Homily — 7th Sunday OT C February 18, 2007

Homily — 7th Sunday OT C February 18, 2007

The Cross at Ground Zero

Then . . . .you will be children of the Most High.

In the morning hours of September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists affiliated with Al-Quada highjacked four commercial passenger jet airliners and succeeded in flying three of them into the Pentagon and both of the World Trade Center Towers.

When it was all over, 2,819 innocent people where killed, the majority being under 40 years old. Countless families grieved over a lost loved one, thousands of children found themselves without their father, or mother, or both.

The days immediately following 9/11 were probably the most difficult days our country had faced since the end of the Second World War. And everyone that lived through that nightmare, including myself, will never forget what happened that day, where they were, and what they were doing.

But not only will I never forget what happened on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I’ll also never forget what happened two days later, on Thursday, September 13th, 2001.

I was on my day off, at my parents house in Coventry, all alone there, because my parents had taken a trip to Ireland and they were stuck there indefinitely.

And I turned on EWTN, the Catholic Network, in the morning to watch the live Mass on TV. And Fr. John Trigilio, a priest around my age, was reading that day’s Gospel, which he didn’t pick but is pre-determined by the liturgical calendar as the Gospel for the 23rd Thursday of the Liturgical Year.

And the Gospel which he and every priest around the world had to read at Mass two days after September 11th was this very one we read today:

To you who hear, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . . For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them . . . . Love your enemies and do good to them . . . .Then will your reward be great, and you will be called sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging, and you will not be judged. Stop condemning, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you. Lk 6, 27-38

And I’ll never forget Fr. Trigilio’s homily. He paused, looking down at the words written there in the lectionary, as if he couldn’t believe they were there, and said “I don’t want to hear this! I don’t want to forgive those people! — But Christ wants me to hear this. Christ wants me, wants us to forgive them!”

The old sinful Adam of todays second reading, that wants to give back two times the suffering to his enemy, the Abishai of the first reading, who wanted to nail his enemy to the ground, first reared his ugly head in Father’s words.

But then Christ, the new Adam, the Son of David, started to touch Father’s heart as he realized no, I can’t bear hatred in my heart. Before we can restore justice and peace to our country and our world after 9/11, we must first remember the words of Christ to temper justice with mercy and forgiveness, as hard as that is.

And really, of all the many challenging moral teachings Jesus gives us, forgiving our enemies, even loving our enemies, is probably the most difficult of them all. But forgiveness is in some ways the litmus test as to whether we really are follows of Christ. Love your enemies, and . . . . then . . . .you will be Sons of the Most High.

Thankfully, it is rare that we are faced with forgiving such a grievous offence as September 11. Usually it’s the little things people do that we must forgive — the little faults of the people we live and work with that day in and day out get on our nerves. But even forgiving people these things is very difficult, and really if we learn to forgive in little things, when big things happen we will be prepared to forgive them.

How do we forgive? Forgiveness is first and foremost an act of the will. We must, with the help of God’s grace, choose to forgive another person. Even if our feelings towards that other person are still feelings of anger and bitterness, we can still choose to forgive them and ask Jesus to help us to understand them and even start to love them, start to feel no anger or bitterness towards them.

This is why in the prayer Jesus commanded us to pray, the Our Father, we say “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” In some ways we are saying “I am trying right now Jesus to forgive that person in my speech, help me to forgive them in my heart and in my actions, so that you will forgive me.”

Forgiveness is also usually an ongoing struggle. We usually never really say “OK, I’ve forgiven that person and now that’s done with.” Police officer Steven McDonald is an example of this. In 1986 McDonald was shot in Central Park by a 15-year old teenager. The injury left him paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. Officer McDonald and his wife turned to their Catholic faith and realized their need to forgive this young man. They have since been outspoken advocates of the need for forgiveness, traveling to Northern Ireland and Israel to give talks.

But Officer McDonald says it’s a daily struggle to forgive, but when he wins the struggle through prayer and the sacraments, he and his family have found great peace and healing, and have shared those gifts with many people.

I’d like to conclude with one last story about a little girl named Agnes. Agnes was born about 90 years ago in an Eastern European country that was being torn apart by a war between the two major ethnic groups living there.

When she was only 8 years old, her father Nicolas, an Albanian, was poisoned by the Serbians and died. It is said that Agnes brother never forgave the people who killed his father. He ended up dying a bitter old man.

But his sister Agnes turned to God and tried to forgive those men, as difficult as that was. As the years went on, Agnes became a nun, taking the name Theresa; now she is known to all the world as Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

But Blessed Mother Theresa became one of the children of the Most High everyone now knows her to be only by first choosing to love her enemies with the help Jesus offers every one of us, most especially in this Eucharist which we now celebrate.

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