Diminished Witness

Thomas Howard

“Save us, Savior of the world, for, by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

After our adult children got married, each couple chose to stay relatively close to home to raise their families. Three family units all live within a hundred miles of our Chicago home. It’s a joy when we all get together for a particular celebration. Four little grandchildren now dominate our family narrative. While the little cousins are bonding, their adult parents enjoy each other’s company. Grandma and grandpa (my wife and I) relish these special moments.

Family life is far from perfect, however. I currently struggle to come to terms with my son’s recent conversion to Islam. The prospects for a harmonious, interreligious dialogue seem dim. Family and individual conversations concerning faith and religion usually end up ugly. The topic of the Trinity, in particular, always seems to cause consternation, leading to a commotion.

Abraham, the Jewish and Muslim faith patriarch, is a saint in heaven who intercedes on our behalf. Our relationship is very complex. Someday I may share the backstory. Suffice it to say here that my wife and I were surprised on many occasions during these past seven, somewhat tumultuous, years. Abraham, the father of faith, accompanies me, through thick and thin.

My son, already blessed with a beautiful young daughter, plans on naming his firstborn son after Abraham. He also enthusiastically celebrates Qubani, a Muslim feast commemorating the faith witness of the Prophet Abraham. Abraham, you may recall, was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to God as an offering.

Abraham’s diminished witness resonates with my experience, especially in light of my role as my son’s father and now a grandfather to his granddaughter.

Abraham’s faith journey was far from easy. He waited over 100 years before Isaac was born. Even then, Abraham’s spouse, Sarah, had fundamental problems with the teen Ishmael playing with her newborn child Isaac. Family unity was untenable. Abraham, thus, was forced to send his slave Haggar and their son Ishmael far away. The pain and misunderstanding associated with this family separation still remain, even today. Thanks to his fidelity, God blessed Abraham as the patriarch of two great nations.

It is now clear that I will not be taking my Muslim daughter to mass nor celebrating any of the beautiful Catholic faith traditions with her. It is unrealistic for this grandpa to expect the same religious freedom as with his other granddaughters. Grandpa Tom, like Abraham, is called to witness his faith silently. The role of diminished witness is totally new for me.

When it comes to teaching Christianity and the spiritual mysteries to my granddaughter, I do not expect an immediate answer. In the interim, it would be wonderful to have a good question to live by. Saint Abraham, intercede for my son and I, so that we may explore and refrain from explaining, dialogue as opposed to defining.