Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th -- Revenge or Reconciliation

The body of Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge, is
carried from the site of the Twin Towers.  Father
Mychal, a fire department chaplain, was designated
as victim # 1 of  the attacks.
Today is September 11th, the tenth anniversary of one of the most tragically inauspicious days in American history.  And it is not without its controversies.  No clergy have been invited to speak at the ceremony in New York.  While Archbishop Dolan, the official voice of Catholicism in New York,  had no problem with that, the unofficial “Catholic League” has joined a spectrum of “evangelicals” in denouncing the “secularization” of our society that this omission represents.  Meanwhile in Washington there also were complaints that no “Evangelical” Protestants were invited to take a leadership role at a service originally scheduled for the National Cathedral (Episcopal) but later moved to Washington Hebrew Congregation due to structural damage suffered at the Cathedral during a recent earthquake.  The Cathedral staff decided unilaterally but not illogically that they, being Christians themselves, would be the Christian representatives at this event.  Cardinal Donald Wuerl did not see the need to protest that no Catholics were invited; Catholics simply held their own memorial at a special Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  I think his Eminence knows you can’t win for losing in this game of religion in public life these days.  Personally, while I believe that public ceremonies, religious and secular, are helpful in building a pluralistic and democratic society, I have never been enthusiastic about participating in these sort of inter-religious events that require one’s religious convictions be boiled down to least-common-denominators.  I am not at all adverse to attending religious services in a tradition other than my own.  To the contrary, a mixture of curiosity and respect makes me anxious to accept invitations to various forms of worship.  What I don’t have time for is civic religion—the bland “any deity will do” sort of “prayer” that is too much pro forma and too little from the heart.  I will render my worship where I can speak truthfully and fully from the heart to God and where I am not subjected to pious platitudes that are three quarters rhetoric and one quarter feel-good philosophy light.  In any event, it turned out to be a particularly good day to be at Mass.  (Lutherans, Episcopalians, and others who follow the common lectionary hopefully found it to be a day of equally rich messaging.)  We were hit over the head this Sunday with Jesus’ no-holds-barred message of the absolute and unqualified need to forgive if we expect ourselves to be forgiven.  Forgiveness and Reconciliation: now that is a challenging message to our modern world. 
     Time Magazine ran an article on how preachers should approach this weekend.  Picking up on the themes in the cycle of liturgical readings shared by Catholics, Lutherans, Anglican/Episcopalians,  and several other Churches, the obvious message was reconciliation and forgiveness.  That did not go over well in the blogosphere where the usual crazies were fast to weigh in on how Muslims hate Christians and want to destroy Christianity and impose Sharia law on everyone.  (It never seems to hit these same people that there are plenty of Christians who want to impose their particular beliefs on society as well.  But then of course Christian beliefs come from God while non-Christian beliefs are, at best, man-devised and thus not worthy of consideration.) 

     I remember being at a Papal Audience on September 12, 2001.  The pope had much to say by means of words of consolation to the American people but he also told us not to blame Islam.  Two weeks later John Paul visited Kazakhstan where he quoted Islamic scriptures, poetry, and writers to highlight a message of peace and harmony between Islam and Christianity.  We must continue to work building bridges of understanding among peoples of all religions and no religion.  We need to cultivate a culture of tolerance and more than tolerance, but an active respect for one another and for each other’s beliefs.  We need a culture of dialogue.  I was once confident that our Catholic Church was encouraging that.  I am not so sure now.  Granted, Pope Benedict XVI has convoked another multi-religious gathering in Assisi for prayer this October.  But on a local level all I hear are negative comments about those whose faith and religious practices are different than ours.  Even among Christians, the ecumenical movement is all but dead.  Now Episcopalians and Lutherans and Methodists and  Presbyterians are derided because they don’t agree with us on same-sex marriage or they ordain women or they do not view abortion through the prism of protecting the life of the unborn.  I am no syncretist.  I am a Catholic because I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ contains God’s Revelation to humankind in a way that surpasses other religious traditions and I believe that the Catholic Church has preserved the integrity of that Gospel not as perfectly as it might have but even more authentically than various other Christian groups have.  That is not to say that I do not respect other religions or other Christian Churches and it is not to say that I do not recognize great truths—human and revealed—in them, but only that in my hearing the Catholic tone rings most clear and true.  Nonetheless, I know that I have much to learn not only from other Christians but from other peoples of various religions and from non-believers.  And I want to live in a society that is open to truth and the search for truth, not a society in which one religious group or another are so convinced of the monopoly on the truth that there is no need for discussion and dialogue.  Religion can be a force for human community or it can be a force against it.  Those who engineered the assaults of September 11th used religion to divide and attack.  Those who advocate sectarianism in our society today are no better.  But those who bear the vision that in the fullness of time all things in heaven and on earth are to be summed up in Christ know that the path of mutual respect and sincere dialogue is the way to peace. 

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