Skip to comments.9/11 & the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
Posted on 09/12/2007 8:23:31 AM PDT by Balt
10:56 AM 9/12/2007 - The attack on our country on September 11th six years ago is probably one of those events that will always remain transfixed in our minds -- we will always remember where we were and what we were doing when it happened. I was on retreat at the time with the other priests of our eparchy; and, when I returned to my parish in East Brunswick at the end of the week, I had to wrestle with how I was going to address this, since we had a number of families in the parish which were directly impacted by this event.
Three days after the attack was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which we celebrate this week, and the Sunday after would be the next opportunity for me to preach to my people. I got some help, providentially, from Dr. Billy Graham, who had preached the sermon at the memorial service that week in Washington, which just happened to coincide with the feast of the Exaltation. I doubt that Dr. Graham was aware of that fact when he preached that Friday morning; but, even if he had been, his sermon could not have been more appropriate. He took a situation that defies words, and said all the right things. He took that one question that preachers always avoid -- namely, why does God allow things like this to happen? -- and tackled it head on; not by giving an answer, but simply by pointing out that, when a situation arises that the Christian simply cannot explain, thats when faith takes over.
Thats why, when things like this happen, we say that they are tests of faith . . . because we cant deal with them any other way. It is, in fact, what Dr. Graham pointed out so well, the mystery of the Cross of Christ. Thats why, whenever were faced with a tragedy, whether it be the loss of a loved one or the end of a marriage or a painful illness, our faith draws us to the cross . . . to the Lord who bore all that we bear and more. And we go to the cross in faith because we know -- again, as Dr. Graham pointed out -- because we know that symbol of death -- that Cross of Christ -- only points to one thing: the empty tomb; which reminds us that, in spite of our grief, were all going to die one day, but with the hope of rising again; because thats what the cross does . . . thats what the death and resurrection of Christ accomplished. The death and resurrection of Christ conquers death, not by making it so no one dies, but by making death irrelevant: we pass from this world because this world is not our destiny.
But as I was listening to Dr. Graham that morning, and to the magnificent and moving words our President spoke so well on that occasion, I couldnt help being distracted by the thought that, as unbearable as that terrible week was for all of us, how much more unbearable it must be for those for whom the cross of Christ means nothing. And I found myself, as ironic as it seems, overwhelmed with a sense of profound gratitude that I was born a Christian. And I found myself at that moment thanking God that I know what the cross is, that I believe in it, that it is the center of my faith; and, that no matter how imperfectly I may carry the cross in my life, I have not yet dropped it or left it behind. If you would be my disciple, says the Lord, you will deny yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.
The tragedy of that horrible week five years ago is so immense that some would consider it insulting to suggest, as Christians so tritely do when something bad happens, that it could be a blessing in disguise; and Im certainly not suggesting that today. But it is neither insulting nor inappropriate, on this weekend in which we remember it, to thank God that we believe in the cross, especially now, involved as we are in a protracted war aimed at ridding our world, once and for all, from those forces of evil who believe that killing innocent people is an effective way to make a point. I almost never get political in a homily, and I dont wish to today: but there is a common thread running through the history of civilized man. It began, I think, with the end of the First World War, when mankind, for the first time, saw death on a global scale. And I dont think it was merely coincidence that this was the same period in which divorce, communism, contraception, fascism, abortion, terrorism and promiscuity became recognizable movements in society for the first time. It was then that what we call civilization -- and everything that the word implies -- began to breakdown and deteriorate little by little. Adolf Hitler exterminated six million people without batting an eye; sixty percent of the worlds people found themselves behind an iron curtain, within which the individual and his God-given freedom meant nothing. And even in free countries, like our own, life became so cheap that the inconveniently conceived could be legally and easily disposed of. Families began to break down so frequently that a broken home became the norm rather than the exception.
Now, you might think that this is all just hyperbola on my part, and you might be right; but, to me, the terrible events of September 11th, 2001, were nothing more than a tragic visible manifestation of whats been happening to civilization in a more subtle way over the last one hundred years. And maybe its in this sense that we can say there is a sort of blessing in disguise, in that a situation has been created in which the last remaining outposts of civilized man stand up and say, Enough is enough! Its stops here! It goes no further! And while war is certainly an evil thing no matter the cause, there are some things that are worse, one of which is a dialog with evil. If the last one hundred years have taught us anything, they have taught us that evil does not listen to reason, it is interested only in destruction; and the only way to stop it is to destroy it first.
To be sure, there has not been a war fought on this planet in which both sides did not claim that God was on their side. To make such a claim is, of course, the height of arrogance. I am much more comfortable simply pointing out the fact that what our side claims to be fighting for are many of the things our Lord spoke about during his time on earth, and many of the things held true and dear by our Church and our faith. How you want to interpret that is up to you. But I do know for certain that the deterioration of civilization, of which I believe 9/11 was a symptom, will not be cured with the defeat of a single foe; there has to be a change in here: in the heart of each and every one of us. Civilization becomes healthy again only when each and every one of us becomes civilized in the true sense of the word: when freedom is viewed again not as a gift of the state, but a right bestowed by God alone; when life again becomes precious and is no longer subordinated to convenience or politics or expediency; when man ceases to be the center of his own self-made universe, but once again recognizes that the creature is nothing outside of the vision of his Creator. The late Pope John XXIII, whose short five year reign is remembered primarily for convening Vatican II (causing some to ignore his pre-Vatican II exhortations), summed up the whole thing in one very simple sentence: There will never be peace among men until there is first peace within each one of them.