Last year I blogged about Charlie Burrows, an Irish priest working in Indonesia who had been the subject of an RTE documentary. Fr Burrows’ work had seemed to me an embodiment of the ‘church without walls’ concept which this blog seeks to develop and (at least in some posts) promote.
I am now on Fr Burrows email list and he recently sent around this story about his encounter with a Muslim man who had experienced Jesus. It’s a compelling read, which raises many questions about mission, witness, relationships between Muslims and Christians, prayer, the work of God in the world, Eucharist, and how our institutional churches are perceived in the world at large. I reproduce it here with his kind permission.
Fr Charlie Burrows on Sharing: Experiencing Jesus in Islam and Christianity
Some months ago one of our parishioners told me of an Islam man to whom Jesus often appeared, particularly when he was finding life very difficult. He asked to bring him to see me and I agreed.
One morning, when I had a very busy schedule, they appeared for the sharing – so I put aside all else and prepared to listen. He told me the first time Jesus “came” to him (He did not use the word “appear”) he was feeling totally desolate – his wife had just left him and he was finding it hard to provide even food for his children. After Jesus’s visit he felt better and after that Jesus visited him now and again – particularly when going through hard times. Sometimes Jesus spoke – other times just came and went. One time when he was particularly depressed Jesus came nailed to the cross and gazed on him and he gazed back and realized his suffering was very little compared to Jesus and was somewhat consoled.
One day when he was at a market place he decided to take a look at “Church’s” and asked where was the nearest one.
Given directions, he found a Church, stopped outside and Jesus whispered to Him: “I am not here.” So he continued his search over time and again got “I am not here.”
Eventually he found himself outside our church and got the whisper “I am here”. He found out the times of weekend Eucharistic celebrations and he began attending. When everyone else approached the altar to receive communion he joined in. At some stage another parishioner noticed he was not a Catholic and told him he did not have the right to receive communion and in fact doing so was a “big sin”. He was very upset about this and felt very bad as his focus was on “meeting Jesus”.
The parishioner who brought this man to me then suggested he take Catholic religion lessons and prepare for baptism. He immediately responded that he believed Jesus loves Islam’s as much as he does Catholics and Protestants and Jesus never whispered to him that he should be baptized.
I agreed with him that Jesus did not discriminate in his loving – that he loved all infinitely, unconditionally and as one is. Also receiving “Communion” was not a “ big sin” as Jesus would understand. The problem is with his so called “followers” – particularly “the scribes”.
I suggested since he was here “did he wish me to pray over him.” As usual I prayed the prayer of the Spirit – he relaxed and “Rested in the Spirit”. When he came to he shot forward in the chair and exclaimed “Jesus has come to me again”.
He then left with his friend and I have not seen him again.
Now many non Catholics who are stressed out with life’s problems ask to be prayed over and I never refuse and they “rest in the spirit” for a while and then off they go.
I read of the “new evangelization” which seems to see the ideal as “Official baptism” which is seen as a “path to hell” for Islam’s who deny their faith. Islam honors the prophet ISA (Jesus) and believes He is the one that will judge all mankind on the “last Day.” Also I hear there is a quote suggesting “to pray to Nabi Isa” whereas Islam’s only pray to God, but as I am not on “expert” (far from it) I do not know and am happy in my relative ignorance!!!
But I believe the God of Jesus – introduced to us in Jesus – loves everyone and all creation equally, infinitely, unconditionally and as we are and has the same goal in mind for all of us – eternal happiness and “sufficiently happy” in this world. And Jesus will “whisper’ to those he wishes the Catholic Church to guide them on the way.
Our vocation is to introduce Jesus – The God of Jesus to all irrespective of their religion and to Agnostics and Atheists. Atheists don’t reject the God of Jesus but the deformed concept of God they got from the “High Priests,” “scribes” and “Pharisees” of today.