My sisters and brothers, as much as we would like to wishfully think that the attrocities perpetrated by fanatical religious fundamentalists, as we approach the anniversary of 9/11, are wanning – we need only scan the headlines or listen to cable news to hear of the ongoing terror and attrocities perpetrated in the name of the fanatics’ twisted understanding of their religion.
As we gather this Sunday, beginning a week that will bring us once again to confront the numbing memory of the 9/11 tragedy and the subsequent evils done in the name of misguided religious fanaticism, I am certain that many of us continue to wrestle with the meaning of that day that in many respects has so radically changed our nation and our world. As in the past when faced with defining moments in history, each of us has seared in our memories where we were and what we were doing on that fateful morning.
As a people of faith, these events continue to assault our Christian sensibilities with the mystery of evil and the age old dilemma of trying to reconcile belief in a good and gracious God with such acts of senseless horror. The mystery of human freedom with its ability to say a defiant “no” to the God of love and mercy may begin to tentatively give us an insight into the “why” of these moment. These cruel and vicious acts were not God’s will but rather the madness of pathological religious fundamentalism - a fundamentalism that has a way of lurking in every great religion to infect its goodness with an intolerance and self-righteousness that believes that only a select few know the secret mind of God and all others must be damned.
As we gather in faith this day - a faith that continues to be shaken in the face of such evil - we have prayed in our Responsorial Psalm, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” What is the voice of the Lord saying to us through these painful events that seem to be unending?
Some years ago, the PBS program, Frontline, aired a segment entitled, “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.” It explored the religious dimensions of 9/11. It pondered the difficult questions of how people of various faiths have attempted to reconcile this tragedy with their understanding of God.
In one particularly moving part of the program, a wife and mother whose husband was killed in one of the towers talks about visiting ground zero for the first time following the attack. She said that paradoxically this place of such utter devastation and loss of innocent life had now become a place of incredible sensitivity, compassion and love. Search and rescue workers would treat each small bit of human remains with incredible dignity and respect. Each family member or friend who lost a loved one wouldexperience the embrace of warmth and compassion. Each visitor overcome by the emotion and enormity of this event would be cared for by the thousands of volunteers who kept vigil at the site. Ground zero became holy ground, a sacred place where the worst of humanity’s crueltybecame transformed by the renewing power of compassion and love.
My friends, in today’s Gospel we hear the words of Jesus, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” In the midst of the mystery of human suffering at ground zero, in the face of the unspeakable cruelty witnessed in the ongoing attrocities perpetrated in the twisted and perverse name of religion, Jesus is indeed present, reaching out through the simple gestures of compassion, love and support, to mourn with all those whose hearts are broken and to speak his promise that love is stronger than death.
My brothers and sisters, as we approach the solemn anniversary this week of our own tragic day that continues to live in infamy, as well as experience the ongoing madness of such evil in our world, may each of us in our own way not “harden our hearts,” but rather come to “hear the voice” of the Lord speaking to us in the course of these events. May we be renewed in our resolve and courage to let the love that St. Paul speaks of in our second reading be the ultimate healing for a world held hostage by terrorism, intolerance and vengeance.