With so many conflicting thoughts on this 10th anniversary of 9/11 I have been reading many meditations and reflections and have decided to journey through these many thoughts today.
My thoughts come directly from Father Jim Smith (1) and Patricia Datchuck Sanchez (2) of Celebration Publications Inc. and a student from Fordham. (3)
One of the most difficult things for us to do is forgive. Our psyches are so vulnerable that we instinctively snarl when someone jumps the line at the store. Our personalities are so delicate that we wilt when anyone forgets our name. Our happiness depends so much on the approval of others that our self-worth is easily punctured. Part of our inability to forgive comes from confusing forgiveness with its cousins. Forgiveness is not pardon. An offense has been made. Forgiveness is not condoning. What has been done is wrong. Forgiveness is not forgetting (as popular as that sentiment may be); some wounds are unforgettable. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. We’re not making friends always with forgiveness. And forgiveness is not denial; the offense must be acknowledged by all parties.
When we forgive, we give up the right to resentment and revenge against the unjust treatment and are called to foster understanding and generosity toward the cause of our discomfort. (1)
Today, as we remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and the horrible violent and criminal acts against our fellow citizens, Peter’s question in the gospel confronts us as an almost untenable challenge. It requires we take stock of ourselves as human beings, believers and Christian Catholics. When we as Christians ask: “How many times must I forgive?” dozens of tragic memories flood my mind because 9/11 was not a single act of evil. (2)
I am conflicted with the call of Christ to forgive and the inability to do so in the case of those who drove planes into the trade towers, the fields of Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon.
It may be tempting to rationalize and categorize such acts as unforgiveable. It is tempting to think that those victims could not and would not possibly pardon such inhuman behavior. We may even sympathize with those who hold wrath and anger tight, plotting vengeance they think some people deserve. (2) This is even the pain that leads to extending such thoughts to whole races of people.
How tempting to ignore the exhortation of Sirach who called his wronged contemporaries to forgive injustices and pray so that their own sins might be forgiven. How tempting to set aside Paul’s challenge as applicable only in a past age. Notwithstanding, Peter’s question penetrated our hearts as we cannot help but admire his magnanimity. “Shall I forgive as many of 7 times?” Peter shows he is willing to go beyond Jewish laws to forgive 3 times. But Jesus leads him beyond practicality to that place where only FAITH can sustain us in the seemingly insanity of forgiving evil and injustice without limit. (2)
How many times? When we count and keep a ledger of offences, we are already diminishing the challenge of Jesus. Just as God never measures mercies or limits forgiveness and just as Jesus held nothing back but gave himself fully and freely to sinners, so are the forgiven to extend mercy and forgiveness to others. And these are not limited to family, but extend to all people. These cannot be “written off” because Paul reminds us, “We are the Lord’s, binding us to forgive, regardless of who they are or what they have done. (2)
I am not suggesting for a minute that we find “closure” concerning 9/11 I don’t think any words can close such suffering, loss or devastation. We do not need to “move on” (a great American trait) from this tragedy, but we do need to move more deeply into making meaning of it all. (3) We can’t do that without forgiveness.
Meaning-making doesn’t imply blame on human evil or chalking up suffering to God’s mysterious way of teaching us a lesson. Regardless of how well we try to explain some things, so many tragedies in our world will always remain senseless. (3) Some 29,000 children under 5 years of age, died in the last 3 months in Somalia!
The best we can do is seek out the grace in the midst of the horror and find the strength to allow that grace to help us transform ourselves out of grief. (3)
I am reminded of the long struggle of my older brother. I have often told family members, that the young boy we sent off to Southeast Asia in the late 60’s never came home. He has struggles with the horrors of war for all these many years. As he is able to forgive (himself, the war, the whole thing) he has been able to come to peace. It is the only way. To not forgive will kill you!
So, along with my troubles recollections of 9/11, I also hold on to the image of the endless lines of people at blood banks throughout the country. There always seems to be a shortage of blood at these centers. After the tragedy they had to turn people away in droves because of overwhelming supply. (3)
It fascinates me that the first thing we thought to do in a moment of great chaos, fear and destruction was to literally give of our blood in remembrance of our fallen neighbors. It was one the few actions that seemed to give people a sense of order and purpose in the uncertain days that followed the catastrophe. (3)
FEW MOMENTS IN OUR HISTORY WERE SO SACRAMENTAL! (3)
The image of so many people offering their bodies for the lives of others, gives me profound hope. (3) (It reminds me of another man who, so long ago, gave his blood for us all on a hill outside Jerusalem.)
It reminds me that for all the harm, anger, greed, abuse (and hate) that wracks our world, tragedy and suffering can still elicit what is best in the human spirit: generosity, courage, and sacrifice. (3)
This recollection is, for me, a more gift-giving alternative to an anxious fixation on tragic images (3) Recall the number of times you have seen the towers fall!
Through this memory, I am able to honor those who died while also remembering this of vision of how we ought to live. The best memorials, after all, not only acknowledge the painful past—they set our eyes toward a more hopeful future