24th Sunday (Year C)
September 16, 2001

In Remembrance of September 11, 2001

Homily by
Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR
© 9-15-2001

   Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
   Luke 15: 11-32

This sure has been some week! Where does one begin? Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, no.1
(December 23, 1776), "These are the times that try men’s souls."

Well, this past week has been trying times for all Americans. Today, there are no hyphenated Americans – not Irish-Americans, not Italian-Americans, not African-Americans, or others…There are just Americans who have been assaulted by the horrors and hatred unleashed by forces of evil. Even on the news there was a weeping Frenchwoman who said, "Today, we are all Americans."

Know well! These were not acts by Arabs, or Muslims, or any true followers of the Koran. They were acts by fanatics filled with so much hatred that their hearts were blackened to evil. In many ways they are just like the KKK or "skinheads" who are not righteous Christians, but forces of hate.

The root of the word "terror," or "terrorism," comes from the Indo-European base "tre" (shake or tremble) and means to "shake with fear." It does well to understand that the aim of terror is to break your spirit, to cause you fear, to fall into despair and darkness. However, we have a God, the Rock of Ages, who is the God of mercy, the God of hope and the God of light. So let us walk in the light, steadfast in faith!

This past week my feelings have been like a yo-yo – shock, horror, sorrow, sadness, fear, anger, helplessness, compassion, frustration, concern – as I’m sure yours were too. There was an intensity of emotions colliding with the depth of our feelings, overwhelmed by the magnitude of these tragic events. However we cannot act simply on our feelings. In recent days there has been one word that is often used in speeches, prayers and sermons, and that word is – RESOLVE!

For those who know me, that means a trip to the dictionary to make sure I understand the terms used. In the Random House Dictionary the definition of resolve is as follows:

to come to a definite or earnest decision about; to determine…to progress from dissonance to consonance.…to make up one’s mind, dedicate oneself to, decide,…fixed intention, commitment, purpose…steadfast purpose, firmness of intent.

There is no doubt about it, emotions are running high. There is a desire to hit back – to hurt someone, something – but we must have greater resolve, in our faith and as a citizen.

By far, this has been the most difficult sermon I have had to prepare. So much needs to be said, but where are the proper words? What can be said at a moment like this in history? What words adequately can convey the horror and shock we feel at this catastrophic evil? These are difficult times with no quick and easy answers, just – Why?…Why?…Why?

One feels so unbelievably inadequate in times like this, and then there are these readings on repentance and the Prodigal Son parable (Lk. 15:11-32). Where to begin?

Across the nation, church services were overflowing during the week. And churches are packed this weekend as people try to make sense of this tragedy, come to grips with the terror brought into their homes. People of all faiths are joining together to lift up their hearts, their spirits and their voices.

Many prodigal sons and daughters have turned to God during this time. In an instant, priorities were changed and values converted. Time will tell if these outpourings of faith are a resolve to turn around their lives, or transitory seeking of comfort and solace.

September 11, 2001 – a day that will be remembered always. For out of the very worst man was capable of, the very best has been brought forth – through the heroic efforts by firefighters, police and rescue personnel; through the thousands of caring and compassionate volunteers who stepped forward in this time of crisis.

Max Lucado wrote, "We are not as self-centered as we were. We are not as self-reliant as we were." Yes, hearts are pierced, heads are bowed, knees are bent, but united we stand! A glimmer of hope continues to shine through the clouds of darkness and terror.

We read from Psalm 27: "The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?…When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.…Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, Lord, I will seek.…Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.…I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

And, we see in New York harbor, Lady Liberty’s torch brightly beaconing hope amid these darkest hours of terror. If we hold to the Lord as our light and our salvation there is no darkness so dark that can dim even the tiniest flicker of faith, hope and freedom.

Again, we read in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (5:8-9) "…now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth."

Rev. Billy Graham, speaking last Friday at the National Cathedral’s prayer service, reminded us that we need "to be moved more by compassion for one another rather than contempt of our enemies." Evil cannot be faced with rampant, unbridled hatred; for then we become that which we most deplore – our hearts too can be turned to a similar blackness of hatred. In the days ahead, we should not be interested in revenge, but be interested more in mobilizing people to channel their energies to serve a greater good.

It is important that each of us examines our heart in response to God saying to Moses: "They have turned aside from the way I pointed out to them…"(Ex. 32:7-11, 13-14). The Gospel Imperative is Now! Now is the time…Today not tomorrow. This is the day each of us must be prepared, to repent of our ways and return to the ways of the Lord.

So what can we do? How do we respond? How do we focus, or channel, our pent-up feelings and emotions to do something?

I propose, that each one of us resolves in a greater way seeking to walk in the light of the Lord, and not crawl in the pits of despair; that each one of us resolves to be a man or woman of compassion, and not of contempt; that each one of us pray with great expectancy, and with firm resolve that this day, and every day, that we become instruments of Christ’s peace.

Please join me in praying The Peace Prayer (attributed to the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi):

Today, Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
   Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
   Where there is injury, pardon;
   Where there is doubt, faith;
   Where there is despair, hope;
   Where there is darkness, light, and
   Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,
   Grant that I may not so much seek
   To be consoled as to console;
   To be understood as to understand;
   To be loved as to love;
   For it is in giving that we receive;
   It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and
   It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In closing we pray: National Prayer          (adapted from www.mamarocks.com)

Lord, we come to You on bended knee, heads bowed and our hearts filled to overflowing with so much grief for the many people who have died, for those injured and for the families waiting for word of the missing, any word.

We ask you Lord, to give courage and strength to those who so bravely go to their aid. And though their hearts will be heavy and filled with sorrow we ask Lord that You give them the endurance needed to help them through this difficult task.

Please give us the strength Lord, to get through each difficult and devastating day that faces each of us and our country. Protect and guide our Military that are now being called to duty.

We ask Lord, that You guide the leaders of our great country in their hour of decision. The burden that has been placed on their shoulders during this crisis is overwhelming. We ask that with Your infinite wisdom You guide them gently to the right decisions.

And lastly Lord, we ask that You allow us all to come together as a Nation, to stand tall and united, so that we might help each other in our hour of need.