"Turn your TV on," a Cincinnati co-worker
advised me ominously last year on the morning of September 11. "Something
serious is happening in New York City." I flipped on the little
black and white TV on my desk at St. Anthony Messenger and
stared at the screen. Eerie plumes of smoke were rising from one
of the towers of the World Trade Center. "Something serious,
indeed," I said to myself later as the story moved closer to
its horrific climax.
I felt weak, queasy and insecure to the core.
I was not the only one. People around the globe felt a great vulnerability
at the base of their humanity. Our sense of identitywho we
were, who we were in the process of becomingseemed profoundly
shaken. As our military and that of various allies began tracking
down terrorist groups and destroying their positions in Afghanistan
and other places, some of us may have felt the return of some sense
of order and stability.
be human is to be vulnerable
That is an illusion, at least in part, for deep
down we realize that we live in a more insecure world than we thoughta
world in which even so-called powerful nations are vulnerable to
new levels of danger, cruelty and political forces we can't fully
understand. Nor is military force, in the long run, our only and
surest way to manage our security. Whether it be our awareness of
our troubled economy, of the Middle East conflict spiraling out
of control, or of the ugly picture we paint of ourselves when we
overplay the superpower card, we're beginning to see ourselves as
God sees us: At bottom, we Americans a're no less vulnerable than
the rest of humanity.
As we come to the first anniversary of September
11, 2001, it's important to hold reverently in memory the nearly
3,000 people who died in the terror attacks on that day. I invite
youmembers of our friendly Internet communityto take
a moment to bring to prayerful memory our brothers and sisters who
died in these attacks, described by Pope John Paul II as "a
terrible assault against human dignity."
is not the answer
It's also a good time to look beyond war and violence as we search
for the most solid basis for hope and security in the future. Our
Judaeo-Christian tradition reminds us of the dangersand the idolatryof
placing our trust in weapons and violence rather than in God and
the values that God represents.
An artist friend recently shared with me this quote from Martin
Luther King, Jr. "The ultimate weakness of violence is that
it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to
destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through
violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate."
One can easily see this dreadful truth being borne out in the Middle
East and other places where ever-increasing violence seems to be
the major strategy followed.
The King quote further points out that violence
ends up "adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of
stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that."
model for the future
Like Martin Luther King, we who call ourselves
Christian find in our own religious tradition the true model of
how we should live in the post-September-11 world. With our sense
of identity and stability deeply shaken by the events of 9/11 and
its aftermath, it's the right time to revisit the basic questions
of who am I, who am I meant to become, what is my role in today's
world, who is the model and blueprint of the truly fulfilled human
being? The answer very obviously is Jesus Christ, but we may have
lost sight of itor the answer has become a bit blurry.
We profess that Christ is the key to understanding our meaning as
human beings. This is a truth that Pope John Paul II has been affirming
since the beginning of his pontificate. On his first visit to the
United States in October of 1979, John Paul II told American youth
gathered in New York's Madison Square Garden: "When you wonder
about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ who gives you the
meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person,
look to Christ who is the fullness of humanity. And when you wonder
about your role in the future of the world and of the United States,
look to Christ."
Today as we continue to recoil from the shock
of coming face to face with our own human vulnerability, we need
to be reminded of who is the true model of humanity as never before.
The pope's words apply to each of us whether we are young or old
and no matter what our country of origin. The pope made a similar
statement to the people of Poland, that same year when in Warsaw
Victory Square he described Christ as "the key to understanding
the great and fundamental reality of man."
One of the first things we discover in Jesus,
the model for our humanity, is that he did not seek to escape human
vulnerability. If that were so, the last thing the Son of God would
have done was assume human nature at his Incarnation. Nor did he
surround himself with an armed bodyguard. "Do not be afraid
of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul....Are not two
sparrows sold for a small coin? And yet, not one of them falls to
the ground without your Father's knowledge....So do not be afraid;
you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29).
Jesus spoke out fearlessly against injustice and
courageously stood up against those who would harm or oppress others,
especially the poor and disadvantaged. Yet, he did not recommend
returning violence for violence. His message on this was clear and
forceful: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an
eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, 'Do not resist an
evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall
love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say, 'Love your enemies
and pray for those who hate you....'" When cruel violence was
unjustly inflicted upon Jesus at his crucifixion, he did not respond
with violence. When his persecutors drove nails into his hands and
thrust a spear into his side, what flowed from Jesus' wounds was
not vengeance or a corresponding measure of violence, but blood
and water shed for their healing and transformation.
to honor those who have suffered
The most Christian way to honor the 3,000 who
died on September 11 or who still grieve these tragic losses is
not by stepping up the violence or recklessly multiplying attacks
on enemy regimes and their populations. A more honorable response
would be to strive to achieve greater cooperation with our allies
and the leaders at the United Nations and people of good will around
the globe. If we are to accept Jesus and his mission as our model
and guide, we should put more national energy into building a world
where greed, violence, bigotry and hatred are replaced by generosity,
nonviolent peacemaking, understanding and forgiving love.
I'd like to recommend to you a web page my coworkers at AmericanCatholic.org
have put together: 5 Ways to Remember September 11. You'll find
there an invitation to pray, to discuss, to read, pledge peace or
send commemorative e-greetings, including Father
Mychal Judge's prayer.
The quotes of the pope and commentary on them are found in Friar
Jack's inspirational book A
Retreat With Pope John Paul II: Be Not Afraid.