The Anniversary of the 9-11-01 Tragedy

Today’s readings

Seventeen years ago today, I sat in my room at seminary waiting for my first class to begin.  My classmates were already in their first classes; I had taken that particular class in college, so I didn’t have to take it again in seminary.  While I waited for class to begin, I flipped on the morning news, and just caught the end of something about a plane colliding with one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  I tried to get more information on the internet, but Yahoo news was running slow because of all the people trying to find out what happened.  Later, as I watched on television, I learned of the tragic events of four plane crashes that day and the thousands of lives that were lost.  Our world, in those tragic hours, was changed forever.

And so today, it can be very hard to hear the words Saint Paul speaks to the Corinthians today.  He speaks about letting ourselves be cheated and allowing the injustice that sometimes happens to us, rather than fighting it by committing the same sins ourselves. He exhorts us to treat each other as brothers and sisters.  And yet, when we look at an injustice like the tragedy of 9-11, it can be hard to see our persecutors as brothers and sisters.  It’s almost unthinkable to just let it happen to us and not lash out. But his point is that fighting against it by perpetrating injustice to others is sinful too, and he’s right.

The point is that we have to live the peace and justice and righteousness that we want to see in the world.  If all we do is respond to evil with evil, we don’t ever change anything.  But if we respond by making our corner of the world a better place, it can change everything. The Gospel Verse today says, “I chose you from the world, that you may go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.”  And evil never lasts, because Christ has conquered it.  Peace, justice, and love – those things last, because their source is God himself.

So I think we have to look at ourselves.  Have we been sources of peace or sources of anger, hate and violence?  And I don’t even mean that on any grand scale. Maybe we’ve just been jealous in petty ways, or have held on to the occasional grudge.  Maybe we have decided not to call the relative whose phone only seems to accept incoming calls.  Maybe we have sent a nasty email without stopping to consider it for any due time.  Maybe we have made or laughed at a racial joke, or have decided not to confront a person who uses racial slurs.  To whatever extent we have not been peaceful, we have added to the hatred and evil of which our world is already full.

And so today we pray for ourselves, that we might be more forgiving, for our world that it might be more peaceful, for our enemies and ourselves that we might come to know each other as children of God, for an end to evil and terrorism and murder and injustice of every kind.  Toward all of that, I offer today the prayer that Pope Benedict offered ten years ago at Ground Zero:

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost …
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Amen.

9-11: Taking the Wooden Beams Out of Our Eyes

Today’s readings

When I hear today’s Gospel reading, I think about my dad. When he was alive, he was a guy who seemed to know everyone. Anywhere we went, he’d find someone he knew, even on vacation! But he wouldn’t just know their names, he’d also know something about them. He would know their talents, stuff they were good at; he’d also sometimes know if they were going through some kind of difficulty or hard time. But most often, he always was able to see what was good in them.

That’s the kind of thing I think Jesus wants us to do in our Gospel reading. He wants us to know each other as brothers and sisters, instead of seeing everyone’s faults and sins and downfalls. Because we all have those things. And if we focus on them, we’ll never be the children of God we were created to be. He uses the hyperbole of seeing a splinter in the other person’s eye but missing the wooden beam in our own. We all have sins and downfalls, but we all have grace and blessing. We’ve got to look for that, look for the best in people, because that’s what makes us children of God.

Fourteen years ago today, right around this time in the morning, I was in my room in seminary. Most of the other guys in my class had a class at that time, but I didn’t. So I was working on some homework, and then decided to go online and read some of the news. The first headline I saw said something like “Airplane Collides with World Trade Center.” I turned on the television and saw the tower down, and thought it had to be some kind of horrible accident. Then I saw the second plane fly into the second tower, and at that point everyone knew something terrible was happening. I will never forget that horrible moment.

Over the course of the following days, we came to know that over three thousand people died that day, including many police and fire fighters. And our world has changed a lot ever since: there is more security when you get on an airplane, more security everywhere, it seems. And if we would listen to what Jesus is telling us today, maybe things like this wouldn’t have to happen.

Even this week, a Sikh man was attacked right near here in Darien, because the attacker thought he was a terrorist. We have to learn to take the wooden beams out of our eyes so that we can see each other as brothers and sisters. Only then will we become everything that God intends for us.

Today on this fourteenth anniversary of 9-11, we should do a lot of things. We should study what happened that day so that we won’t repeat the mistakes that were made. We should remember those who gave their lives that day, especially those who tried to help the victims, and we should pray for ourselves and all people that we can become peaceful people who love the Lord and see each other as brothers and sisters, without all those splinters or beams in our eyes.

Memorial of 9-11

Today’s readings

I think today’s Gospel reading presents some challenges on this particular day. “Love your enemies” is a fine instruction in times of peace and security, but we don’t live in those times. I wonder if anyone ever did, after Eden.

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.

And today, war continues, and the lack of peace seems to continue, and there is that ever-present sense of terror. So maybe it is 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. “Love your enemies.” The commandment is unsettling. We all know it’s hard sometimes to truly love those who are not our enemies, so what chance do we have to love our enemies? And why should we, anyway?

Well, that last line of the Gospel tells us why: “For the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you.” So the way that we deal with others is the way God will deal with us. That’s almost horrifying. So it is imperative that love be our first inclination. It’s the lack of love that got us into this mess in the first place. So if we want to be with God for eternity, we have to be like God, our God who is love itself.

And yet, it’s easier to say that than to do it. We certainly struggle with our emotions in times of terror and tragedy. But Jesus never said our way in this world would be easy as his disciples, but only that it would lead to eternal blessedness.

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, found a way to love our enemies, and turned it all around?

Memorial of 9-11-01

Today’s readings

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?