I think many of us will never forget where we were eight years ago today. People say that about the day that President Kennedy died, or the day when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. But in a particular way, I think we will never forget September 11, 2001, because it was a day that changed our world in some very unpleasant ways and shattered whatever remained of our innocence. Traveling and doing business has changed so much in these years. So many of us have known people who have died in the twin towers, or in the war that has raged since.
I remember the weekend following that horrible day. I came home from seminary to visit with my parents, and we came here to church to pray. The church was packed, on a Friday night. And I know that in every church in America, pews were full every day and every weekend for quite a while. Look around now, though. Where is everyone? Now that the world isn’t going to end as fast as we thought, do we no longer need God? Or have we grown weary of the war that has been fought since and the changes in our world and just given up on God?
I think that as the war continues, and the lack of peace seems to continue, and the somewhat subdued, now, but ever-present sense of terror continues, it might just be time for us to do some examination and to discern what has led to that sense of unrest. Today’s Gospel gives us the examination of conscience that will help us to do that. What precisely is the plank of wood in our own eyes that needs to be removed before we can concentrate on the splinter in the eye of another? What is it that is un-peaceful in us that contributes, in some small but nonetheless very real measure to the lack of peace in the world?
We all have to do that on an individual basis to start with. St. Paul does it in our first reading today when he admits to his friend Timothy, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man…” And he acknowledges with deep gratitude and profound humility how God changed his life, had mercy on him, forgave him his sins, and gave him charge over one of the most significant evangelical and missionary ministries in the history of the world. We, too, are blasphemers, persecutors and arrogant men and women, and it is time for us to humbly acknowledge that and urgently beg from God the grace to turn it around, that all the world might be turned around with us.
But we also have to do this on a communal basis as well. We don’t go to salvation alone; that’s why we Catholics don’t get overly excited about having a personal relationship with Jesus. For us, a personal relationship with Christ, is like that first baby step; once we’re there, we know that we cannot rest and admire our work. A personal relationship with Christ is certainly a good start for us, but we know that we have to be faithful in community or nothing truly great can ever happen. So it’s up to all of us together to work for true peace, figuring out what in our society has led to unrest and mercilessly casting it out, opening ourselves to the peacemaking power of God that can transform the whole world. Together, as the Mass for the Feast of Christ the King will tell us, we must work with Christ to present to God “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
I get a little worked up when I think about this kind of thing, because I’ve come to realize this is the only way it’s all going to get wrapped up rightly. Only when all the world has come to know the saving power of our God will we experience the return to grace that we lost in the Garden of Eden. And that will never happen until all peoples have learned to love and respect one another, and have come to be open to the true peace that only God can give us.
It didn’t all go wrong on 9-11; if we are honest, that horrifying day was a long time coming. But that day should have been a loud, blaring wake-up call to all of us that things have to change if we are ever going to experience the peace of Christ’s kingdom. We are not going to get there without any one person or even any group of people; we need for all of us to repent if any of us will ever see that great day. Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, absolutely must be a time when we all hear that wakeup call yet anew, and respond to it from the depths of our hearts, both as individuals, and as a society.
Truly we will never forget where we were on that horrible day of 9-11. But wouldn’t it be great if we could all one day look back with fondness, remembering with great joy the day when we finally partnered with our God and turned it all around?