The following homily was given on the weekend following the horrific terrorist attack on our country on September 11, 2001. I was Rector of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange at that time. As we recently celebrated the 18th anniversary of this event that has changed so much in our land, its message is still relevant after these many years. The prescribed Gospel of the day was replaced with the Gospel of the Beatitudes for this day.
September 11th, 2001, a date in our history that will forever sear our minds and hearts as it marks a chapter of senseless brutality in our land. Like other turning point moments in our history - the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the assassinations of President Kennedy, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Senator Robert Kennedy - this unspeakable and unimaginable terrorist attack on innocent human life remains a terrifying and chilling reminder of the power of darkness and evil in our world.
These days have numbed us all with their senseless brutality. Yet, in the midst of these acts of terrorism, in the midst of this darkness, acts of grace and courage have shown their light. Who could not have been moved by the heroism of firefighters, police and emergency response personnel, in the cities of New York and our nation’s capital, who have literally laid down their lives - by the hundreds - to save their sisters and brothers injured and trapped in the rubble. With a characteristic self-effacing attitude that is so common among these protectors of the common good, one fire fighter in New York simply said, “This is my job! - I just want to help people!” Thousands of men and women throughout this good land have stood in line, hour upon hour in order to give blood to those whose lives have been torn apart by this national outrage.
My brothers and sisters, whenever our personal and communal worlds are torn apart and upended, it is only natural for us to seek the stability and comfort of our families and friends and seek solace in the faith values and convictions that root our lives. And in doing so we tend to America’s wounded spirit. And so it is understandable that our Churches, Synagogues and Mosques have become places of refuge and peace in this time of national crisis. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to gather our 600 Cathedral School children here in this holy place. Their solemn faces spoke volumes as they too sensed both the tragedy and pain of this moment. I shared with them that this is a time for all of us to grasp the hand of the two families that can sustain us in this valley of darkness - our human families and our faith families.
This is a time for us as a nation and as a community to set aside the partisan bickering that can so easily fragment us and keep us from living our noble call to be “one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” This is a time for us to focus our energies to heal the heart of this land that has been so wounded by this despicable act. While these messengers of death have broken our hearts, they have not broken our wills. As President Bush has said, adversity allows us to know and see ourselves in a new light. This is a time for us to be our best selves and to avoid the mindless stereotyping and scapegoating, rooted in understandable feelings of powerlessness, that might seek revenge toward the millions of good and devout Arab Americans as well as our fellow citizens who follow the virtuous path of Islam and love this country and all for which it stands. We must always remember that while it is our right and responsibility as a nation to seek justice and to bring those who have perpetrated these acts to face the consequences of their actions, vengeance is not justice but rather vengeance defeats justice.
As we experience a renewed sense of solidarity with our fellow citizens in this dark moment, we are all keenly aware - that we are not alone - that we are spiritually connected this weekend with millions of men and women of faith and good will who gather in their houses of worship - as we do this weekend - to seek the strength and consolation that our faith brings to us as we remember those who have died this week and to pray for our Nation in these perilous times. God’s word to us in the Book of Exodus is a powerful reminder that the greatness of any nation is grounded in its ability to avoid the false gods that can so easily tempt us from being our best selves - The false gods of isolationism, materialism, prejudice, and vengeance. Paul’s letter to Timothy speaks of the dramatic conversion that brought Paul to be the great preacher of God’s reconciling love and his gratitude in relying on the strength and power of God in his life. Our special Gospel today, the Beatitudes as found in the Gospel of Matthew, is a sobering and positive reminder that the Lord’s blessing will be upon those who selflessly work for peace and justice in our world; for those who protect the powerless, comfort the sorrowful and work together to build a world where all God’s children can live free from fear and in freedom and peace. God’s unwavering judgement, however, will be wielded against those who so callously trample upon the defenseless and innocent.
And so, my sisters and brothers, as we gather in this holy place, now hallowed anew by our solidarity in grief - hallowed anew by our resolve to be a people of light and hope for all in our world who live in the shadow of death and oppression - may God bless us, may He let his face shine upon us, and may he grant us courage in the days ahead - from “sea to shining sea.”