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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Challenge of 9/11

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid (John 14:27)

Today is an important day in our nation, 9/11.  We take some time to commemorate in some way the tragic events that unfolded on that sunny September day.  Watching the events that day seemed to be like a movie.  The problem was, it wasn't a movie.  It was real, it was ugly and it hurt.

A great challenge soon arose for me and others, particularly Catholics, in the days following the attacks.  The readings at mass that week and the following Sunday--readings that follow a cycle that was set 30 years before--were focused on forgiveness.

Forgiveness!  None of us wanted to talk about that.  We were angry, we were shocked, we wanted justice or even better, revenge.  While working for justice in the aftermath of the attacks, we have come to realize that what we long for is something even deeper: peace.  While justice is a noble pursuit, and certainly an appropriate response following an act of injustice, the desire for revenge and anger prevent us from experiencing the peace we truly desire.  That message of forgiveness was difficult to be faced with then, and now.  Even official communications to priests in the days following the attacks cautioned us to tread carefully with the topic.  However, it was and is the message we needed to hear.  It doesn't prevent us from working for justice, it does keep us from being consumed by hate.

Further reflection reveals to us that the peace we seek is a greater task than we may think.  It requires more than terrorists no longer terrorizing and destroying life, and even more than nations not going to war against other nations.  A world at peace is only possible when we eliminate all violence: in our communities, in our families, and in our hearts as well.

Remember the song "Let There Be Peace on Earth"? A very significant line in that song is "...and let it begin with me." Peace cannot exist in the world unless it first exists within me. This isn't some peace-nik, 70's style, utopian desire.  This is a fundamental truth about the human person, one understood not only among the ancient philosophers, but one that can be found in the Scriptures and the writings of the saints and theologians throughout the centuries.  When we accept the fact that we are made in God's image and likeness and that this God desires nothing else than to dwell in our hearts, we have taken the first crucial step towards peace in our world.

If everyone in the world lived according to whose image and likeness we are made, there wouldn't be war, violence and destruction.  We would resolve disagreements in a way that was respectful, even life giving. We would be able to accomplish what the world declares to be naive and unrealistic.  To achieve a peaceful world remains unrealistic if we refuse to mend our hearts, fail to respect others or continually seek to feed our selfish desires.

We as Christians are called to something higher and we need each other and God's grace to attain it. It may at times be difficult, but we have often been told in the Scriptures that it would be worth it.

Let us take time today to pray for the victims of 9/11 and their families.  Let us pray for our country. Let us also pray for all victims of violence and commit ourselves to peace.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Start of School

(This is from column I submitted to The Anchor for next week. The Anchor is the weekly newspaper for the Diocese of Fall River) The beginning of school this month provides students with a new beginning. Human beings tend to enjoy those things that we can define as "new beginnings". They are opportunities for us to grow, to change, and to better ourselves. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why Jesus was always preaching repentance: we like second chances, in fact we need them! This is a chance to improve your study skills, to get rid of some of your bad habits that you have picked up. Any positive habits you can build now will help you in the future, particularly when you transition to college and then to career. The start of a new school year is also a chance to grow and mature in faith. If you reflect on where you are now, you will see that your experiences have contributed to how you view the world and approach life. Have you challenged yourself to grow in faith, not just to know about God, but to know him in a deeper way? I like to remind people that God doesn't ask to be a Facebook friend, he wants a real friendship. That involves spending time with each other, communicating, sharing your dreams and frustrations, learning about the other. Do you do that with God? If not, why not? In school you will learn things that will challenge your view of the world, your understanding of how the world works and your concept of yourself and God. These moments can be stressful and at the same time exciting. Don't simply accept something because someone else said it was so. Reflect upon it, study it and come up with an understanding of it. Above all, do not do this alone! We need others in life. Aristotle said that we are social beings. We need others to not only survive, but to flourish. This is true socially, academically, emotionally and spiritually. The Church isn't an institution that employs men and women to tell us how to live. It is a community, a family of faith that seeks to help us grow in friendship with God. Sometimes this community will challenge, at other times it will be there to console and to lift you up when you can't continue on. Do you take time for this family? When you think of your parish, do you list off complaints about it, or do you take some time to reflect about the good things about it? What are there ways that you can contribute to a stronger parish community? How about your family? Does this new beginning provide you (and them) with an opportunity to deepen those relationships? The family is the domestic church, it is where we first learn about God, and how to love and pray. At weddings I remind the couple and those gathered that our parish families are only as strong as the weakest of our domestic churches. Families are powerful ways that God makes himself known to us, and yet they can be pretty tough to belong to as well. Often this occurs when a member or members become focused on themselves and not on others. How can you better contribute to your family? In the growing responsibilities and commitments that you have, how can you be sure to still take time for them? How can you make God and his love present to your parents and siblings? This is a chance to begin new friendships, perhaps mend some fences with others. You will need others to be successful in life, whether it is for the moral and spiritual support you will need in the good and bad times, or to be challenged, the proverbial kick in the butt that we sometimes need to be motivated. True friendships are life-giving. They are conduits through which God continues to reach out us. If you are in a friendship that makes you feel bad about yourself, that leads you to hate in anyway shape or form, it isn't a friendship. That's a lot for a new beginning! Don't forget you don't go about all this on your own. You have your teachers, coaches, school staff, friends and family to help you. You also have your family of faith and above all God to give you the strength and encouragement you need. Good luck!