HARTFORD – The color guards of various contingents of first responders prepare for a procession on Sept. 11 into the Cathedral of St. Joseph, where Archbishop Leonard P. Blair celebrated the eighth annual Blue Mass for all corrections officers, police, fire and medical emergency personnel and their families. This year's Blue Mass, scheduled on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, carried greater significance as attendees reflected on the lives lost that day as well as on all those who risk their lives for others every day. In his homily, the archbishop called for forgiveness, tolerance and love as antidotes to evil. (Photo by Aaron Joseph)
Archbishop Blair's homily was a call for tolerance and love. The text of the homily appears below:
We gather today as we do every Sunday to be fed at the table of the Lord’s Word in Scripture and then in an even more miraculous and intimate way at the table of his Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist. However, for us Americans, September 11, 2016, is not like every other Sunday. It is the fifteenth anniversary of an event that has left its mark, a scar, on more than one generation.
The effect of the tragedy that befell our country 15 years ago today, and the trauma it caused, can be summarized in a simple question that we can all immediately understand: “Where were you on the morning of 9/11/2001?” I daresay all of us who are old enough to can remember, because of the fear and emotion of that hour, and because it meant that many things would never be quite the same.
The events of that day cast a glaring light on both evil and good. The evil of terrorism struck down the innocent and wounded a nation. Yet in the midst of destruction and death, the bravery and selflessness of the good was also revealed. Today, after 15 years, we look back at both the evil and the good. Today should be a day of remembrance, resolve and renewal.
First, remembrance. We are gathered here this morning as people of faith. At Mass we look to Jesus Christ and his Gospel for God’s truth, and for hope, as we remember life’s evils, woes and sufferings, even death itself. We reverently commend to God’s mercy the many dead of 9/11 and their families. Can any of us ever forget the stories about those who never returned home that day, or about the grief, courage and resolve to go on living of loved ones left behind? Our remembrance includes the first responders – firefighters, police, chaplains, emergency workers and other brave individuals – who risked, and often lost their lives trying to save others.
It is very appropriate that on this solemn day we also pray for the repose of the souls of all the deceased first responders of our own local communities, especially those who have died in the past year. We remember in particular Deputy Fire Marshall James J. Butler of the Derby Fire Department, and express our appreciation for the sacrifices that he and his family have made on behalf of the community.
Our prayer also embraces the living, that all our first responders will enjoy divine inspiration, guidance and protection in the discharge of their duties.
At a time of some tension nationally we pray too that fair and just policing will always prevail for the peace and well-being of all people and of every neighborhood.
This is also a day of resolve, a resolve on our part to reject hatred and violence in the world, beginning with our own heart. As Cardinal Dolan of New York once expressed it, we must resolve “to reject extreme ideologies that perversely misuse religion to justify indefensible attacks on innocent civilians, to embrace persons of all religions, including our Muslim neighbors, and to welcome refugees seeking safety. We steadfastly refrain from blaming the many for the actions of a few and insist that security needs can be reconciled with our immigrant heritage without compromising either one.”
The powerful scriptural readings of this Sunday reinforce the urgency of our resolve to do these things.
Whatever temptation we may have to hatred or revenge, prejudice or exclusion, we can have no part with Christ if we close our hearts to anyone or to the healing power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not exclude justice. Forgiveness does not mean that terrorists and criminals are thereby freed from suffering the consequences of their crimes. But no matter how heinous a crime or sin may be, no perpetrator is beyond the mercy of God, and it is our duty to pray that all will have a change of heart and turn to the light. If we match hatred for hatred, if we allow ourselves to be overcome by darkness, then terrorists and criminals will have overcome us and won.
The liturgy of this Sunday underscores the divine truth of mercy and forgiveness. In the first reading we see how God is patient with Israel, even though the people have become depraved and have turned away from the path he pointed out for them, choosing false gods instead.
In the second reading St. Paul gives thanks to God for mercifully forgiving him even though, by his own admission, he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance, the worst of sinners.
And finally, in the Gospel, we have the parable of the prodigal son. As the parable teaches, our Heavenly Father is rich in mercy, rich beyond our imagining. The Heart of Jesus, pierced for our sins, is an infinite ocean of mercy. Who are we not to acknowledge the need each and every one of us has to make the humble pilgrimage of the prodigal son? And having made that humble pilgrimage, and been embraced by the Father, who are we to resent his forgiveness of others, or to deny to others our own forgiveness?
And finally, renewal. On this fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, we cannot undo the past, but we can work for a better future, inspired by the great theological virtues of faith, hope and love. We can commit ourselves individually and as a nation to remedying situations – whether political, economic or social – in our own country and abroad – where the seeds of hatred and violence are sown and nurtured. As we are learning, we ourselves our not immune from spawning terrorism even here at home.
Fostering spiritually healthy hearts, minds and souls is the best prevention. And that depends on truths that our faith holds dear: namely, the honor and worship of God; obedience to God’s commandments, including respect for every human life; healthy family life, education founded on both faith and reason; and a just social order in which people can lead a decent life.
As people of faith we have our work cut out for us in America today, but the price of failure is much too high.
I would like to conclude with part of the prayer offered by Pope Francis when he visited Ground Zero in New York last year:
“O God … [we] gather today on this hallowed ground, the scene of unspeakable violence and pain. …Bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred, and who justify killing in the name of religion.
God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.