Saturday, September 10, 2011

Homily on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th

On this 10th anniversary of September 11th, I find it no coincidence that the readings for this 24th Sunday in ordinary time speak so prophetically to us about wrath, anger, forgiveness, and whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.  There is so much dust and smoke that still continues to swirl 10 years after that fateful day of September 11th 2001.  Amidst all of the rubble and debris stands the cross… our only way to forgiveness, our only way to salvation, our only light in the darkness. 

In this homily I’ll focus on three stories that deal with letting go of anger, allowing ourselves to be guided by Christ, and finally looking to the cross of Jesus as the way. 

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.

Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?

In “Telling Nicholas”, a young boy talks about the years after 9/11 how he clasped so tightly to the anger and pain of losing his mother at 7 years old…

We had just begun our math class when the teacher suddenly got up and walked out of the room. Then, around 8:30, every alarm went off, all of them blaring at the same time. We all panicked. Our teacher rushed back in and told everyone to go home—whether your parent was there or not made no difference, you still had to go home.

We watched in horror what was happening just a few miles away. On the inside, I was screaming. On the outside, my jaw dropped open. We sat there watching the terrified people running and screaming, trying to get away from what we now call Ground Zero. After this, everything became a blur. I was 7 years old.

I recall leaving my house with a small bag in my hand—a bag that contained a few of the things my mother had once owned. I was still wrestling with what I now call my “inner demons.” They are called depression, wrath, and unforgiveness. They ruined my life for many years.

In 2005 we moved to New Hampshire. It was the beginning of what I now call the “time of silence.” I withdrew into myself and began a period of loathing… I can recall days when the sun would be up but all I could see was darkness. I call those my “blind moments.” I had some good times, but the heartache was still there, unable to be relieved. I became mentally unstable, easily saddened, and despising the world. There would be times when I considered committing suicide. Praise God that I didn’t, though!

I could not forgive. I could not forgive the man who caused me the most harm: Osama bin Laden. I didn’t know how to handle the burden of being a 9/11 victim. But my issues still didn’t change. My inner demons kept on attacking. I was still carrying my mother. I wouldn’t let her go. It was almost as if she was bound to me.  But then during one service, one of my good preacher friends and a few other ministers gathered around me, and they began to pray for me. My preacher friend told me that it was time to let everything go. Throw it all away. For a moment, I didn’t know what was going on; all I could see was this blinding white light. A voice began to say, “You belong to me, my child. You shall no longer be burdened with these chains that you wear about you. You are free.

It was then that I realized I was in my own prison, bound with the thick iron chains of depression, wrath, unforgiveness, and—the thickest and strongest of all chains—my own mother. I can recall being deathly quiet for several moments. Then words came into my head. They weren’t really spoken, but it was as though they were there all this time: I love you. Now go and tell -others the same.

I had a new desire. I wanted to be able to tell bin Laden that I forgave him for the hideous crime he committed against me. When I heard that he had been killed in the spring of 2011, I was crushed, because that dream would never come true. Forgiveness is essential to really moving on from any tragic happening. I came to learn this through studying the word of God, prayer, and real-life experience.

Looking back, I see just how hate-driven and how mentally distorted I was. Is this what everyone else affected by 9/11 feels? I couldn’t tell you. Do they need to be that way? Absolutely not.

Is there any anger, unforgivness, sadness, loathing, hate or fear that you have been holding on to for far too long?  Let others help you let this go. 

Adapted from Newsweek

Remember your last days, set enmity aside;

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

When Paul Carris went to work on the 71st floor of One World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he never could have imagined he’d save a life that morning and in the process plant the seeds of a religious vocation that would rise from the choking ash of that tragic day to give him new direction and renewed hope.

The New Jersey engineer, who was only six weeks on the job with the Port Authority when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,700 people, was ordained a deacon this year due in large part to the events that unfolded on 9/11 and in the weeks and months that followed. To hear him tell it, the woman whose life he saved returned the favor in a less dramatic but no less meaningful way.

To this day, Deacon Carris still doesn’t know what made him walk over to Judith Toppin, a stranger who was unable to leave the building on her own because of a bad heart and swollen legs, and promise her: “We are going to walk out of this building together.” Ninety minutes and 71 floors later they did just that, among the last — if not the last — to escape the building before it came crashing down. Toppin later wrote a reflection, “Angels Walk Among Us,” recounting their harrowing experience. When Deacon Carris read it, something inside shifted.

