2002-09-22 The church was filled with people all day long on September 11

September 22, 2002

The church was filled with people all day long on September 11, sometimes out on to the street, lighting candles, going to confession, and attending one of the six Masses. Our local Engine Company 21 used some of our tables and chairs for their open house for mourners and friends. A helmet representing the late Captain Bourke rested in state in front of the Paschal candle in silent witness to the toll taken at the World Trade Center.

In heroic acts of last year we saw the great good of which the human race is capable, and a culture that had grown banal in its awareness of evil saw its horror directly. One of our parishes tells of a macabre coincidence by which a neighbor in her apartment building lost a son in one of the airplanes and a daughter in the other, and another neighbor who left a wife and small child. She also tells of the trauma still endured by a little girl who saw a couple plummeting hand in hand past the window of her school.

War must always be the last resort but it can be a legitimate resort and, indeed, the Doctors of the Church teach that it can be a sin not to fight to protect justice and innocence against enemies who intend destruction. Retribution is not revenge and selfless vindication is different from selfish vindictiveness.

While we are obliged to forgive our enemies, forgiveness requires an act of contrition from the guilty. " Glibly to forgive without requiring a conversion of heart is what a theologian and victim of the Nazis called "cheap grace." It is sentimentality and sentimentality is love without sacrifice. Christ Crucified hangs at the crossroads of history as the ultimate sign of that. We are baptized into Him whose parables in various ways offer mercy for the repentant sinner and eternal punishment for those who consort with evil. "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying I repent: thou shalt forgive him." (Luke 17: 3-4) Those who speak as though forgiveness were cheap and undemanding, and who find it comforting that the New Testament rarely mentions Hell skirt the uncomfortable fact that in those rare instances the speaker is Christ.

Our nation's leaders have heavy responsibilities, as do the members of our armed forces and our allies who are prepared to risk their lives for us. They must be high in our prayers, even as we continue to pray that there may be peace among nations.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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