I would like to share today an anecdote that I came across a little while back, in a talk given by Dr. Peter Kreeft that I had watched online. I remember being struck by the story when I heard it, but had not thought about it for a long time, until now, and so decided to look it up. Thankfully I found that someone had copied the anecdote in question out and uploaded it. I shall not try and describe the essence of what Kreeft is getting across here (though I may, in a future post, try and address the details of what it is that we believe regarding this topic), as it would only undermine the impact that the story has itself.
All I will say is that the truth this story reveals is one that is extremely important, and, as it is something that I am sure we all need to be reminded about from time to time, to have an outsider’s perspective on acts as a highly effective means of recalling us from any state of complacency or over-familiarity that we may have fallen into. Here is the story in question:
‘My friend John, a very intelligent and faithful Catholic, told me the following story when he was one of my students at Boston College. John’s friend, Isa—a very intelligent and faithful Muslim—expressed an interest in understanding the Catholic faith (not out of any doubt of his own) and asked John to take him to Mass. After Mass, John asked Isa what he had thought of it. Isa said, very slowly and thoughtfully, “Do Catholics really believe that thing, that piece of bread, is not bread at all but Jesus Christ (blessed be his name)?” (Christ is a revered prophet to Muslims, though not the Son of God.)
“We do”, said John.
“Your Church teaches that he is really present there, yes? That what’s there is the man who was God?”
“Yes. The formula is ‘Body and blood, soul and divinity.’”
“And you believe that?”
Isa made as if to say something, but stifled it. John assured him he would not be offended. Finally, reluctantly, Isa said, “I don’t understand.”
“I understand how you feel. It sounds very shocking.”
“No, you don’t understand. That’s not what I mean. You will take it as an insult, but I don’t mean it to be.”
“I promise I won’t take it as an insult. But I really want to know what’s on your mind”
“Well then…I don’t think you really do believe that. I don’t mean to say you’re dishonest, but…”
“I think I know what you mean. You can’t empathize with anyone who believes something so shocking. You don’t see how you could ever get down on your knees before that altar.”
“No, I don’t see how I could ever get up. If I believed that thing that looks like a little round piece of bread was really Allah Himself, I think I would just faint. I would fall at His feet like a dead man.”
John looked carefully at my reaction as he reported Isa’s words. My eyes opened, and he smiled. “What did you say to him?” I asked.
“Nothing. Then, after a while, just ‘Yes.’”
John is a wise man.’