“Judith’s description of me was of someone who made all of the right moves that day and did exactly what was needed to keep her calm, get her down the stairs, get her out of that building and walk in the right direction. Who would not want to be that person? I guess what struck me is that her description set a bar of perfection that I have never lived up to. I wished that I could make all the ‘right’ decisions and moves in my own life. Unrealistic — obviously — but for that few-hour period, I was able to accomplish that,” he told OSV. “But as Judith also pointed out — all the right moves were done by the grace of God that guided us. That is where the evaluation of my life began and brought me to realize that I needed God, not myself, to make the right moves in my own life.”

Going from that realization to ordination was not an easy or direct route. Deacon Carris had to battle severe anger and rage in the wake of 9/11, which he did with the help of friends and priests who showed up in his life at just the right time. “God put certain people in the exact right places he needed to when I needed them,” he said, adding that it was an invitation to attend a Cursillo retreat that really made him take notice of a calling he hadn’t recognized until then.

“I had been searching for something and didn’t know what it was. 9/11 made me aware that something was missing. Cursillo made me realize what I was missing was God,” he said, explaining that the Cursillo set him on a path of spiritual reading, prayer and, eventually, service. “That was something new. Once I hit the service side, that’s when I started talking about the diaconate.”

Deacon Carris was ordained May 21 for the Archdiocese of Newark. He’ll be handling adult faith formation and other pastoral responsibilities at Corpus Christi Parish in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., where he plans to use his unique life experience to give people “another way of looking at things, try to lift them up.” (The Priest Magazine

Deacon Carris realized that he needed God, not himself, to make the right moves in his own life.  How often are you allowing God to guide your direction? 

For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Finally, the Gospel, the heart of our faith…

"Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

Frank Silecchia, Construction worker:

 “I was working with the fire department all night long in that building looking for survivors.  We recovered three bodies and in removing the three bodies is what brought me to the garage level.  In the midst of the center of this carnage was the cross standing proud and tall as you see it today.  It brought me to my knees in tears.  It revitalized me and helped me persevere through this tragedy. 

I worked 12 hours a day 7 days a week non-stop for 10 months – the very first step in creating this memorial was the cleanup that was so difficult, fraught with danger and emotion, that clearing was the first step in opening up this memorial.  I look to this cross as a symbol of faith and today I am so grateful and proud to be part of this event that the cross is actually saved as a structure of the memorial in the museum.

One of the last phrases Jesus uttered on the cross “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” 

And the final line of Gospel today Jesus warns us that we face even a greater judgment if we do not treat our brothers and sisters with the mercy that we have received. 

So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

The cross is the only thing that can make sense out of violence.  As it was in the bowels of the rubble of 9/11… the cross will always be our hope in darkness.  The cross is the only way to let go of anger… Just as the construction worker proclaimed: “I look to this cross as a symbol of faith.” 

Is this where you look for faith?  Do you look to the cross as the way to be free from anger?  Do you look to Christ as being the way, the truth, and the life?  Or do you look for revenge… do you look for relief… do you look to escape… do you look to addictions… do you look to violence…

Fear, horror, rage, anger, sadness… all these are allowed to be passing feelings, but it’s when they become central to our identity that they become gravely sinful… The only way out of all of this mess is to look to the cross, to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart, and to allow Jesus to heal us through this faithful Catholic community as we encounter Him in Word and Sacrament. 

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday my husband and I went to visit his cousin's wife, Linda. We had remained friends with her since his cousin divorced her after he had an affair ten years ago. They have two adult children. The years since the divorce have been very difficult and we have had very little contact with his cousin. Linda told of how his "second marriage" had lasted about two years and that there had been many things that have occurred during the last several years and that there has been healing going on within their family members. She said that she had invited him to stop by her home today as we would be there visiting and he said that he did not want to as he thought we hated him. As we left Linda, we suggested that perhaps when we get together again, we could include him and make it an opportunity to continue the healing in the family.
    The homily this weekend made it much easier to see clearly what we needed to do to bring about continued healing and peace. Thank you.


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