September 11, 2011
24 Sunday A #130
Sir 27, 30. 28,9
Rom 14, 7-9
Mt 18, 21-35
Deacon Tom Cornell
It was unimaginable yet we saw it with our own eyes. My fellow Catholic Workers in New York City went to our roof only a mile and a half north of the World Trade Center when the first plane struck. Most of us saw it on TV, over and over and over again. They came down, the Twin Towers, they just came down, in smoke and ash and flame, and nearly three thousand souls. It was unimaginable, unforgettable, horrible. We all felt it, an insult to our nation, to our pride, as it was meant to be. Can we forgive such a crime against our people, a crime against our country, a crime against humanity itself, a crime against God? A crime! Not an act of war! When we refer to a “war” against terrorism, remember that the word “war” is used as a metaphor, as in the war against polio or the war against small-pox. To combat crime, we call upon our police and courts, not upon the army!
It does not dishonor the dead or excuse this crime in any degree to ask why they hate us so much. It isn’t our freedoms they hate in the Arab and Muslim worlds. That’s silly. They don’t give a hoot in hell about how we order our lives, unless it impinges on how they must live their lives. This is not the time or place for a history lesson, but the gross injuries the West, especially France and England and this country have inflicted upon the Arab and Muslim worlds have been egregious, going back to World War I. We may choose to ignore or forget them but they do not! They don’t care about our freedoms. But we care. We have to care. And about our maimed and dead.
First of all we care about the dead and injured and their families, the workers in the Towers and the firemen and police who lost their lives trying to save others. These people put their lives on the line every day for us. Here in Marlboro we know our police and firefighters. They are our neighbors and friends. That’s not often the case in the City, where I live also. There was a moment in the City when people came together and actually talked to one another on the subways and the street. It didn’t last long, but that loss brought us all together, for a week or so. As we recovered our equilibrium, feelings of anger, resentment, revenge began to surface. It’s only natural. But then the words of today’s readings from the Book of Sirach hit us: I didn’t choose these readings. They are assigned by the Church for the Latin rite throughout the world. They are assigned for this day in the Common Lectionary that many Protestants use as well. They are Providential for our condition this day of remembrance.
“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance…. Should a man nourish anger against his neighbor and expect healing from the Lord?”
The Psalm verse is, “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.”
Then in today’s Gospel we have the parable of the official who was shown mercy but did not show mercy and Peter’s question to Jesus, “How often must I forgive, seven times?” “No,” Jesus replied, “not seven times but seventy times seven.”
And just before Communion we recite that most dangerous of prayers, the Our Father. Dangerous? Yes! Why? Because we beg God to forgive us as we forgive, that is, the same way, to the same degree that we forgive those who trespass against us. Do we really mean it?
To forgive is not to say, “that’s all right!” It can never be right to kill innocent human beings, never! Cardinal Egan gave us a clue when he preached at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the Sunday after the attack, that we must not give way to fear and hatred. All right! But to forgive? To forgive such a crime?
Forgiveness is hard, very hard. I thought I had forgiven someone who once tried, and failed, to hurt me very badly. I had prayed for her, over and over again. But a few nights ago I dreamt of her for the first, and I hope only time. I cursed her up and down and to hell and back in that dream! So I have to pray some more.
In the immediate aftermath of an attack, it’s natural for us to lose balance, to sink into confusion. Not everyone was confused that day. Those in high places seized an opportunity they had been waiting for, an excuse to attack and invade Iraq. They had planned, determined to do so months if not years before. Iraq had nothing to do with the attack of 10/11, but that didn’t matter. The people were confused and angry. They could get away with it. We now know without any doubt that the nation was led to war by a concert of deliberate lies. We have been paying the price for it ever since, not only monetarily. We have lost twice the number of our fellow citizens in war as we lost in the Twin Towers and many times more maimed, and we have caused at least 100,000 Iraqis and Afghans to die. They tell us we are broke, so we borrowed the money for the war! We pay the price in the loss of the good will of the international community as well.
A friend of mine was attending a wedding in Serbia when the news of 9/11 broke there. It wasn’t long after the US bombed Belgrade. My friend thoroughly expected that at least some in the wedding party would reproach him as an American and say something like, “Now you know what it feels like to be under the bomb!” But no, quite the contrary. Everyone sympathized and offered words of comfort. That would not happen today.
This is not the place to analyze the political, social and economic causes and effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Libya. But this is the place to examine the spiritual roots of this insanity. Our problems are at root spiritual and must be met with the weapons of the spirit: prayer, fasting and the works of mercy. What pride and arrogance has blinded us to our self-justification in destroying Iraq and pursuing a useless, immoral and unwinnable war in Afghanistan? There is justifiable pride, to be sure, in our American traditions, even as they are being eroded by these very wars. Sinful pride, it is a deadly sin, puts us above the law of nations and above the law of God. “Thou shalt not murder the innocent!” Not even to avenge the innocent.
Is there another way? Let me tell you emphatically that the best thing you can do for your country is to be the best Catholic Christian you can be. And take a lesson from a good Muslim man, named Rais Bhuiyan. He is an immigrant living in Texas, from Pakistan, but he could pass for an Arab. He was in a convenience store with two Pakistani friends when a man came in, pulled a gun and shot two of them dead. He shot Rais in the face, blinding him permanently in one eye. It was to avenge 9/11, the shooter cried, saying that he was an “Arab slayer.” The man, Mark Stroman, was tried for murder in a Texas court, convicted and sentenced to death. Rais spent years in rehab, but when he was strong enough he campaigned vigorously to save Mr. Stroman’s life. In that he failed. It was Texas, after all. Mark Stroman met his fate in the Texas electric chair.
“I have had many years to grow spiritually,” Rais said. He pledged that he will spend the rest of his life knocking on every door, trying to do the best he can to see that not another human life be lost needlessly and, in his words, “trying to teach people about the healing power of forgiveness.” Forgiveness, mind you, in the name and spirit of 9/11, “the healing power of forgiveness.”
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, let us learn from our good Muslim brother. Have mercy on us and let us be healed. Amen.