Dilatato Corde 3:2
July – December, 2013


I would like to begin my response with a question, which is actually the title of a book by the Christian theologian Brian McLaren:  “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed cross the road?”. . . a question well worth pondering in light of this document and these times. McLaren’s suggested answer to that question, and the reflections we just heard, I believe help capture the grace and genius of Nostra ætate, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.

As I read and listened to these reflections, I was so aware of how apt the title of this document is: Nostra ætate, IN OUR TIME.  The graced stories both these women shared would not, and most likely could not, have been experienced 60 years ago.  It is in these times . . . the NOW that has been developing over these past 50 years, that the message of this document is so critical. 

IN OUR TIME, almost all the wars that rage across our world can be traced to the roots of religious beliefs.  

IN OUR TIME extreme and fanatic interpretations of major religions have been the primary contributors to genocide, ethnic cleansing, and the widespread culture of fear and hostility that encompasses the globe.

IN OUR TIME corrupt exercise of power and religious supremacy all too often seem to go hand and hand.

IN OUR TIME, as in no other, the challenges expressed in this document need to be proclaimed, adopted, integrated into the heart of our social systems, and seen as the threads that weave together the seamless garment of true spirituality and religion. We no longer have the luxury to claim ignorance of other religions as the world gets smaller each day. As the document reads, "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions." [2:4]

"The Church rejects as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.” [5:15]

"All should see to it then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ."  [4:12]

I hear in this a call particularly to us as Benedictines. Who better than we, who strive to practice lectio daily, are better equipped to learn how to read the Scriptures in a radically new way that challenges us to hear and interpret the Word beyond literalism and parochialism?...in a way that makes it impossible to keep any of God’s creatures outside the embrace of God’s love?

I could not help wondering what might happen if we, as Benedictine women, adopted the practice that Susan spoke about with her students.  What if we used texts from the Holy Koran or the Upanishads for lectio?  Just as our lectio on the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the writings of the early Fathers and Mothers have formed and shaped us in our own tradition, might we not be opened in new ways of understanding others and the mystery of God through the prayerful pondering of the writings of the other major traditions?

I would like to share an experience from my community.  For the past two and a half years, my community of Emmanuel Monastery in Lutherville, Maryland, has offered a home to a young Muslim woman asylum seeker who came to us on New Year’s Day 2011, pregnant with her first child, seeking shelter because there was no room at the Asylum Seekers Home in Baltimore (no room at the “inn”).  Her son was born five days later, on January 6, the traditional feast of Epiphany.  (Mind you, we are “Emmanuel” Monastery!). That year we were graced to live the Christmas story in reality! It is difficult to put into words the gift that this mother and son, whom I will call Asman and Ali, have been and continue to be to us, even though recently they have moved to an apartment about fifteen minutes away.  They will always be a special part of our lives.

Asman, by her very being, taught us the gentle, unwavering, steadfast hope that is so much a part of Islam. 

We have learned much about the richness of the Holy Koran, and its stories of Abraham, Sarah, the Virgin Mary, Ann and Joachim, that so enrich our own tradition. 

We learned how to support one who fasts all day, from sunrise to sunset, through the whole month of Ramadan, and to be edified by such faithfulness.

We celebrate “EID,” the major Muslim feast that follows the sacred month of Ramadan.

We witnessed Asman’s fidelity to prayer five times each day, a fidelity that strengthened my own commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours.

Most importantly, we have learned the sacredness of Islam in ways we did not know before and in ways that completely refute the violent and intolerant interpretations of Islam that mark our news headlines and feed our fears of this tradition.

IN OUR TIME, we as Benedictine women, with our deep seeded roots of hospitality, can make such a contribution here.  The growing rift between Muslims and Christians cries out for healing, a healing that is a life or death issue IN OUR TIME.  Radical hospitality comes more easily, even when costly, to our Benedictine way of life.  The monks of Tibehirine in Algeria are just one example. Women like Susan, who open up worlds of understanding and solidarity for their students, offer hope and are a model for us all.

IN OUR TIME, dialogue with one another must triumph over talking AT one another (most times today it is yelling, not talking).  The absence of true dialogue, sharing among peers, is at the heart of so much of the world’s pain.  World leaders today are seen as weak if they want to sit down with leaders of countries we have branded as “rogue powers” or “the axis of evil.” We resort to weapons of war too quickly. 

The struggle of LCWR to remain faithful to “true dialogue” with the Vatican offers another example.

Our monastic profession of stability and conversatio have taught us ways of being with one another, working out our differences and moving toward understanding together- in ways that are respectful and non-violent. This is another gift we have to share IN OUR TIME.

In the words of Nostra ætate:

The Church exhorts her children, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they acknowledge, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among the people.

As Benedictine women, we have myriad opportunities to work collaboratively with so many diverse peoples, especially with those on the margins, and diverse cultures through our ministries and through the hospitality that is so much a part of who we are. Our monasteries have been so enriched by those who come to us, and it is our rich tradition in spirituality that brings so many to our doors.  

IN OUR TIME we have become a spiritual home to many who are marginalized and unwelcome in our church and in our world. IN OUR TIME monasteries have also become places where non-Christians are welcome, and where our members are learning and sharing practices that mutually deepen the human search for God.

IN OUR TIME when the institutional Church seems to be bent toward retrenchment away from the spirit of Vatican II, Nostra ætate would have us remember that

. . . day by day humankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger. . . . One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God.

As I journey with others in the ministry of spiritual direction, I become more and more aware of the truth that we are all seeking the One God.  When we can be with one another on that level, we know and experience the oneness that Jesus prayed for and it matters little how we name the God we seek or the religion we follow.  There is only this one journey. It is just the path that is different.

IN OUR TIME, we must ask what this document, as well as the whole spirit of the Vatican Council, is calling us to. In so many ways we have only just begun to live into that response.

IN OUR TIME we are increasingly faced with a choice, “not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and non-existence.  That is a choice we must make, that is the road we must cross.” (McLaren). We, as Benedictines, have the gifts, the charism, to help enable this crossing.

I began by posing a question:  “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed cross the road?” 

Imagine standing at this crossroad with Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed.  Imagine us all following them.  And on the other side we discover one another as neighbor, as friend, as sister and brother. On the other side we stand in solidarity with the poor and forgotten.  On the other side we stand on holy, sacred ground amidst justice and truth.

“Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed cross the road?…Because they hoped we would follow them!” That is the challenge of  Nostra ætate.  


McLaren, Brian D. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World.  Jericho Books, 2012, p. 12, 273


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