Newman Catholic Center
Mass of Remembrance and Hope for the September 11th Attacks
Friday - September 11th, 2009
Fr. Jim Chern
Something we need to remember today as we struggle with the painful remembrance of the terror attacks of September 11th, is that the goal of Evil’s is to turn us away from God - Evil wishes to change us and make our perspectives, our responses, our relationships far from being Loving.
In the days and weeks after September 11 2001 - people had various and different responses. For me, one of the hardest aspects was participating in two funeral masses for two cousins who worked together at EuroBankers. Brett Bailey and Bobby Coll, were 28 and 35 years old. Brett was engaged to be married in the summer of 2002 and Bobby had been married to Brett’s sister Jennifer for 6 years with two children, one who I think we’re 4 and 1 years old. To say it was heartbreaking is almost pathetic in description.
In those days, the notion of forgiveness became as foreign as this new reality, new world we seemed to be entering in. It’s amazing last night watching different specials on today - this morning watching the pictures, remembering the moment by moment events – reliving some of that history - forgiveness is still something that’s still difficult. As human beings, we find it easy to talk about forgiveness in a general way - like an ideal that we aspire to, a goal we wish to achieve. But when it’s personal, it’s a different story altogether.
So for us here today we are once again uncomfortably confronted by the question Could we forgive those responsible for September 11th?
Even I, who didn’t lose someone I love that day - who didn’t work down at the World Trade Center site in the midst of that horror – I struggle with that. I’m embarrassed to share that - that my faith isn’t stronger - that I can’t say, even eight years later that I truly forgive those who did those horrible things.
But then I recognized part of the problem that I have, and I think many people have with forgiveness is that we think it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. That either you forgive someone totally and completely right at this second or you don’t.
Maybe forgiveness is something best achieved gradually, sincerely. And maybe that starts by our recognizing our own need to forgive and being open to or having the desire to one day achieve that.
A year after the 9/11 attacks, Lisa Beamer, the widow of Todd Beamer whose story of bravery on the United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania is summed up in the words “Let’s Roll” had an interview with Reuters. And what shocked many people was that she said that some day she may be able to forgive the September 11 hijackers responsible for the deaths of her husband, Todd, and the 39 other passengers and crew members who were killed on that plane. She explained it saying: "Forgiveness is a process. It's not something where all of a sudden you wake up one day and say: 'OK, I forgive them.' You need time. You need perspective and growth. It's too early to say definitively that I have forgiven them.”
The newspaper article made a point of identifying Beamer as an “evangelical Christian” – which struck me as odd at first, but something that I was comfortable with some reflection. Because that’s what we as Christians are called to.
We are called to Forgive as we have been forgiven, we are called to Love as we have been loved. That’s rarely easy, rarely simple and rarely achieved perfectly. But it’s as much for the world around us as it is for each of us.
Whether any of those responsible for these atrocious attacks cares whether we struggle with forgiving them and actually achieve that forgiveness or not isn’t so important. What’s important is the change that comes from our giving the forgiveness. As Beamer continues through her own process of being able to forgive, she in a sense is a role model for us as Christians struggling with this question and makes an important point as she said:
"...it's something that over the course of time I feel confident will be resolved," and then she added. "I can say I don't hold a lot of bitterness or anger. Those things would be detrimental to me and my family, and the terrorists have certainly taken enough from us. I'm not going to let them take any more."
Here’s my homily for September 6, 2009 - the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/090609.shtml. Thanks for reading and your feedback. God Bless - Fr Jim
I wonder what happened next.... Don’t you? I mean, one moment the guy is deaf and unable to communicate. Jesus spits and touches this guy and he is forever changed. Well at least in the realms of speech and hearing he was forever changed. What did he do with the gift though?
Because no doubt he had wanted this,
longed for this,
dreamed this day would happen
Wondering – what would it be like to hear - to speak. Was he so dumbfounded, so overwhelmed that he couldn’t speak? I doubt I could imagine the excitement – trying to conceive of it, I picture him screaming, jumping up and down in excitement like if I witnessed Yankees just won the World Series AND realized I had just won a Mega-Millions Lotto worth $330 million. Truth be told, he was probably even more excited about this miraculous healing than one would be over those material things.
Imagine it - after this encounter with Jesus - I can hear - I can speak. That’s what sound sounds like. That’s what you sound like... This is amazing! THANK GOD!
But I wonder what happened next.
Did he say to friends the next day “It’s so great, I can hear, I can speak...but it’s weird, I couldn’t sleep last night because I could HEAR everything. But that’s okay, I’m not complaining - even though I’m a bit tired...” Or “Did you see that camel skin jacket that guy was wearing? I might not have been able to hear or talk, but my sight is great and I’ve seen a lot of camel skin jackets and that was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Did he hear when popular opinion turned against Jesus. Words that were lies. Words of betrayal. Did he say anything?
The thing is we don’t know. All we know is that this dramatic healing happened. All we know is that Jesus wanted to reach out and reveal to this man in this very personal, very intimate way. He wanted to say to him:
Do you know how much God loves you?
Do you know how much God thinks of you?
Do you know how much God dreams of your perfect joy and fulfillment?
Do you know how much God wants you to be made whole?
Because that’s what this miraculous encounter is all about. And Jesus says words that penetrate his heart and soul. He says to him, “Just so you do know - ‘ EPHATHATHA! BE OPEN’!” That’s the message Jesus was trying to send to the deaf and mute man. He wasn’t trying to simply do some presto-changeo magic act. He wanted Him to know - truly know how much God loves him. Him personally.
And not just him - but all of us. He loves us, thinks of us, dreams of our joy and fulfillment, wants us to be made whole. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why he still comes to us. Which is why those words EPHATHATA BE OPEN are recorded and remembered. As we hear his word proclaimed. As his Body and Blood are made really present in the Eucharist and given to us - Jesus calls to us to Be Open.
To Be Open to His vision for life
To Be Open to His call to radical love
To Be Open to His individual dream for each of us
To Be Open and realize what an incredible, unimaginable gift this is that the creator of the entire universe cares this much about you and me.
While our hearing and speech might be fine... the reality is often times we are deaf and we are muted. We can’t help but get caught up in the noise of the world streaming through our ipods drowning out those essential words. We don’t share those life-changing words out of fear (I don’t want to sound too religious or something...) Heck, if you’re lucky like me, you don’t have an ipod - you have an iphone, which makes it even easier to drown out that voice of Christ with even more distractions (how many apps do you have???) As we put our ear buds in and hum along to the noise that ultimately is unsatisfying, unrelenting and leads us to loneliness, confusion and despair. (It sounds catchy at first...but)
But we’re here. Which is a great thing. And Jesus’s word and his presence here tonight is meant to shake us up a bit. Not simply to look for a miracle – “Jesus, straight A’s this semester would be sweet...” (For some that would be quite the miracle) But to look beyond the miracle and hear that voice calling us to truly hear his Voice – that miraculous touch that makes us able to sing his praises.
Imagine, a paraphrase of this Gospel. St. Mark recounting what he witnessed: Jesus went by way of Montclair State University’s Student Center and met you - someone who was deaf and unable to speak. He took his finger into your ears, and spitting (I know, it sounds gross, but it is Jesus - so it’s heavenly saliva) touched your tongue and said “BE OPEN” - Be open to hear my word proclaimed... Be open to receive my Body and Blood. Be open to the people I’ve sent to share my life and my presence through them...
I wonder what will happen next...