September 11th Remembrance
11 Sep 2011
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:37) In the name …
It was a Tuesday morning, and a beautiful one at that. My daughters were at Deerfield Elementary School and I had left to go grocery shopping in Hadley. I remember being surprised because as I pulled into the parking lot the music on the radio was interrupted by a special news bulletin. The reporters weren’t sure exactly what was happening, but an airplane had flown right into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. I remember thinking to myself what a terrible accident. I was going to get the shopping done as quickly as I could and head home to see it on television. While I was in the store, however, the second plane hit. Workers and customers were all talking about what little they knew, but by then we were all thinking terrorist not accident. And then the day only got worse as another plane hit the Pentagon, and another was downed by heroic passengers in western Pennsylvania, and then the two towers came crashing to the earth murdering some 26 hundred people.
All of this took place ten years ago almost to these very moments. The first tower was hit at 8:46am, the second at 9:03, right as we were reciting our prayers by the half-mast United States flag. At 9:37 the Pentagon was hit, just a few minutes from now, and at 10:03 Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, PA. As the Twin Towers burned for almost an hour for one and more than an hour and half for the other, as occupants of the Towers were fleeing down stairwells to safety, firefighters and police officers were heading up the stairs to try and help and save whomever they could. Because of their selflessness and dedication to duty 411 emergency workers died in New York City that day ten years ago. This is why today we remember the victims, and also honour the heroes of that day.
The other day on National Public Radio I heard an interview with Carie Lemack whose mother was a passenger on one of the planes that slammed into the Twin Towers. (http://www.npr.org /2011/09/07/140071379/unlikely-star-a-woman-turns-9-11-grief-into-action) She works full time now trying to prevent what happened to her from ever happening to anyone else. She speaks out for the victims of 9-11, and has said that she’s trying to grieve productively. One of the projects that she has initiated is a documentary film. In her words, "Bin Laden kept releasing videos, so we thought, 'Why don't we?' Because people are only hearing the terrorists' side of the story. We just thought we should fight fire with fire." She had the chance to show the film to a group of radicalized Muslims in England. When she introduced the film as the daughter of one the passengers killed on the airplane, she was immediately interrupted by one of the men in the audience. He told her that they were all taught there were no passengers on the plane, and when he heard the story of Carie Lemack’s mother his whole face changed. It’s not Muslims per se that preach this kind of violence against the innocent. It is only some Muslims who have hijacked their God for their own violent purposes.
We have to be careful about remembering this distinction, and that’s why it’s so appropriate that the tenth anniversary of these savage acts committed in the name of God, a great and terrible blasphemy against the name of God, falls on the Feast of Brotherly Love. The commandment “Love thy neighbour” that is the basis of today’s feast day can sound so pedestrian at times. It’s common and almost unremarkable the way it can be said with ease. But that’s exactly why Jesus explained it with the shocking parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was a despised person. Everyone in Jesus’ audience would have cringed at the idea that they were supposed to become like him. They wanted nothing to do with these people, never mind be asked to become like one of them. Think of the hatred that filled the hearts and minds of those 19 terrorists who thought nothing of flying planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and also tried to do the same at the US Capital. They couldn’t even begin to imagine that God would expect them to care about the lives they were soon to bring to an end. But when Jesus explains “Love thy neighbour,” He’s making sure it’s not common or easy. Jesus is making sure that everyone understands that the commandment applies to all people. The neighbour we are to care about is defined by their need, not by who they are.
Does this seem impractical? Then we need to compare it with the alternative. We are a debt-ridden country that has already spent some $1 trillion trying to fight bands of simply trained and lightly armed Muslim fanatics in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda seems to be on the ropes, thank God, but will we ever have security by trying to just hold ground against them? We also send the most sophisticated warplanes in the world off the decks of the greatest carrier fleets in the world to try and stop isolated terrorists in Iraq from planting crude bombs on the side of roads. Is this kind of force ever going to be able to win us allies and friends? The State Department’s budget is less than one-tenth the size of that of the Defense Department. Maybe Carrie Lemack’s documentary has as much chance of turning a person away from violence as do tanks and drones. Maybe we need to think about even our enemies in a different way. That’s the hard message behind “Love thy neighbour.” It may not seem all that practical, but look at the alternative and it starts to make a bit more sense. Talk not tanks, and Brotherly Love not vengeance, may not be as ridiculous as we first thought.
On this solemn day when we must remember the hatred and violence that humans are capable of, let us also pray the prayer of Brotherly Love. God’s name had been blasphemed on 9-11. Let us honour His name today by accepting Jesus’ challenge offered at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan to “Go and do likewise.” In the memory of the 26 hundred people murdered this day ten years ago, let us “Go and do likewise” in a spirit of Brotherly Love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo