Too many lives
too many times
too many places.
Too much grief
too many shattered lives
too many lives taken away.
Too many lives
too many times
too many places.
Too much grief
too many shattered lives
too many lives taken away.
I think everyone remembers where they were 14 years ago when the horrific events took place. I was in another parish and had just finished the celebration of Mass. A staff member greeted me right away and said that there was an attack in New York. I felt the need to get to a television to find out what was happening but the Parish was not wired for cable television but we did have televisions that were used to play DVDs. So I quickly grabbed a wire hangar and fashioned an antenna to be able to use on one of the televisions to get news. After playing with the makeshift antenna for a few moments a picture came in. The images were a little fuzzy but I could hardly believe what was being shown. I remember telling myself that it can’t be real in spite of the images that were being played. Then, the second plane struck. News about the pentagon came in. News about another plane going down was broadcast. The disregard for human life was more than I could digest. Back at home later in the day, I sat in front of a clear picture on the television, but my mind was no less fuzzy about all that had taken place. The images of people coming out of the building covered in soot. The anguish on the faces of those who were right there. The horror of the building collapsing. The shock at the number of people trapped, killed, slain for no good reason at all. The thoughts of “how will we ever recover from this?” Those images will never go away, how could we not remember.
The days that followed were filled with chaos. Flights cancelled everywhere – people stranded away from loved ones at such a devastating time. The lists of the missing. The wreckage. The replaying of the images over and over again. Speculation from news stations, commentators, analysts, politicians and anyone else who could get near a microphone. But amidst all the chaos, something remarkable happened in those days following 9/11/2001. Something happened that the terrorists did not count on. Something happened that brought hope. Something happened that painted a picture that showed that we would recover. Something happened that brought about a clarity that all was not hopeless.
In those days that followed, people came together. They came together not just to shake their heads in disbelief. They came together to help. They volunteered to help in New York. They came together to support the families of those who had died. They came together to hold each other, support one another, comfort one another. They came together without answers. They came together to pray. Churches were full. There were still tears of sadness, grief, disbelief and shock, but united as a people, there was hope. What happened in those days was remarkable. Differences were put aside. The ideologies that can separate no longer seemed to be so important. People came together with no thought of political, religious, racial, economic or geographical differences. The only thing that seemed to matter was that we were together. Past grievances were put aside. Past hurts were forgotten. People came together in communities. They came together as families. They came together in Churches. It seemed that as long as they could come together, there was hope. In the weeks that followed there was still unity. Thoughts had turned to those who were known or presumed dead. Words of comfort went out to families, coworkers, friends. The words came from those who were known to the grieving families and they came from complete strangers. Somehow there seemed to be a belief that we were no longer strangers, we were simply in this together – and together we would survive.
There were also many promises made during that devastating time. Promises to remember what was important. Promises to pay attention to the needs of those around us. Promises to not take relationships for granted. Promises to be kinder, gentler and more loving. There were promises to do the things that had somehow been put on hold – volunteering at a soup kitchen, working with children, taking that trip, visiting extended family. There were promises to not take God for granted – promises to pray more, read the Bible, acknowledge the blessings in life, go to Church to be with community, be nourished by the Sacraments, change some of the bad habits that had crept in somewhere along the journey. There were promises to be less self-absorbed, less greedy, more generous, less judgmental, more accepting, more tolerant, more understanding. There was a promise made to never forget.
I think we have done what we can to remember the lives that were lost in those attacks, maybe not perfectly, but to assure that the lives of the airline crews, passengers, office workers, police, fire fighters, emergency personnel, military personnel and those just passing by would be remembered. We have remembered to do something that would ensure that lives that ended tragically would not be forgotten. There are memorials, services and written accounts to make sure that future generations will know what transpired on that tragic day. There are the accounts of those brave people rushing in to burning buildings with no concern for their own safety. It is well documented so that we will never forget them – and we should not. No matter how much time goes by, they will be remembered and they will matter.
But there is more that we need to remember – there is more that we should not forget. We should not forget what it was like when everyone came together. We cannot forget how much strength was experienced when for a brief time nothing mattered except to be there for each other. We must not forget the promises made. We dare not forget how unity and love smothered the fire of fear that terrorism sought to ignite. We must not forget the real values in life that were made so clear on that horrible day – values that remind us that family is important, community is necessary, God is present, taking people or life for granted is dangerous, we need concern for more than ourselves, generosity makes us rich, love is the most powerful force anywhere. It has been 14 years since those attacks took place and during that time those values have seemed to gotten blurry in too many instances. There is more greed, less caring, more taking for granted, more intolerance, more judgmental attitudes, more ideologies getting in the way of embracing the real sacredness of life and there is more fear. Take a glance at social media, listen to talk shows, read the papers, listen to the politicians, witness the way we are living as a society and it does not take much to notice that many of those values are absent.
