Reflecting on forgiveness on 9/11

Note: On any Sunday, the same scriptures are read and preached in every Catholic church around the world. These readings are on a three year cycle: what you hear on any Sunday you heard three years before and will hear again three years hence. By grace and not design, then, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 fell on the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - and thus, the scriptures for this day...

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 9/11/11
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

It was a beautiful, bright-skyed September morning
and as I left Our Lady’s church after Mass,
Ann Gallagher stopped me and told me
a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

On the way back to the rectory,
I remember thinking that the news was probably exaggerated,
that some small aircraft, off its flight plan,
might have nearly clipped the Tower
but certainly hadn’t flown into it.

Confronted with tragedy,
the mind and spirit will often rush to recalculate the facts
in an effort to make them fit a more comfortable framework,
a more acceptable reality.

But the news and Ann’s report of it were accurate,
even if incomplete:
not one but two planes in New York;
and another in Shanksville and another in Arlington.

The most painful moments in our lives
are often those that bring us to God.

When our eyes can’t believe what they see,
and our ears can't believe what they hear;
when our souls are too small to hold the grief that fills them,
when our hearts are too angry for any peace to enter;
when no recalculation of the facts
can stand up to the tragedy before us,
we often turn to the Lord:
hoping that through his eyes
we might see something different, something brighter;
that in his arms
our hurt and grief might find healing;
that in his heart
we might savor some moments of longed for peace.

But often enough, in just such times,
the Lord calls us to a further recalculation.

He doesn’t ask us to reimagine our reality
but rather, to recalculate our response to it.

As he does in the scriptures today.

The Word today addresses the minds and hearts
of people who are unjustifiably wronged,
angry, hurt, grieving, wrathful and vengeful.

The Lord knows well what they’ve suffered
and yet he calls them to recalculate
not their reality - but their response to it.

He tells them,
Let go your anger and hate -- don’t hold on to them.
Vengeance is mine to take, says the Lord -- not yours.
Forgive those who have treated you unjustly. Forgive them!
If you want your heart healed, don’t feed it with anger.
If you want to be forgiven - - pardon those who have offended you.

Hard sayings, indeed.
And our first response might be to try to soften the hard saying.

I don’t think God means that in THIS situation!
But yes, in every situation God is ready to forgive
and calls on us to be merciful, too.

Some things just can’t be forgiven!
Not so.
All wrongs, and therefore any wrong, can be forgiven,
even the most heinous.

I can’t accept the evil that was done!
Of course not - we should never accept evil.
The Lord doesn’t ask us to condone or accept any wrong-doing,
but the Lord does ask us to accept, to forgive
the neighbor who wronged us,
just as the Lord accepts and forgives us
when we offend him.

How will the Lord’s Word today help us recalculate our response
when someone wrongs us?

Let me suggest,
it’s probably best not to start by trying to love Al Queda
or the 19 terrorists who executed the horror of 9/11.

Better to start closer to home - although this might be more difficult.

I need to learn to forgive the family member or neighbor,
the friend or colleague or schoolmate
who wronged me, hurt me, betrayed me,
cheated me, abandoned me...

I need to find a place in my heart
for someone I’ve kicked out of my heart,
even a place for those who've kicked me out of their hearts.

I need to find compassion and understanding
for those who have hurt me,
just the kind of compassion and understanding I hope to find
when I’ve hurt someone else.

I need to find a place in my heart to forgive
as I have been forgiven.

I need to learn
that when I forgive someone who has offended me,
the first person who is freed of the burden of the offense
-- is me.
I let it go.

It’s easy to believe that the greater the wrong done to us,
the more leeway is ours for anger and vengeance.
But the Lord calls us to a much higher standard.
The greater the harm done,
the greater the love the Lord calls us to offer.
And the standard for such love is the Cross of Jesus
on which the most Innocent of all laid down his life
for all of us, sinners.

As he gave himself for us on the Cross,
so he gives himself to us at this table,
on the altar of the Eucharist,
where, from his heart, he forgives us, his brothers and sisters,
and calls us to forgive one another.

Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments 


  1. This is profoundly moving and full of truth.

    Thank you so much.

    Blessings today and always.

  2. I was deeply moved by your sermon. Thank you.



Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!