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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.

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