Father H. Gregory West, pastor of St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton, presented this homily at Mass on Sept. 11.
By the dawn’s early light, it seemed to be any other day.
A calm September morning. The forecast of crisp blue skies. Coffee in a “go” cup. A kiss to sleeping children. Headlines announcing that the Giants had lost a game. A drive through the dark morning to catch the first flight out.
Another day. A day to laugh with friends. A day to juggle schedules. A day to scoot children off to school. A day to agonize over work.
Just another day.
Turns out it wasn’t just another day after all.
Who was responsible for this, we wondered. Was anyone going to survive, we prayed. Why didn’t God do something to stop this, we anguished.
The live television images threw a net over us that froze us into place. Our mouths opened widely to emit inaudible screams. Time stood still.
One year ago, our nation experienced the unimaginable. In a profoundly sad and demonically sick way, we suddenly found ourselves in solidarity with countries and peoples who already have tasted the poison of terrorism. We were paralyzed, numbed, grief stricken at the severity of the wounds inflicted on our inhabitants and the magnitude of the damage done to our land.
Who would do this? Who was behind this? And worse, what more would come?
Slower than cold molasses on a February morning in Bangor, news trickled in from frenzied reporters to an audience starving for more information. Did anyone survive? How would our military respond? Was my community safe?
We filed into our churches and other places of worship, reaching out to grasp a divine hand. We left work. We hugged. We cried. We telephoned one another to see how we were doing. And we waited.
Countless thousands of heroes evolved that day. Hundreds died, sacrificing their own lives for a greater and more noble good. And Jesus’ gift of his own death suddenly made much more sense.
Are we much different one year later? Has anything changed?
Intense patriotism has returned to our land. We proudly display our nation’s flag on our homes and our windshields, on our lapels and our baseball caps. For a while after Sept. 11, our places of worship saw a return of many faces. We turned to God with renewed commitment and zeal. We focused on our families and on our friends, realizing that this day, any day, could be our last on earth and that we must not let a day go by without cherishing our loved ones. And even fast-paced, highly charged citizens of Manhattan began to move at the same easy, relaxed pace of a native of the Lowcountry.
In many ways our lives are the same as they were before Sept. 11 last year.
But, yes, we are different now. We don’t take as much for granted as we used to. Many of us, especially younger people, now understand as never before how precious and valuable are God’s gifts of freedom and justice and that these gifts sometimes come at a very high price, even if it means sacrificing all.
Pope John Paul II has preached and written repeatedly that we are living in a “culture of death.” Ideologies, governments, civil laws, even acts by individuals can promote the cause of evil in our world. Whenever there is poverty, injustice, violations of basic human rights or death of the innocent, there is yet another victory for those who stand opposed to what we believe to be good and true and holy.
We do not know what the days ahead will bring. We wonder if and when another round of terrorist attacks, born of the culture of death, will befall us. We ponder the appropriate response of our government in domestic policies and the necessary response of our military abroad. With threats upon us, either real or perceived, we may feel isolated, hopeless, afraid.
As we pause this day to remember, let us be reminded of this; that we are God’s people commissioned to spread the good news of hope. Our bishops teach us that hope assures us that, with God ‘s grace, we will see our way through whatever may challenge us. Hope is not merely a matter of optimism but is a source of strength and action in demanding times, the bishops say. And for peacemakers, hope is the indispensable virtue (A Pastoral Message: Living with Faith and Hope After Sept. 11, USCCB, Nov. 14, 2001).
As we pause to remember, heed these words of our Lord, our humanity’s greatest hope:
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted …
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied …
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy …
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God …
Let it be so — today, just another day … and every day to come.