Today, we are called to remember. We are reminded that we must never forget. We must never forget the lives of those who were cut short because of hatred. We must not forget to make their lives mean something – to offer tribute to their lives. The best tribute we can offer is to remember those lessons that were learned in the days and weeks and months after the attack. The best tribute we can give them is to take up those promises that were made individually or collectively as a nation in the aftermath of their deaths. Yes, the memorials, the books, the services, the stories are all good and fitting but they pale in comparison to giving honor with our own lives.
We are called to remember. We must never forget. We must never forget that individually we are weak but together, we can overcome anything.
On Friday, July 17, the Gospel Reading for Mass was the familiar story from the Gospel of Matthew about the Disciples walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath. They were hungry and decided to pluck some of the heads off the grain and eat it. Even that was considered to be in violation of the Sabbath laws as some of the Pharisees quickly pointed out to Jesus that his disciples were doing what was not permitted on the Sabbath. (read Matthew 12:1-8) Of course those who confronted Jesus simply wanted to discredit him and his disciples. In their view, Jesus and his disciples could not possibly be people of God and violate the Sabbath laws at the same time. Yet the response Jesus gives should cause us to think. It would seem that Jesus not only dismissed the complaints but also offered examples that would counteract their harsh views. Jesus reminded them that David entered the House of God when he was hungry and ate the bread of offering – something that was not permitted. Jesus also used the example of priests who served in the Temple, if they were to perform their ministry, they were breaking the Sabbath Law. This amounts to Jesus saying that the needs of the children of God takes precedence over everything else – even the Commandments. To understand this, we have to understand that we are talking about needs, not wants or desires or conveniences or anything else – Jesus talks about real needs. Being hungry presents a real need – to be fed. Jesus makes it pretty clear that God cares, first and foremost, about our real needs being taken care of.
When we ponder this Gospel passage, hopefully, we come to a greater appreciation of what God desires for us – not from us, but for us. No matter what, God wants to meet our needs. But perhaps this Gospel passage should also help us to have a better appreciation of the Commandments of God. The Commandments were not given to us to control us, make life difficult or set up rigid limitations on our lives. God gave them to us to guide us, help us and protect us from bad choices that can limit us or even harm us. At least some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day could only see the Commandments as rigid rules that had better not be violated – at any cost. The disciples of Jesus were hungry – it was a real need – they needed food. Jesus knew that God would not want God’s children to be hungry – what loving parent would ever want that? Jesus reminded those who were condemning the actions of his disciples that they needed to better comprehend the fact that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.
Even today there are far too many people who consider themselves Christian who want to treat the Commandments as though they are rigid rules that cannot be violated – no matter what the situation is. But we have to ask ourselves if that is really what God wanted to do – control us at any cost. The words of Jesus certainly seem to contradict such a notion. This Gospel passage, along with many others in the Gospels, give hard and fast proof that the only absolute about everything in our faith is that God desires mercy. If God wants this for us, shouldn’t we want that for both ourselves and for others? Should we not, as Church; as followers of Jesus; as children of God, imitate God’s desire to have our needs met? Shouldn’t we start to appreciate that in God’s mercy God gave us the Commandments to protect us rather than control us? This would mean that when we encounter someone who seems to be in violation of one of the Commandments that we must be willing to forego condemnation and instead show mercy – after all, who knows what their needs are.
Yes, I realize that there are some who would abuse such an approach by using it as a copout to excuse whatever they are doing, but in the end, this comes down to something between that individual and God. I was talking to someone recently who said she did not go to Mass sometimes because she is out partying with friends and needs her sleep, and that God would not want her to be tired. Yes, it is a feeble attempt to justify an action and there are many such attempts. But I don’t think that this can justify use of the Commandments as a rigid rule that God has given us so that God can trap us in a wrongdoing. Instead, we must be willing to see the Commandments as God’s way of protecting us from such behaviors that can eventually hurt us and can prevent us from ever coming to an appreciation of what God offers us.
I am praying that the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed for this Fall will allow us to be more focused on the mercy that God has for us and that it will help to imitate God’s mercy.
