How to Be a 9/11 Catholic

User's Guide to Sunday, Sept. 11

Sunday, Sept. 11, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, Cycle 1).


This Sunday Pope Benedict will conclude the 25th Italian National Eucharistic Congress in the shipyard of Ancona, Italy, and will meet with young people in the Piazza del Plebiscito.


Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

Our Take

The most important lessons the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks teach us are not about militant Islam: They are about the virtues of American Catholics.

Most of New York’s 9/11 heroes were Catholic. At the Knights of Columbus, they remembered them with their Mass cards — Italian, Irish, Latino or Polish guys on the front, prayers of St. Francis on the back.

These are men who, on Sept. 11, sent out an urgent call for priests so they could receive general absolution before they charged into the burning buildings, or last rites if they stumbled out.

They didn’t just die attempting to do good for others; they died succeeding in saving large numbers of people from certain death — as much as 80% of the people at work that morning, by some calculations.

Ordinary virtues accounted for their extraordinary success that day.

The rescuers were prompt, responding quickly to the call. They were careful and thorough in their evacuation. They generously put concern for themselves aside for the sake of others.

The heroes of Sept. 11 aren’t martyrs, exactly. They weren’t saints. But their deaths have a deeply Christian meaning. To die for others is the closest imitation of Christ’s love possible — and it is the ultimate expression of the Catholic faith.

That’s what today’s second reading tells us. “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself,” writes St. Paul. “For, if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For this is why Christ died and came to life: that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

But given that most of us will never have the opportunity to save scores of people from catastrophe, how can we live those virtues? Today’s readings offer ways each of us, 10 years later, can be 9/11 Catholics of a different kind.

“Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven,” says the first reading. “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?”

This is a very difficult thing, particularly for people who lost loved ones in the attack. The 9/11 attackers were not repentant.

The Gospel drives the point home, demanding that each of us “forgives your brother from your heart."

Those are hard words to hear on Sept. 11.

It is hard to compare what they did to anything we do — but we need to remember the commandments, as the first reading asks us to. God is love, and he is our creator. We have all rejected him in some way; many of us routinely do. In a sense, we have less excuse because we have been given more information and more graces. At any rate, he, ultimately, is master of all those on 9/11: The heroes and the villains — and those of us remembering 10 years later.

But “the Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion,” says the Psalm. If we embrace his way of dealing with the world, we won’t just make our afterlife better: We will make the world better.

Says the Psalm: He “pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills, redeems your life from destruction; he crowns you with kindness and compassion.”

That is good news indeed on the anniversary of 9/11.

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,

where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.