NEW YORK — On the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, leading American Catholic bishops mourned the dead, commemorated their sacrifices and looked for signs of renewal and resurrection.
Their Sunday homilies noted the consoling power of God, the struggle between good and evil, and the need for fellowship, peace and reconciliation.
In New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Archbishop Timothy Dolan told how the city’s firemen regularly inspect the cathedral’s wooden ceiling. They have a custom of etching their names in the high, grime-encrusted windows.
“On there are four names of firefighters who were here just days before 9/11 and who lost their lives trying to rescue others on that dreadful day we recall right now. We might renovate this cathedral, but we are never going to clean those windows, because those names are going to remain etched there, as those names remain engraved on our hearts,” he declared.
Turning to spiritual concerns, the archbishop spoke of “the intense battle that is being waged in the human heart.”
“It’s that battle, that war, that is going on in the human soul that gives rise to all the violence and battles and wars that we see outside. … It’s a battle between sin and grace, between darkness and light. It’s a war where evil is against good, where death is versus life, lies versus truth, pride against humility, selfishness against selflessness, revenge versus mercy, hate versus love, Satan versus Almighty God.”
The Sept. 11 attacks made it seem that darkness had conquered, he said. But goodness “triumphed” when temptations to despair, fearful panic and revenge gave way to “rescue, recovery, rebuilding, outreach and resilience.”
“The side of the angels, not of the demons, conquered. Good Friday became Easter Sunday. And once again God has the last word,” Archbishop Dolan said.
He recounted a commemoration on the previous night in which the children of firefighters who perished in the attacks spoke about their fathers with “immense gratitude and pride.” The New York Fire Department commissioner is “amazed” at the number of these children who now want to be firefighters and rescuers. Anthony Palumbo, the son of deceased firefighter Frank Palumbo, is now preparing for the priesthood.
At St. Peter Parish in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington delivered a 5pm homily. He recalled that he was in Washington at the U.S. bishops’ annual meeting on that fateful day. They immediately adjourned and did “the only thing the Church can do.”
“We prayed. We walked from our conference building to the Basilica of the National Shrine, where we all joined in the celebration of the Eucharist,” he said. “We were not alone. The basilica was filled. Thousands of students gathered at the Mass.”
There was “an instinctive need” to stand with each other before God and a “reawakening of our need for God,” the cardinal said in his homily, which was published in The Washington Post.
The anniversary of the attack is a time “to hear all over again what Jesus has to say.”
“When we listen to the consoling yet challenging words of Jesus, we find not just an ethical or moral system, but a whole vision of the purpose of life. Jesus came to reveal to us who his Father is and, therefore, who we are. As we come to know our relationship to God, we come to know our role in life,” he said.
“We are to live in solidarity with one another, recognizing that only if we put on the ‘new person’ — this new man or new woman in Christ — is there any hope for peace,” the cardinal continued.
While bringing violent perpetrators to justice is beyond most individuals, what everyone can do is renew his or her personal commitment to “bring that peace to our world, our community, our families, our lives — peace that is rooted in God’s plan and in that justice to which he calls all of us.”
“Love does conquer hatred,” he insisted, stressing the need to banish “those things that are sources of division: ethnic and racial bias, religious bigotry, political opportunism.”
“Do not let the darkness extinguish the light. Do not let hatred smother love,” he encouraged the congregation.
On the West Coast, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles addressed congregants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He remembered a “moving moment” in the aftermath of the attacks: the discovery of a huge cross-shaped beam in the ruins of New York City’s World Trade Center buildings.
“Ten years later, this cross reminds us that Jesus Christ is with us always, even in the midst of the evil in the world and the suffering and difficulties in our lives.”
He said Christians should ask God to “bring lasting good from out of this evil.”
“Let us ask that he inspire in all the people of this great country a new spirit of fellowship, reconciliation and common purpose.”
The archbishop spoke of Jesus’ call to forgive sinners and at the same time his will that we “work with his grace to help repair the damage that is done by their sin, in our personal lives and in our society.”
Archbishop Gomez said that since Sept. 11 America seems “less unified and more divided” with a culture and politics that seem “more angry and judgmental.”
He said that Jesus “calls us to forgive those who do evil.
“But he also wants us to work in love to fight injustices in our world. And our world needs to know a new spirit of forgiveness and mercy.”
Archbishop Dolan also hopes the United States can overcome social, economic and religious troubles by recovering the “spirit of unity” that prevailed after the Sept. 11 attacks 10 years ago.
“Ten years ago we came together across religious, political, social and ethnic lines to stand as one people to heal wounds and defend against terrorism,” wrote Archbishop Dolan, who currently serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a Sept. 8 statement released by the conference.
“As we face today’s challenges of people out of work, families struggling, and the continuing dangers of wars and terrorism, let us summon the 9/11 spirit of unity to confront our challenges.”
Archbishop Dolan described the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93 as “a time for remembrance, resolve and renewal.”
“In a special way,” he wrote, “we recall the selfless first responders — firefighters, police, chaplains, emergency workers and other brave persons — who risked, and many times lost, their lives in their courageous efforts to save others.”
The archbishop urged Americans to look for renewal through prayer and service, as many did after the attacks.
“We turned to prayer, and then turned to one another to offer help and support,” the archbishop recalled. “Hands were folded in prayer and opened in service to those who had lost so much.”
He observed that compassionate faith is “the greatest resource we have” in the struggle to “reject hatred and resist terrorism.”
The U.S. bishops, Archbishop Dolan said, are committed to rejecting “extreme ideologies that perversely misuse religion,” while embracing “persons of all religions, including our Muslim neighbors.”
With regard to Islamic extremism, he said, the bishops “steadfastly refrain from blaming the many for the actions of a few.”
He also called to mind the “continuing sacrifices” of those who have died in the wars that resulted directly or indirectly from 9/11 and called for a “responsible end to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
“Let us pray that the lasting legacy of 9/11 is not fear, but rather hope for a world renewed,” Archbishop Dolan stated.
He encouraged the Church to embrace Pope Benedict XVI’s words during his 2008 visit to Ground Zero, when the Pope prayed at what he called the “scene of incredible violence and pain.”
During that visit, the Pope prayed that “those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain.”
Pope Benedict also asked God, on that occasion, to grant “the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign, among nations and in the hearts of all.”