“Let us therefore have charity and humility and give alms because it washed the stains of sins from our souls. We must also fast and abstain from vices and sins…” –St. Francis of Assisi
“There are many whose fast is nothing beyond being hungry and thirsty.” – The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)
With the beginning of Ramadan and the month of sawm, I thought about my commitment and my life here as a Novice with the Capuchin Franciscans. Looking at our schedule of prayer, the commitment to charity, the denial of temporal things that separate us from God… I felt excited because, in a way, this life that seemed so separate from the American norm would now be shared by over 7 million people world-wide!
I also read an insightful article by Brian McLaren talking about how he as a Christian was choosing to share the experience of Ramadan with his Muslim neighbors. In the article he outlines the plan to observe the fast and the principles of the season in a Christian context, yet being respectful and hospitable to those of another faith. You can read the entire article here.
I was immediately intrigued by this idea. While his motives appear more focused on inter-faith dialogue, I looked at how he planned to use the time for spiritual and prayerful reflection. I’d never really fasted before; unless you count the times I ate a Filet-O-Fish instead of a Big Mac. Yet I was aware of many people, from Biblical times to Cesar Chavez, who fasted as a way to spiritually cleanse the body, be in solidarity with those who were hungry, deepen their prayer life, and affirm their dependence (submission) to God.
After praying and meditating on the idea, and then presenting the concept to my spiritual director, I decided that I too would also observe the fast for Ramadan. I don't happen to have a "Muslim friend" in which to "buddy-up" during this time (as McLaren suggests), however I feel this will be a way to deepen my prayer life as well as immerse myself into this Novitiate experience. I’ve think I've come up with a way to observe the fast as I continue to discern my vocation as a Capuchin friar.
For some pretty obvious reasons, I had to tailor a unique way in which to participate. First off, my prayers and testimony of faith (shahadah) will slightly differ from the common prayers of the Qu'ran. I do observe the requirement not to eat from before dawn throughout the day. However the evening meal at Novitiate is a community function, therefore my fast ends at 6:00 PM when we eat. I recognize it isn’t the full time that is prescribed, however the evening meal is an important aspect of community life. Also, since ministry is built in to the Novitiate program, I will look for new ways to fulfill the zakat. Most people don’t have the benefit of living in a community that is built around daily prayer and devotion to God like me…I want to look for ways to reach beyond the current work we do.
I mentioned that I am doing this for personal reasons; however I am excited to learn more about Islam and to understand the spirituality. As a Franciscan I cannot overlook the meeting of Francis and Maik Al-Kamil, the Sultan during the 5th Crusade. The example shown of this story is that two people can be respectful of each other while still discussing their own faith. While this time is meant for my personal relationship with God, I’d like to build that sense of inter-faith dialogue into my life as well.
Don’t be fooled – I haven’t got this all figured out and I can only pray that I have the fortitude to actually do the fast. My ultimate goal is to achieve a clearer mind and a better prayer life during this discernment period of Novitiate. My hope is that the observance of Ramadan will be a vessel which will help my spiritual development. I will post updates as well as reflections about this month, and how it affects me throughout my time here. Keep me in your prayers!
Peace and all good,
Br. Vito Martinez OFM Cap.