Maybe Catholic colleges and universities would be more emphatic about Church traditions such as Lent if they thought they were similar to Islamic rites such as Ramadan. “This year, the Feast (or holiday) of Ramadan began on August 1 and continues through August 29,” the office of university ministry urged the campus faithful at Florida-based St. Leo’s. “During this holy month of fasting, Muslim and non-Muslims observe this time as an opportunity to refrain from self-indulgence in order to reflect more deeply upon a personal relationship with God.”
“The Saint Leo community can join in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters; we are all encouraged, during these final 10 days of Ramadan, to observe fasting for a day and to offer it for peace, harmony, and good will among people of all faith.” Well, it does stop short of urging students to pray towards Mecca. St. Leo’s has satellite campuses on military bases in California, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia.
Exploring the similarities between creeds and doctrines is a laudable goal. Nevertheless, theologians might question whether the Catholic ecumenical movement was ever designed to add new sacraments or rituals from outside the Church. Compare this Ramadan advisory to the much more laid-back one sent out by the university during Lent earlier this year: Back then, Father Stephen Brown, whose name is also attached to the Ramadan message, advised, “For many, this time of year is seen as a time to give things up; however, I would encourage us to reflect on this time as an opportunity to give back to God and to do something to recommit, reconnect, and rejuvenate our spiritual lives.”
This is a consistent theme at St. Leo’s. “Especially in the past, Lent was a time ‘to give up something,’” the university advised five years ago. “Contemporary approach encourages us to take the time to enter more fully into understanding and living the Paschal Mystery—the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus—in our own lives.”
“In the Middle Ages penitents had to wear ‘sack cloth and ashes’ as part of their penance during Lent. Today we ritualize our entering into this season by Mass and ‘Distribution of Ashes’ on the forehead. The person distributing ashes says, ‘Repent and believe in the Good News,’ or the more traditional, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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