The tragic and senseless killing in the Church in South Carolina this week demonstrates how fear, left unresolved, turns to absolute hatred and disregard for everything, even human life. Hatred, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and all those acts that seek to belittle, diminish, negate or eliminate the value of others are so often born of fear. It is an irrational, unfounded, unsubstantiated fear, but it is fear. Far too many people succumb to such fear and point the finger… of blame at others who often have nothing to do with the other’s fear. Nine people of God died needlessly because someone pointed an accusatory finger at them and decided that his imagined problems were their fault. Killing those nine innocent people did nothing to eliminate or satisfy the thirst caused by fear. All this senseless act did was to cause heartache for those who loved those people who gathered to open themselves up to God’s Word in Scripture. Those nine people had fears too, we all do. But they decided that fear was not going to enslave them. Fear was not going to fill them with hatred. Fear was not going to win. They wanted something better to fill them. Those nine people who died must now stand as a reminder that we all have to make a choice – give in to fear and be filled with all the emotions that eat away at our ability to recognize and respect humanity or believe that there is a better way. I pray that signs that encourage fear will one day be found only in museums as a sign of what happens when we choose to feed our fears. Let us pray for the families of those who died – may they be comforted by the same words that their loved ones were studying. Let us pray for an end to hatred, bigotry and prejudice. Let us pray for a change of heart for those who belittle, diminish, negate or devalue the worth of others.
It is rather ironic that a fearful person sat with those who were studying God’s Word, had he but opened his heart to God’s message, he might have found the way to gain back his freedom but he chose to close himself off from everything that could have saved him. If he had just allowed a little crack in the door to his heart, God could have flooded it with understanding. Now he has discovered that the appetite of hatred is fierce – eventually it even consumes the one who feeds it. When fear presents itself, may each one of us have strength and courage to refuse to feed it and instead open our hearts to God.
It is the celebration of Pentecost this week. We are celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the followers of Jesus. I always think about the range of emotions that the early followers of Jesus must have been experiencing. They had to have at least some fear because if Jesus was crucified then certainly what was possibly waiting for them could be no less. There had to have been confusion on some of their minds. Jesus died, but then he rose. Jesus appeared to at least some of the followers. I may have been thinking, “what is going on?” Perhaps some of the followers were having feelings off inadequacy. They were fishermen, laborers, people without status, honor or clout. Sure, some were lawyers, tax collectors (or former tax collectors) and may have had the opportunity to have received education. But for the most part, they were people who simply did what they had to do in order to survive with little formal education, public speaking ability or a resume that included past experiences that would prepare them for what was to come. Certainly some of the disciples were going through the pangs of shame and guilt. When Jesus was arrested, they all ran away – no one stayed. Some had to be thinking about what they should have done, what they wanted to do, what they wished they had done. So it is quite easy to see that at least some of those early followers were emotional wrecks.
Jesus had told them that they were going to receive the Advocate, the Spirit, but what did that mean to them? They sure found out what it would mean. The Spirit cam and all of a sudden the fearful, confused, inadequate, guilt-ridden followers of Jesus turned into a mighty force. They didn’t hide behind locked doors any longer. They went out and boldly proclaimed the Good News. It did not matter what was waiting for them, they just went. Those who had tried to obliterate the message of love, forgiveness and mercy of Jesus must have been caught off guard. The disciples were filled with energy, enthusiasm, certainty and a sense of purpose – and nothing, not even the threat of death, would be able to stop them. We have proof of that since the followers of Jesus still proclaim the message of Jesus.
We should celebrate the feast of Pentecost in grand style. God still offers us that same spirit. We still have the opportunity to be filled with enthusiasm and energetically proclaim the message of love, forgiveness and mercy. Maybe we just need to stop taking our faith for granted. There is nothing that can kill enthusiasm faster than taking the cause of enthusiasm for granted. But I think more importantly we need to become a church that is going to be much more steadfast in our commitment to proclaim the mercy that Jesus offers. There has to be more dedication, in Church Universal, to convincing others that God loves them – no matter what. It is truly unconditional love – no if, ands or buts – God loves us.
I am very glad that Pope Francis has announced a Year of Mercy for the Church. I hope that during that Year of Mercy we, as Church, might come to have a renewed appreciation for what the Holy Spirit can offer us so that in spite of any fear, doubt, guilt or anything else we can catch on fire like the early church.
The last day of Religious Education classes usually carries a mixed bag of emotions. There is a bit of sadness that the children are growing up so fast. I have watched some of them every year since they came to class in 1st grade. There is some anxiety when evaluating what we do in Religious Education. Did we reach them? Did we give them something to file away for later so that faith will help them get through difficult times? Did we help them understand the enormity of God’s love? Did we help them understand that God’s way is not about control, but about protecting us from the things that can hurt us, diminish us or keep us from reaching our full potential? Of course, there is also joy. I watch the faces of the younger children who have recently received the Sacrament of Eucharist for the first time. I see in those faces hope for the future. I see in those faces great possibilities. I see in those faces the kind of trust that God desires from all of us.
Today is the last day of Religious Education classes until September and during that time I will be praying that all of the young people will come to understand a little bit more of what God is trying to help them understand so that those expressions of trust will not be replaced by doubt that God has many wonderful blessings waiting for them.
I have said for a while that I was going to give blogging a try. So now I have set it up and will have to see what happens. Maybe some random thoughts or thoughts on things happening in faith. We’ll have to see.