24th Sunday – 9/11 Anniversary

September 12, 2021

I turned the TV on for morning news as I began to shave, looking at one tower already imploded and the second plane crashing into the other.  Where were you?

We were stunned by the violence — that a group of human beings were so angry and so violent with us who are Americans.

We were so stunned to comprehend that almost 3,000 persons and 343 first responders also died in three attacks, in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.

We sit here 20 years later — stunned and numbed that a violent hatred remains, that taking out Osama bin laden has accomplished very little – nor has our 20 years of presence in Afghanistan.  While we may be much more aware and have become more equipped with security, the violence of 9/11 continues to fester and to grow.

There is no sure or wise or capable response to end what 9/11 began.

It is important to remember today the nearly 3,000 men and women, married couples and young workers, police and firemen who lost their lives because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It is important to remember all the first responders who went eagerly to rescue and who were pulverized in the collapse of those buildings.

It is important to stand together in humility and vulnerability.  The terrorist shoe could drop again.  The great loss of human life could happen again.  The great shock of inhumanity could be felt again!

While vengeance is a very human and understandable response to tragedy, today’s first scripture invites us to let God open our hearts and our ears.  The person who believes in God learns how to “give our backs to those who beat us,” that we are not necessarily shielded from [insults] and spitting, but that the Lord God is our help and therefore we are not disgraced (Isaiah 50:6-7). 

This takes a long time for us to understand and accept.

Although our pride may be wounded and we drag our tail between our legs, the Servant-man of the Prophet Isaiah challenges us to see beyond and to go beyond vengeance and national pride: “See,” Isaiah writes, “The Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”

Today’s Psalm Prayer describes the feeling of that first 9/11.(Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9)  

The cords of death encompassed me;

The snakes of the netherworld seized upon me;

I fell into distress and sorrow,

And I called upon the name of the Lord.

God has freed my soul from death,

My eyes from tears,

My feet from stumbling.

I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the Living.

We are living in Apocalyptic times.  Coming from the last written Book of Revelation in the New Testament collection of scriptures, the word refers to the destruction of the world and the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.  More than a destruction or a revelation of something new, the apocalypse reveals a moment of truth calling us to a moment of truth.

Any one of several events today sound like an apocalypse— starting with the pandemic, the wringing of our hands, the refusal to be vaccinated and to cooperate with masks and social distancing.  Covid-19 is a new plague, and there does not seem to be a cure until we are all vaccinated.  We are feeling the curse of climate change — the uncontrollable fires, hurricanes, floods, the aftermath of a war in Afghanistan, the reckoning with racism, the toxic politicization of everything, the corruption of truth, the collapse and disparity of the economy, the rise of crime and murders.  

There are multiple aspects of an apocalypse happening today.  Will we be overwhelmed by them, or address them one by one?  None of them are impossible to undo or to develop a new way through them, but all need people of good will and hope, to sit down together and to begin to talk, to face each other, to discern, to plan, to do something positive together.  It takes good people who care and who want to find the truth of what is and of what should be.  As St. James wrote: “Demonstrate your faith to me without works and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

It unsettles our faith and our souls and our sense of being settled when destructive and bad things happen to us.  For some, I am sure, the destruction of human life in 9/11 damaged and destroyed their relationship with God, yet hopefully for many more, it was shocking but not demoralizing or destructive to their sense of God’s presence in their lives.

I have been reading recollections of many persons who were personally involved and affected by 9/11 and its after effects, and so many have talked about their personal faith and the powerful presence of God felt throughout the ordeal that has lasted, for some, all these last 20 years.

We have come a long way from the day when we lost our innocence as an American people who thought that everyone loved and admired us.

When Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ in today’s Gospel passage, he uses a title open to a variety of meanings — the “anointed one” — from a military and political point of view to the suffering servant of Isaiah, to a spirit-filled leader and prophet.

Then Jesus gives his own interpretation as someone who will be rejected and killed, which does not set well with Peter.  Nor does 9/11 set well with us either or all the apocalypses happening around us.

Today, Jesus faces us once again with the heart of who He is and what the gospel of a new life is all about:  “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his or her own cross, and follow me.” Mk 8:27-35

Perhaps it is better not to know when that moment will come for us.  It seems that the 9/11 moment drew the very best of faith, love and service out of those most affected.  For some, the cross was an instant evaporation.  The cross had overtaken them before they were aware.

When it comes to human tragedies, we do not naturally think like God does.  All of us wish to save our lives here until the end, an end that is elusive, unknown — by chance, by fatality, by disease, by old age.

The death of one person is just as remarkable as the death of 3,000.  The death that was a calamity for 3,000 at the first 9/11 is a calamity for even the one who dies from Covid, all alone.

Many commentaries this weekend recall the great coming together of Americans 20 years ago, coming together to mourn, to pray, to find a new meaning for a future.  All of which has diminished over the last 20 years into just the opposite — tearing a part of the fabric of our American life.

Perhaps, the task for the next 20 years, or even ten, would be to work together to restore our culture, our society, our spirituality, our presence of God and our respect for one another.

Jesus hopes that we will put Satan behind us and begin to think once again, to think as God does.

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