the sacred language of Sanskrit, and is thus rooted in Hindu theology. Hinduism teaches of the omnipresence of the Divine, that God permeates through every living being. Through my current Catholic perspective, I can relate this to the idea that we are all made in the image of God. Therefore, to recognize the resemblance of God in our fellow brothers and sisters with a simple greeting is a fascinating custom that has the capability of traversing across religious lines, as do a plethora of Hindu doctrines. For example, both Hinduism and Christianity agree that the meaning of human existence is to live in harmony with our Creator, and the moral codes of the two religious traditions are quite identical, both upholding the principles of respect, nonviolence, honesty, generosity, wisdom, and kindness.
In contrast to what some may be thinking right now, I am not a convert to Hinduism. In fact, I am a practicing Catholic who happens to view the religious traditions of the Indian Subcontinent as pertinent to my faith-life. As strange as it may sound, the renewed commitment to the faith I was brought up in occurred after my attendance of a Hindu religious festival. I celebrated a Hindu puja at a family friend’s house, mostly for the pleasure of being subsumed by Indian culture. (I was especially excited when I was given the opportunity to wear the traditional Indian male garment, called a kurta). However, as I participated in the sacred holiday, the cultural and religious aspects began to coalesce. Like Catholics, Hindus place substantial emphasis on ritual. Offerings of fruit, sweets, and flower petals were placed upon a refined altar, and the symbols of fire and incense made the ceremony sensually stimulating. (I must admit, I was taken aback when an entire coconut was lit on fire.) As bells began to ring and chanting began to diffuse into the prayerful atmosphere, I found myself subconsciously dancing with the surrounding body of worshipers. The ecstatic environment helped me to realize the sensational fulfillment one experiences while praising God, and I had longed for such a feeling. Ever since I witnessed this intense devotion and the happiness associated with it, I have made an effort to attend Mass every Sunday. As ironic as it may be, Hinduism helped lead me back to Catholicism.
It would be foolish to claim that all religions are the same, since that is obviously not the case. Doctrinal distinctions do abound, but similarities are nonetheless easily detectable. Since I have discovered firsthand that inter-religious dialogue is a catalyst for spiritual growth, I am passionate about being a voice for correcting the misconceptions I hear of in today’s society. I encourage all of my Jesuit brothers to challenge the falsities of religious bigotry, and instead heed the advice of Pope Francis when he says, “we have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.” Thus, in recognizing the innate dignity and divinity of every human being regardless of their religious beliefs, Namaste.
REFLECTION: WILL VINCENT
Going into Jesuit I knew little to nothing about other faiths and had little interaction with people of other faiths, this was particularly true for non-western religions. This lack of
knowledge is what drove me to take Inter-Religious dialogue. Going into the class I only really expected to learn more about other faiths and never considered how the class would help expand and strengthen my understanding of Catholicism and Jesuit Spirituality. I first noticed this when we got to studying Hinduism and the Hindu belief of the “Four paths To God”. The Four Paths are designed to unite the human spirt with God. The idea of multiple paths to one singular goal really appealed to me as I had previously had the misconception that living a holy life and reaching the end goal of salvation is done only through check boxes on a list. Hinduism’s four paths of knowledge, love, work, and psychophysical exercises mirror to me Jesuit’s profile of a Graduate. Both take a multifaceted approach to living a holy life by stressing the importance of love, intelligence, and labor.
The path that really stood out to me the most is the Path to God through Work because unlike the others, the path through work tasks one to find God in the mundane and everyday things you do. To me, this is similar to how St. Ignatius teaches us to try and find God in All Things. This path is appealing because I don’t have to have the job of being the pope to live a holy life. I can have a holy life by working for God, not myself, in all I do. In the textbook H. Smith states that by offering your actions and work to God your actions and work “can carry you Godward even while other things are being accomplished, like a wristwatch that winds itself as other duties are being performed.” I think it’s important to realize this because I believe we tend to put life into two categories: God and religion and everything else. We actively see and work for God in our service sites, church, and prayer. But, I think we tend to forget about him in everything else. Offering your work to God while working a drive-thru or writing an essay at 1 in the morning is challenging. In conclusion the Path through work has strengthened my faith because it has helped give me more conviction in what I do everyday knowing that I do it all for God. It has also given me a greater awareness of my actions as I now ask if my actions are for myself or for God.
