The readings for this week-end’s Mass focus on forgiveness. The mind of the nation this week-end focuses on a series of events which have changed the lives of every American as well as claimed the lives of many. The tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 brings back all the images, all the feelings, all the anxieties of that fateful morning. I have clear memories of three major events which have occurred in my lifetime, recalling exactly where I was and what I was doing at the moment. The first was the death of President Kennedy, the second was the death of Pope John XXIII and the third was 9-11. I was just arriving at my office for a meeting with the architect and contractor for Bishop McLaughlin HIgh School and Wil Alexander, the architect, said that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. There is a television in my office and we gathered around it and turned it on just in time to see the second plane fly into the second tower. Architect Alexander said definitively, those buildings cannot structurally survive and will certainly collapse. Shortly thereafter the third plane flew into the Pentagon and a fourth was unreachable by Air Traffic Control over western Pennsylvania. President Bush was in the Bay Area that day at a school south of the bridge and we shortly came to the realization that our country was under attack. The scenes which followed I am sure are forever etched in our hearts and minds. I learned that my second cousin who had just graduated from Notre Dame University and who was about to get married was worried about her roommate for four years and soon to be a bridesmaid in the wedding which I would witness because she worked in the World Trade Center (it took months to recover what is believed to have been her body).
We had Mass that noon in the chapel of the Pastoral Center/St. Petersburg Catholic High School and almost everyone from the office who was still around (some had left to be with family and that nagging fear that more was to come and we all might be at risk). I recall offering in a very ex temp homily that God would make some good come out of the horrible evil of that morning but I suspect that I doubted then that whatever good might be disproportionate to the horror of those acts. Later in the day we began to learn of the network behind the master plan and the face of the enemy became much clearer. This week I have thought all week about whether I could ever come to forgive those who did this heinous crime to us as the Scriptures suggest this week-end. Seventy-times seven does not seem to be proportionate to the thousands of innocent lives lost that morning in New York, Washington and western Pennsylvania. Since there has been no sign of regret or contrition but rather the opposite, I believe it will be up the Lord to judge those who acted against our country and its citizens that day. The good which immediately sprang from those events was a coming together of a nation for a time in a unity of purpose and resolve that has not often been witnessed in my seventy years. Republicans and Democrats, whites and blacks, women and men, different cultures and religions united together in a beautiful way.
Our civic leadership organized an effort to root out and bring to justice those who had been involved in the planning and execution of the atrocities, a military effort which fully met the requirements of the just war theory and won the approval of no less a person than Pope John Paul II, provided it was limited, carefully targeted, avoided collateral damage in so far as humanly possible. I shall not dwell on the way in which it has changed our life in America for in some ways to do even that would give those who did it to us a sense of victory. This effort is coming to a close now and at least that small “mission is accomplished.”
This will be a tough week-end for my second cousin and the family of her roommate who gallantly and bravely came to the wedding their daughter would have participated in. All around New York and other parts of the country families will gather in memory, their sense of loss not lessened, their outrage and anger remain unstilled. But the good coming out of the evil is that we who lived through it will likely never forget it and we shall always pause and pray for those who paid the supreme sacrifice on that day ten years ago. I trust that God has been good to those who died innocently and just to those who perpetrated the deed. For ourselves, let us pray that we shall never forget this tragic chapter in our nation’s history, continue to sow the seeds of peace in our world, a love of our neighbors – not seven times but seventy times seven.