To Block or To Allow.

“I did not see the devil’s face at Ground Zero. I saw the face of God in the people working, caring, sweating, crying, rescuing, recovering and being very spiritual in their very humanness.” These are the words of Franciscan Father Joseph Bayne, chief chaplain of New York Emergency Services, and they represent for me what I would like to remember this year as we honor this historic tragedy. As a follower of Francis of Assisi, and a Trauma Chaplain that has witnessed the worst humanity can dole out to one another, I’m challenged to bring joy to a broken and sorrow-filled world. I lived through 911 in Washington, DC and I saw the US Pentagon ablaze, people on fire, destruction, the wounds that resulted and the death, and a city locked down as if in war. We were at war that day. In many ways, sadly, we still are.

Today is another anniversary of 9/11. Sean and I were actually living in Washington, DC: I was in seminary and in formation to become a priest and a Friar. I still recall, as if it were only yesterday, how the Today Show was preempted as reporters tried to make sense out of that day. In the end, some 2,977 innocent persons and 19 terrorists – in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA – lost their lives that day. It began at 8:46 in the morning when Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center building. 102 minutes later, the North Tower collapsed. At 9:02 a.m., Flight 175 struck the South Tower. 56 minutes later, it, too, collapsed; the total length of time that these two massive towers took to fall was less than 12 seconds. By 10:03 am that same day, two more planes, at the hands of those terrorists crashed and took many more lives. In the end, some 3,051 children lost parents, 115 nations lost their nationals, and over 1,117 families, to this very day, have yet to receive any remains of their loved ones to bury and our nation was changed forever; the world was changed.

I am not sure if I understand this event now any better than I did that very morning when it occurred; that beautiful, crisp Tuesday in September. I still remember how beautiful a day it was; how those white clouds seemed to loft in the sky above DC forever; how the temperature was so perfect, no humidity, just the most perfect day. I still remember how scared I was, and how Sean and I, and our families, could not get ahold of each other for almost a full day. I still can feel that fear. I remember how quickly the streets of our Nation’s Capital became militarized as Humvees and soldiers set out to protect our national interests and those in leadership. I remember how I stood with my fellow chaplain-residents in a Level 1 Trauma Center for a ‘Mass Casualty Alert’ to receive the victims from the Pentagon, but few came; you see, most were already dead. Planes were diverted, The President was taken to a secret location, and Congressional leaders were entombed underground bunkers: our nation was attacked. I do not understand how several men could believe that killing people whom they don’t even know, people who certainly didn’t hate them, people who were simply going about their normal lives – thinking about their families, attending to the tasks of daily living and work, running into work a little early, or perhaps a little late, grabbing that quick cup of coffee before the day fully began – I do not know how they could kill these ‘others’ in the name of God. Perhaps that is why I follow St. Francis today and why I work so hard to be ‘poor’ in this life so others can taste the true God, too, at Saint Miriam?

Yesterday, I had a parishioner tell me they would not return to our parish. He stated that ‘our religious beliefs ran contrary to his political beliefs and that it caused his children to question why he voted for the [current] President.” Today, too, I blocked a good friend of mine on Facebook and reported her post. She posted an image of ‘laughing’ Muslims around the Twin Towers in New York City. The caption read, “My people” did something!” No, you are both wrong. Hate – in any form – has no place in church, political, or American life. And, until we learn that simple truth, that love is always greater than hate, we will be doomed to repeat the lessons unlearned from our past.

So, today, while I grieve the loss of anyone who decides the Gospel runs up against their politics, or friends who have decided it was a particular faith group that committed such a heinous act of terrorism, the one thing I will not do is change the mission of our parish, or my life as a priest, or give into join them and hate anyone. We are Catholic Christians, and as such we are obligated to follow the Gospel of the Christ we follow, worship, and adore. That means that Jesus really did not come to bring peace, but truth, and sometimes that truth is, well, very hard. It is always easier to hate and blame than to recognize the plank in our own eye.

How do we survive this anniversary of the single most horrific attack in our nation’s history? By allowing the fire and airplanes slamming into concrete and steel to fade, and remembering the light and the lives who gave up theirs so we might not become what we hate the most; by becoming the people the terrorists hated the most: a people of freedom, respect, love, acceptance, and peace. By blocking hatred in all its forms to usher in an era of new light.

I don’t know about you, as for me and my house we will follow the Lord…


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