The Catholic University Of America
Office of the President
Washington, D.C. 20064
HOMILY FOR SEPTEMBER 11, 2003
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Being a Christian is not easy, my sisters and brothers. It never has been. For over 2,000 years, the life and message and teachings of Jesus Christ have been our responsibility, as baptized Christians, to proclaim and to practice in our Church and in our world. It is not simply that some Christian doctrines are difficult to understand — for they are drawn from mysteries of faith that we accept, even without fully understanding them: the nature of the Holy Trinity, for example; the Incarnation, Jesus as God and man; the Eucharist, the fact that he continues his presence as food and drink. I do not think we spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over these aspects of our faith. What makes Christianity difficult is the conclusions that we must draw because of our teachings and beliefs. If it is true that God is one yet a community of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we are made in God’s image, what does that say about or require of us? If it is true that God became man in Jesus Christ, what do we conclude about the dignity of the human person? What does that require of us? If it is true that Jesus took common bread and wine and transformed it into his own body and blood to give it to us as our food and drink, what does that require of us, what does that say about those who believe? “Do this in memory of me” — what does that mean to and for us?
The difficulty for us as Christians is not the life and message and teachings of Jesus Christ. The difficulty for us is translating the life and message and teachings of Jesus Christ into our own lives. We identify with the Lord Jesus not simply on the level of faith and belief — we identify with him on the level of every day life.
As we reflect on the word of God that we heard today, we come face to face with one of the central imperatives of the Gospel, one of the central commands of God:
do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well …
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Powerful, powerful message. Does it make any sense? Not if you do not believe in the one who gave the command.
St. Paul, another Christian like us, writes in the first reading today:
on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against the other;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must.
We read these themes over and over again in the Christian scriptures and, at the end of the day, we either believe them or not. We either live them or not.
Jesus was, among other things, a teacher, a rabbi. His greatest lesson, however, was not necessarily any one particular sermon that he spoke. The greatest and most important teachable moment in Christ’s life was the cross. It was there, from that pulpit that he demonstrated the true meaning of his life and message and teachings. And in his incredible suffering and the pain of his crucifixion, he prayed for his enemies, for those who sought to destroy him:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Again we return to today’s Gospel:
said Christ, and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will be measured back to you.
Today is September the 11th. Throughout our country, indeed throughout the world people have paused, people have stopped to remember what that date has come to mean. Three years ago, it was a date like any other date. Two years ago, it was the day the world stood still. What is amazing to me is that two years later, the images of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the crash site in Shanksville, Pa, have more of an effect on me than they did on that first September 11th in 2001. Perhaps I shouldn’t be amazed. After all, we have had more time to reflect on those horrible events; we have had more time to see the families of victims and hear their tragic stories; we have had more time to experience and endure the aftermath of that day.
American flags have been lowered to half-staff. Commemorations are occurring at this very moment at the terrorist sites. And here we are, gathered in the Basilica as we did two years ago and as we did last year. We remember and pray for the dead and those they left behind.
It is a funny sort of coincidence as we remember our nation under attack, as we pray for those who were so unjustly and far too soon aken from us, that we Christians hear the readings of this Mass today. They were not specially selected by us for this commemorative Mass. They simply happen to be the readings today. How unbelievably poignant. How incredibly challenging is God’s word for us today as Christians, as Americans.
Whatever we may be thinking, whatever we may be feeling on this September 11, God speaks to you who believe. God speaks to all of us.
the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do, our first reading said.
… let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one Body.
… Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another …
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
always giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Very Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.