REFLECTION: ABBAS HUSSAIN
Before Jesuit, I had attended Briarhill Middle School, a public school up north in Flower Mound. When given the opportunity to attend Jesuit I first was scared and did not want to
go. I knew nothing about catholicism let alone Christianity, and I could not see myself sitting in a classroom learning about a different faith for 45 minutes while going to a prayer service or mass every week. In addition, I did not know anyone who had gone to Jesuit nor who would be going to Jesuit.
After my parents kind of made me go to Jesuit, I made up justifications for the things that I felt were not helpful. I thought maybe I could better my english skills in theology class that way it’s not a complete waste of a period. And I thought of prayer services as the cost for the benefit of a great education here at Jesuit. I never really thought about how I can benefit from what Jesuit was offering.
But this opinion changed early on at Jesuit. My position at Jesuit shifted from an onlooker of a community to a proud member of the Dallas Jesuit community. It was the shared love from the teachers, administrators, and students regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion from everyone that started to change how I felt here. In addition, I began to see that Islam and Christianity, both being Abrahamic religions, are not all that different. There was a lot I could take away from going to Jesuit.
The Quran says in chapter 5 verse 82: You will certainly find the nearest in friendship to those who say “ We are Christians”.
I find this quote from the quran to be extremely true and I see it almost every day here. Especially when I recall a time when many of my peers found out that I am Muslim. It was in Mr. Knight’s sophomore english class. At the beginning of the year Mr. Knight mentioned how in previous years students would have bets over sports and the loser would have to bring food for the whole class. Usually donuts. Myself along with some other students decided in class to change it up a little, and instead every thursday, because our class would be third period on thursday schedule so the food would be fresh. We decided that one person would bring food for the whole class. A couple weeks into this cycle, someone ordered pizza for the whole class. However, there was maybe just one box of cheese and the rest were pepperoni. For those of you who do not know muslims cannot eat pork, and by the time I went up to get my pizza all the cheese slices were taken. So I sat back down and continued working on our english assignment when one my classmates asked why I didn’t want pizza, and I eventually explained to him how I am muslim and we do not eat pork. Next thing I know, pretty much every student who had a slice of the cheese had offered me theirs.
This small story demonstrates the love and care here at jesuit from all the members of this community. I can proudly say that at jesuit I have never been treated differently for being muslim or of a different race. In addition to the kindness and mercy from all the members of this community, my time at jesuit has allowed me to enhance my own faith in ways that I would not think.
Through my four years of theology courses, I have been able to see many similar themes between the abrahamic religions especially with historical accounts. A lot of people do not realize but there are many overlaps such as the shared belief that Jesus Christ will reappear and bring about peace and happiness in the world that both Muslims and Christians believe. In fact, the Quran says: “Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians ,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Quran, 2:62)
In addition, weekly prayer services have allowed me to see similarities in the structure of prayers and the shared focusses of spirituality. Islamic services are structured in similar ways. Starting with verses or stories from the quran In addition, both services focus on the love for God and respecting your brothers and sisters.
Lastly through the lunch period rosaries, I have seen many shared practices. Prayer beads are a common theme among many religions. One similarity is that in the rosary at the end of each decade, you say Glory be to our father. While with the muslim prayer bead or as we call it tasbeeh you say Glory be to God.
Overall it is important for us to learn about each other’s beliefs and welcome each other as our brothers. As the Dalai Lama says, “Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever.” I hope that my experiences help build bridges of understanding among people of different faiths here at Jesuit.