On Monday, September 10, 2001, Fr. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and NYFD Chaplain celebrated Mass for a group of firefighters. In his homily he preached, “You do what God has called you to do. You get on that rig, you go out and do the job. No matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea of what God is calling you to do, but God needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us. God needs us to keep supporting each other, to be kind to each other, to love each other…
We love this job, we all do. What a blessing it is! It’s a difficult, difficult job, but God calls you to do it, and indeed, He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done. Isn’t God wonderful?! Isn’t He good to you, to each one of you, and to me? Turn to God each day -- put your faith, your trust, your hope and your life in His hands. He’ll take care of you, and you’ll have a good life. And this firehouse will be a great blessing to this neighborhood and to this city. Amen.”
The next day, Tuesday, September 11, 2001 at 9:59 am, while responding to the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and anointing fallen firefighters and civilians, Fr. Mychal Judge was killed by falling debris from the collapse of the South Tower. He is listed as the first official casualty of 9-11.
Twenty-two years ago the lives of all of us were changed. For some, it was the heart wrenching loss of someone close, or a friend or co-worker. For some, it was the beginning of living in fear and distrust, especially of those who are different than us. For some, it was being thrust into war and violence. For some, it has been a time of growth in faith and reaching out to others who may hold beliefs different than ours.
No matter who we are, no matter where we live, no matter what our belief… the tragic and violent behavior of a small group of people has forever altered our lives. Over these past twenty years, politicians, commentators, religious leaders, families who lost loved ones, and countless others have tried to find some meaning, some explanation for such a swift and tragic loss of life…not only on September 11th …but in the years since that tragic September morning.
So we continue to pray as people of faith...to pray for those who have died and their loved ones, to ask God’s blessings upon our own First Responders (firefighters, EMT’s, potlice, military and others) and to plead with God for an end to war and violence in the world.
In the face of the senseless, overwhelming tragedy of twenty years ago, our first reaction as human beings was shock, anger and retaliation. How could other humans perpetuate such violence upon others…especially the innocent and defenseless?
When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI visited Ground Zero in New York in 2008 he prayed, “God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events. Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strength us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among the nations and in the hearts of all.”
So what does this anniversary mean to you…to me today? In Saint Luke's Gospel (Lk.15:11-32), Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son and how God is unbelievable in giving us forgiveness…and that we do to the same to others. But what is important and crucial to remember is that forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness… of ignoring the hurt and pain that others may have inflicted…of the justice that is demanded and given by God to those who do harm to others and commit sin. For those who do evil, there are consequences even as forgiveness is given.
The two criminals who hung next to Christ on the Cross had been convicted and were suffering because of their deeds and yet Christ offered forgiveness to the thief who repented. Recall, he did not take him down from the cross…he did not say I’ll forget your evil deed…but Christ did offer him forgiveness.
On this weekend, when we recall how utterly violent we humans can be to one another and also the unbelievable courage and sacrifice that we can show to one another, let us resolve to do our part in our section of this world to carry out God’s true will… NOT as some would believe in a God of violence against those who don’t believe like us and not a false belief that would cause the deaths of thousands of innocent working people because they don’t believe like us.
As difficult and as challenging as it might be, let us show the world that our God is a God of love but also justice. A God of forgiveness but not forgetfulness. As Fr. Mychal preached in his last homily, “Turn to God each day… put your faith, your trust, your hope and your life in God's hands. God will take care of you…"
In the midst of our troubled world, I encourage you each day to pray in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi...
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;
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.
As we recall the terrible events of September 11, 2001, may each of us who profess our faith in Jesus, resolve to do all we can to promote peace and understanding in our part of the world. May each of us pray that we may radiate faith and not doubt, hope and not despair, light and not darkness and even when tears fill our eyes may we be instruments of God's peace to our hurting world. As the war in Ukraine, lawlessness in Haiti and the Sudan continues to bring untold suffering and death to many in those countries, we humans have much work yet to bring Christ's message of peace to reality in our world.
And if we accomplish only a small portion of the peace prayer in our lifetime, then the "bad guys" of the world will not have triumphed and into darkness a ray of light will shine.