The Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year (A)
The Tenth Anniversary of the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sirach 27:30). “He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills” (Psalm 103:). “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). “I give you a new commandment, says the Lord: love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother in his heart” (Matthew 18:35).
Today, ten years after the world was changed following the horrific attacks at New York, Arlington and Shanksville, these sacred words resound with the deepest truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Among the unique qualities of Christianity is its refusal to allow for any form of revenge, following the example of its Divine Founder.
In the aftermath of 9/11 we were shown images of the terrorist supporters and sympathizers rejoicing at the collapse of the Twin Towers. Nine years later, following the death of Usama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, we saw images of Americans rejoicing at the death of a man. They proved themselves no better than our attackers; their desire for vengeance and their thirst for blood were quenched, forgetting all the while that “the vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail” (Sirach 28:1).
Such sights and sounds of jubilation run flatly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. “Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep before shearers, he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). He says to us, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven” (Sirach 30:2).
Following the death of Usama bin Laden, the Holy See issued a simple and straightforward statement:
Osama bin Laden – as everyone knows – has had the gravest responsibility for spreading hatred and division among people, causing the deaths of countless people, and exploiting religion for this purpose.
Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.
The Christian response to such violence is not more violence, nor is it a desire for revenge. It is, rather, a pledge for peace and healing; it is to take the path taken by the heroes of 9/11 who, at their own peril, sought to rescue and save those in danger. They knew the truth of Saint Paul’s words: “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).
J.R.R. Tolkien, the celebrated author and literary genius, was a devout Catholic who allowed his faith in Jesus Christ to shape and guide his life. His faith flowed into his trilogy of The Lord of the Rings; consequently, there is much we can learn of faithful discipleship in its pages.
In the mines of Moria, Gandalf explains to Frodo something of Gollum’s history. Hearing of Gollum’s past, Frodo says, “It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.” Is this not the very same sentiment that drove so many to rejoice at the death of Usama bin Laden?
In response, Gandalf says to Frodo, “Pity? It was pity that stayed Biblo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.” Neither should we be eager for the death of another, nor should we rejoice in a man’s death, despite the atrocities committed by his hand or at his direction.
It was an abuse and a distortion – a perversion - of true religion that led to the terrorist attacks that took the lives of innocent people while the terrorists claimed to act in the name of God. Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly and consistently reminded us that violence has no place in religion, that it is contrary to religion. In a letter he sent to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Benedict reminds us that “every human life is precious in God’s sight and no effort should be spared in the attempt to promote throughout the world a genuine respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of individuals and people everywhere.” Our love, our forgiveness, must extend even to those who take the lives of others; they, too, have been created in love and for love.
The teachings of Jesus Christ are simple, but they are not easy. He says to us, without condition or qualification, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This is our high calling, and to it we must always aspire.
Today is a day for us to pause and consider how authentically we live our faith and practice our religion. How willing are we to forgive those who commit atrocious acts of violence and hatred? How firmly do we hold to the teachings of the Master? When we pose Peter’s question to him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?” the answer remains the same: forgive your brother from the heart (Matthew 18:21, 35).
Let each of us, then, heed the wisdom of Sirach: “Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults” (Sirach 28:6-7). If we live with the reality of our own death in mind, life begins to take on a new meaning and a new purpose; if we remember death and decay we learn that what we do each day is important. Our good deeds matter and so does our sin. It is always good to ask, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord” (Sirach 28:3)? Each day we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). These are daring words and rest upon our forgiveness of others, even our enemies; let us not speak them in vain.
Gathered as we are in this Cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Peace, let us implore the intercession of the Blessed Mother. May she, whose heart was pierced by seven sorrows, teach us to love and to forgive, even as she forgave those who crucified her Son (cf. Luke 2:35). Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!