September 14, 2011 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 19 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Bishop Murphy’s homily, 9/11 Memorial Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral
In the days immediately following the violent attack on our country, an act that has so scarred our lives here on Long Island, Msgr. Brennan and I were visiting parishes to say Mass in the communities where there had been victims. Many were the parishes. I remember them all to this day. In one parish the pastor told me, “There is a woman in the chapel. Would you go in and try to help her?” As I sat with that woman whose husband was one of the first responders, she said to me, “I just want him to come home and everyone to be safe.” Him to come home and everyone to be safe!
In these anguished few words, that woman expressed two of the deepest cries of the human heart: the love for one’s spouse and one’s family. That is the kind of love that does not stop there but goes beyond itself to desire and hope for the safety and well being of all our brothers and sisters. How tragically were those two goods destroyed for so many on that September day ten years ago. How profoundly have our lives all been changed by those horrendous events, changed for those who were lost that day, changed for their families and friends, changed for neighbors and parishioners in virtually all the communities and parishes of our diocese.
In the midst of the chaos and confusion, as we struggled to cope and to deal with the pain and the sorrow, we encountered another deep and mysterious gift to the human heart: the sense, the hope, the trust, that somehow God would never abandon us, that He was here with us and that He would give us strength. He would give us the means; He would help bring us through. A month later when 15,000 of us gathered at the Nassau Coliseum for the Mass of Remembrance, we affirmed our faith and our hope. We saw row after row of police and firefighters, medics and auxiliary personnel. And we thanked God for them, for their courage, for their suffering, for their loss, for their commitment. And at funeral after funeral, widows stood with their children at their sides, parents prayed and neighbors sought to reach out. We were living the Gospel of the washing of one another’s feet. And we found new strength in our weakness, new hope in the midst of our own grief and expressed newfound care and love as we sought to cope with the pain, live with the reality and build lives, never forgetting the loss but showing our love by our commitment to live guided by God’s truth and dependent on the love He gives us so freely and abundantly, His love shared with one another.
Love of family and care for others, “him to be home and everyone to be safe,” has an added dimension when it is placed in the hands of an all loving God. We can begin to see that we are never alone and that He is always with us, gently reminding us that no one lives or dies for oneself but we live and die in the Lord because we belong to the Lord. “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the living and the dead.” St. Paul is so right. Our faith gives us the vision we need. We belong to God. He protects us and brings us ever more deeply into Him and His love and His life and His peace.
Today as men and women signed by the cross of Christ, we gather here as we do every Sunday to hear His Word, to proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord and to share His body and blood, the banquet of eternal life. This does not take away the sorrow, the loss, the anguished memories that are both wonderful to cherish and painful to recall. But it does place life and death in the true perspective of God’s love for us, a love that sent His Son to be our redeemer, a love that promises that, whether we live or we die, we belong to Him. They belong to Him. We all belong to Him and He loves us all into life and life forever.
The message of the cross, poured forth from the heart of Jesus, is a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. That is why Jesus could tell Peter today that we are all debtors to God and, as He forgave us, we too must forgive one another and be reconciled in imitation of Jesus, the divine healer and reconciler. The great sin of those who perpetrated this assault on our country and this massacre of innocent life was that they were motivated by hatred to destroy the innocent; they were possessed by anger that led them cruelly and intentionally to an unleashed violence that was criminal, sinful and wrong. As Sirach reminds us today: “Wrath and anger are hateful things … the vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance.”
We must never become like them. We must be men and women of mercy, men and women whose lives have been redeemed by Jesus the Christ. We must be strong in our care for one another, vigilant in protecting what we hold dear, and eager to build the bonds of peace and love that are deeper than hatred and more powerful than violence. As St. Paul reminds us, we do not overcome evil with evil; we overcome evil only with good. We are the recipients of God’s love and so we seek to do the truth and to be ambassadors of Christ while holding dear to all that will preserve our people and our land. In this we are joined by all men and women of faith, by all men and women of good will, to be peacemakers; to strengthen the bonds of human dignity by respect for the dignity of all; and to be the protectors of all life, especially the innocent and the vulnerable.
Blessed John Paul has written “we do not know why there is suffering in this world, but we do know that suffering releases love.” What love we share this day for all our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, who lost their lives! We cherish their memories and we show our love by the way we live, witnesses to the truth and to God’s love. What love we must show to one another so that we can be truly peacemakers in our homes and families, in our parishes and communities. What love must we show to all our brothers and sisters throughout the world whose dignity is compromised or whose lives are endangered by the threat and the cold reality of hatred and violence.
Ten years ago at that Mass in the Coliseum, I gave you the Gospel of Jesus’ washing the feet of His disciples to be our Gospel, the Gospel that defines who we are and how we want to live together. Remember what Jesus said after He had washed His disciples’ feet? “You call me Lord and Master, and rightly so, for that is who I am. But if I, your Lord and Master, wash your feet, you must wash one another’s feet.”
Dear Lord: we thank You for washing our feet, for drying our eyes, for comforting our sorrow, Dear Lord, we thank You for giving us new hope and the promise of life eternal for us and those who died that day. Dear Lord, wash us with Your love that we may learn from You how to care for one another and thus all be washed and cleansed in the forgiving waters of Your life, Your love, Your peace now and forever. Amen.