As a nation we are deciding how to respond to the September 11 attacks. For many of us it is like waking up in a hospital room after an operation. I have only been hospitalized once – for a minor operation. When I awoke from the anesthesia, my head was in a fog. Where am I? What happened? Was it just a dream? But then I saw the scar and began to feel the pain. I knew it was real.
The enormity of what happened last Tuesday is just beginning to sink in. It’s easy to feel reactions of rage, to want to strike out at someone, anyone. Today’s Gospel gives us something to consider - a puzzling parable about a steward who avoids imminent disaster by facing his crisis "prudently." (Lk 16:8)
As we shall see, prudence has a dramatic meaning, but it is also a practical, everyday virtue. We must ask it for President Bush and world leaders - and for our own selves. The Catechism defines it this way:
Then it cites Proverbs 14:15: "The prudent man looks where he is going." Anger is a good emotion - if directed by discretion.
The evening of the attacks, I talked with a young mom who has a four-year-old daughter. When the little girl saw the images of planes crashing into buildings and bursting into flames, she became distressed and confused. She asked her mom, “Did my grandfather die?” He did not, but many children lost their grandparents and parents on Tuesday morning.
How could fellow human beings conceive and carry out those acts of mass murder? There are no easy answers. To me the one who said it best was Rev. Billy Graham. In his masterful sermon at the National Cathedral, he spoke about the mystery of evil, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9)
Pope John Paul, himself a witness to the atrocities of Nazism and communism, asked, “How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty?” Then he said something similar to Billy Graham: “The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people.”
In the face of mass murder it is natural to seek someone to blame. However, in this case the immediate perpetrators committed suicide. For sure, we must do everything we can to capture the co-conspirators, especially those who directed and financed the highjackers. The problem comes when people try to spread the blame beyond those directly responsible.
The day after the attack I was at a local store. A middle-aged woman in full Moslem attire was doing her shopping. I admired her courage and at the same time prayed no one would be so cruel as to make an accusing remark. I feel ashamed, embarrassed that here in Seattle someone spit on a Moslem woman and that people have attacked cabdrivers and mosques.
Some are also trying to place the blame on those they call “fanatics,” that is, anyone with strong religious convictions. It is possible to misuse religion - just as it possible to misuse anything good, including science. Medicine can kill as well as cure. The blame does not lie in the medicine, but in the mistaken prescription - or the patient ignoring a prudent doctor's advice.
Many Christians, for fear of being branded as fanatical, have adopted the relativism of our culture. Sure, if no one felt strongly about anything there would be no arguments, no fights, and no wars. Apart from dumping euphoric drugs into the water supply à la Brave New World, that is not likely to happen. What the real world requires is prudence: discerning the true good in each circumstance and the right means to achieve it.
This week we saw faith motivating people to acts of generosity and self-sacrifice. President Bush referred to a “beloved priest (who) died giving the last rites to a firefighter.” His name was Fr. Michael Judge, a 68 year-old Franciscan from Ireland. He was chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. After the attack on the first tower, he rushed to the scene with firefighters and immediately began giving absolution to the wounded. Minutes later, the tower collapsed. Hundreds died, including Fr. Judge.
The Irish Franciscan took a risk – but in another sense he exercised the highest degree of prudence. What Jesus speaks about this Sunday, to choose which master we will serve: God or mammon? (Lk 16:13) Fr. Judge chose God.
Mammon, on the other hand, is not just money, but all means of control – including revenge. This week on Mother Angelica Live, a man with a trembling voice told her how angry he was and that what he desires is revenge. Those who listen to Mother Angelica know she does not mince words. She said to him, “If you pursue that desire, you will drag yourself into hell.”
The prudent man looks where he is going, where his desires will lead him. The hijackers nurtured a bitterness which led to horrible acts. You and I need to examine the seeds of bitterness growing in our hearts. They may bear poisonous fruit both in time and eternity.
There is no easy cure for bitterness. Dr. Billy Graham did indicate a way. I would like to conclude by again citing his words. Probably he was not aware September 14 was the Feast of the Holy Cross, yet he directed the audience to the crucifix prominently displayed in the National Cathedral: “The cross tells us God understands sin and suffering – for he took them upon himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and sorrows and pains you feel. But I love you.”
From Archives (25th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Disaster Relief, Grief Observed, St. Lorenzo Ruiz)
Seattle Columnist Joel Connelly Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."
Catholic Evangelization and Dissent by Fr. Jim Northrop (well worth reading!)
An Excerpt from A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated September 2013)
My Top Ten Teaching Opportunities
Outline of Geography of Faith
Geography of Faith, Part One (audio file of homily given on September 15, 2013)