Readings: James 4:1-10 | Psalm 23 | Matthew 5:2-24
Tragedy has a way of freezing time for us, of creating a kind of horrible snapshot that we’ll never forget, no matter how hard we try. Growing up, people always used to say that they’d always remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot. Since I was still in the womb, that’s not something I could identify with! But I’ll always remember where I was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. And, like all of you, I’ll never forget the day the twin towers crashed to the ground.
I was in my third week of seminary, and getting ready to start my day. The first class of the day was one I had taken back in my college days, so I got to start my day a little later. I went to my computer to read the news headlines and saw something like “Plane crashes into World Trade Center.” I tried to click on the link to read the story, but the internet was clogged and I couldn’t get to it. So I turned on the news and saw the whole horrible thing. I watched in horror and grief as the second tower crashed to the ground, and then I caught up with my classmates who were getting ready for the second class and told them what I’d seen. Needless to say, we didn’t have that second class either.
But the snapshot I’ll always remember was going home that weekend and attending a prayer service at my home parish. It was a Friday evening, and the church was packed, and I mean packed . We sat before the Blessed Sacrament and prayed for peace and strength and comfort. It was a whole church full of people seeking to make sense of it all. And my home parish was not alone, of course. Attendance at churches all over America was off the charts in those days following the nightmare.
But five years have gone by and things have changed. The nightmare isn’t so fresh in our minds any more. If we didn’t know anybody killed in the twin towers, we may have moved on, content to leave the clean up to the city of New York and the working out of the consequences to the government. If one of our children or relatives is not overseas fighting the war on terrorism, this whole event may not be on our radar screen from day to day. We’re sympathetic to those who mourn the loss of their loved ones, but unless we have to get on an airplane and travel somewhere, the issue is not all that real to us, I fear.
Yet, as today’s scriptures tell us, the issue is right there in front of us. Each of us is on the front lines of the war against terrorism, war and hate right in our own hearts. We don’t have to travel abroad to seek out the enemy, because the enemy of enemies confronts us every day. Saint James makes it perfectly clear that the war is inside us when he says:
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and you wage war.
The Church teaches us that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is first of all violated when we hate and bear grudges. This teaching comes from what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel:
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa’
will be answerable to the Sandedrin,
and whoever says ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Anger and name-calling are indeed slippery slopes that can send us crashing right down into murder and war, or at least inciting that in others. For the Christian disciple, taking up the cross means leaving behind our grudges, jealousies, and bitterness so that we can embrace every person God puts in our midst with the love he has for that person. No other attitude is acceptable in any way, and may indeed be sinful.
Purple is the color of reconciliation, and it’s for that reason that we have purple vestments today. What we need to hear from today’s scriptures is that we must put the events of 9/11 back on our radar screen. We need to do that by looking at what can be the darkest and scariest place of all, right into the depths of our own hearts. When we do this, we receive the promise that James writes about, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” God longs to help us root out the war that rages in our own hearts. He deeply desires that his people should experience the peace that only he can give. With great abandon, he wants to embrace us all and help us to come to healing, peace and grace.
Too much blood has been shed in the days around and since 9/11, brothers and sisters in Christ. Thousands died in the towers, including many rescue workers. Many have become sick and died since from the affects of cleaning up the mess that was left. Hundreds have died on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq since that day. We cannot dishonor their memories by letting the snapshot of 9/11 fade into distant memory. We owe them more than the selfishness of letting them and their comrades work to protect us.
What can we do? We have to start with us. We have to heed these words of Scripture calling us to repentance, because peace is built one heart at a time. We have to pray for peace in every place, because we are all interconnected, and strife in one area of the world affects us all in some way eventually. And we have to remember those who died and who have since given their lives, because they are part of our communion of faithful departed. Above all, if we have come to the altar today with something against one of our brothers or sisters, we need to leave our gift here, and go out and be reconciled to them. As Jesus tells us today, only then can we offer our gift. And only then can we receive the great gift of God’s peace and comfort and healing. If we could all do that in some way, we have to believe that the snapshot that would be created – one free of horror and death and pain – would be a snapshot that was truly worth remembering.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.