Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Christ's peace must reign in your hearts"

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” “Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘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.’”

I am regularly amazed at how our liturgy and the readings at Mass have a way of speaking to our exact moments in history. I’m sure as we gather in Church this morning, there is really only one thing on our minds – we all are communally reflecting on the events that took place 10 years ago today; events that changed our world and changed our lives. And, even as we gather, God is speaking to us through His Holy Word reminding us that “wrath and anger are hateful things” and that each of us who follow Him are called to forgive “seventy-seven times” an analogy that really means that we are called to forgive infinitely.

The major question on television and in the media today seems to be simply this, “How have we changed?” From a faith perspective, as I have reflected on that question, I think that it perhaps isn’t the right question. For me, it isn’t about how we have changed. It is about who we’ve become; or rather who we realize we are called to be.

Let’s think about the way that God speaks to us through the Holy Mass. I’m sure that you, like me, have been recalling your own memories of that day 10 years ago – where you were when you heard, what you remember, how you reacted. But, my most poignant memories of the days immediately following the attacks are memories of the Mass. So, what did God have to say to us following the events of September 11, 2001? Two days later, this is what we read in the Gospel at Mass, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” We also heard that day from St. Paul who wrote, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

The day after that we would mark the Triumph of the Holy Cross and the next day was the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. These were not and are not coincidences, instead, I believe, they are what God always does for us – He reminds us of who He is and He reminds us of who we are.

So, who are we? Who did God reminds us that we are particularly in the aftermath of one of the worst days in our nation’s history? First, He said, “Love your enemies?” Those words may have never been harder to hear than on that day, but God wanted us to remember something very simple, “Do not hate them.” Why? Because hatred pushes the love and the peace of Christ out of our hearts and when that happens Evil prevails in us. And so, do not hate your enemies. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian is to forgive the inexcusable, because God has already forgiven it in us.”

During that first week after September 11th, we experienced the horror of the cross. We, like Mary, Our Lady of Sorrow, had our hearts pierced with pain as we watched what happened. But, our God also reminded us that for those who follow Christ, death is never the end, the cross doesn’t complete the story, it only begins it – this is a story that always ends with resurrection. It is always a story pregnant with new life just waiting to be born. And so, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts.”

And what did God remind us about Himself? Deacon Greg Kandra, a deacon in New York City, in his homily for this weekend shared this recollection. “Anyone who saw the 2002 Super Bowl saw something unforgettable. And it had nothing to do with sports. It was held in New Orleans, in the Super Dome. The half time entertainment was Bono and U-2. There must have been 100,000 people in the stadium, cheering wildly. Bono stepped onto the stage and the lights dimmed and the crowd roared and the band began to play. If you watch video of that performance, you can hear Bono, over the music and the cheering, speaking into his microphone: ‘Lord, open my lips that my mouth may sing forth your praise.’ The same words spoken at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Catholic Church. And in fact, what followed turned out to be a kind of prayer.

“As the song began, and the music swelled, behind the stage a massive banner started to rise, coming up from the floor of the stage, rising toward the ceiling, hundreds of feet above. Around the world, I imagine, millions of viewers were transfixed – stunned and moved at what they were witnessing. On the banner were projected the names of all those who had died on 9/11, less than five months before. And the music continued, and it went on, Bono and U2 singing about a place ‘where the streets have no name.’ And the banner kept growing, and the list kept getting longer. It seemed like it would never end. Name after name after name, like a visual litany of the lost. Then the banner reached the roof of the Superdome. And it collapsed, rippling to the floor... And at the end of the song, with the crowd on its feet, screaming wildly, Bono opened his jacket and there, inside, was sewn an American flag. He stood there in defiance, and in pride, and in solidarity.

“There have been so many other tributes and memorials and remembrances since that day – but nothing like that. It was raw, and it was real. An Irishman stood on a stage in New Orleans and paid tribute to a tragedy that struck New York and Pennsylvania and Washington and he said, in effect, I’m with you. Inside, I’m one of you. This is my tribute, my remembrance, my prayer.”

My brothers and sisters, I think this is exactly what God reminded us about Himself. That He is with us; that He is one of us. The French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” In the face of evil, God reminded us that this is exactly who He is – one of us and with us. In the days, weeks and years that have followed, God has continually remained near to those who suffer, comforting those who are in pain, consoling those who grieve, speaking to the hearts of all, His message of love and peace and comfort and healing; offering to us, His children, another way – the way of peace, a way that rejects the hatred of one against the other, a way that opens our eyes to see each other as brother and sister and friend.

We need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this too often, the fact that Jesus took His wounds with Him to eternity. He is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him. He let Himself be injured through His love for us. His wounds are a sign for us that He understands and allows Himself to be wounded out of love for us. These wounds of His: how real they were on that day 10 years ago; and how real they are to us today.

So, have we changed? Are we different today? I don’t know. But, I can only hope and pray that we are more fully who God calls us to be; that we are more clearly a people who believe in justice and compassion; in love and kindness; in forgiveness and mercy and prayer. And, that we are more keenly aware than ever that our God is near to us, comforting us, sheltering our pain in His wounds and giving us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day; a day bursting forth with new life.

My friends let us remember that “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

Let us now bow our heads for a brief moment of silence for all those who lost their lives 10 years ago and in the years since. And let us pray together through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, that our world may come to know the fullness of God’s peace in our days. Hail Mary…

May God give to each of us His peace.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! Your homilies are always great, but this one is just what I needed today.