Saturday, September 10, 2011

Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sir 27:30—28:7
Matt 18: 21-35
Sept. 11, 2011
Christian Brothers,[1] Iona College, New Rochelle

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sir 27: 30).

Here’s a photo taken at Seton Scout Reservation in Greenwich in January 1997. [2]

In it you see me with Troop 40’s Scoutmaster Michael Andrew Boccardi (behind the Coleman stove) and an assistant scoutmaster, Ron Dingler.

You’ll find Mike’s name on one of the plaques at Ground Zero.
Each of the plaques at Ground Zero has 11 columns of names--and I don't know how many names are in each column, but it looks like at least 30--of those who were murdered here by religious fanatics. Photo 2/24/05.

He worked as an investment broker on the 97th floor of the North Tower. Mike was an Eagle Scout, bred in Troop 40, and became Scoutmaster when he was 23, and he was 30 on 9/11. Altho his job was investments, his life was young people. You don’t often see 15- and 16-year-old boys cry, but they did after 9/11, and some—older now, obviously, still do. We’ll have a memorial Mass for him tomorrow at St. Ursula’s in Mt. Vernon, where Troop 40’s based, and there will be more tears, probably including mine.

9/11 provoked tears and anger and much more in all of us. Therefore it’s important for us to listen to the inspired wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach in today’s 1st reading as well as the divine teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospel: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance…. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven” (Sir 27:30, 28:1-2). “In anger his master handed him over to the torturers…. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:34-35).

Without a doubt Americans felt justifiable anger on 9/11—the more so when we saw of Palestinians dancing in the streets after the towers came down.

What we justifiably felt, however, is distinct from justifiable responses. As Sirach indicates, hugging our anger and allowing it to dictate a vengeful response isn’t acceptable to the Lord. Indeed, Jesus our Redeemer commands us to forgive.

How did you react when you heard that our Seals had gotten Osama bin Laden? You probably didn’t dance in the streets; but some of our fellow citizens practically did. Did you smile? Did you exclaim, “Yes!” Did you hear and agree with the Vatican’s statement: “In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred”?[3] Did you pray for Osama, then or earlier, asking God to change his heart and pardon his sins? Have you ever prayed that 9/11’s 19 hijackers and all the other murderous terrorists be forgiven and saved in God’s mercy?

It’s not our place to determine whether they owed God 10,000 talents, compared with our mere 100 denarii (cf. Matt 28:23-34). (The late biblical scholar Fr. Raymond Brown informs us: “The annual income of King Herod was 900 talents; thus the 10,000 talents forgiven by the master can be expressed in our terms by ‘billions.’ It would amount to about fifty million denarii, contrasted to the hundred denarii not forgiven to the fellow servant.”[4] It’s not our place to weigh our sins in God’s balance, for “he remembers sins in detail,” Sirach says (28:1), and—given our gifts of family, education, freedom, and faith—perhaps our sins weigh a lot more than we imagine. (I hope not, but I have to trust in God’s mercy, and entrust to that same mercy everyone else, no matter how much I detest their attitude or their behavior.)

Forgiving those who hate us and seek our harm, and praying for the conversion of their hearts, doesn’t mean doing nothing. Speaking as president of the American bishops, Abp. Dolan earlier this week offered an appropriate twofold response to 9/11 or any similar moral outrage.[5] One response is, “We resolve today and always to reject hatred and resist terrorism.” That is, we act to defend ourselves and to protect others from murderous behavior, from oppression, and to bring to justice those who wage war on the innocent or commit any other crime. We do so not with indiscriminate vengeance on our minds, not to “get even,” but only with reasoned and measured actions to remove threats against ourselves or others.

The 2d response is: “We remember how our nation responded to the terrifying events of that day—we turned to prayer, and then turned to one another to offer help and support. Hands were folded in prayer and opened in service to those who had lost so much.” And in his own column in this week’s Catholic New York, our archbishop expanded on that: “New Yorkers were shocked, scared, angry, saddened and shaken by the unforgettable death and destruction of 9/11, true; but, New Yorkers were not paralyzed or defeated! They immediately rallied, becoming people of intense faith, prayer, hope, and love, as the rescue, renewal, resilience, rebuilding, and outreach began. And it has not stopped since.”[6] Great and horrible events, whether man-made or natural, whether a 9/11 or an earthquake in Haiti, remind us of our limitations, our frailty, the very temporary nature of our lives, and our dependence upon God for our safety and our salvation. They also remind us how much we need and depend upon one another and how much we can truly do for one another, even in our frailty.

Let’s close with the prayer offered by Pope Benedict when he visited Ground Zero on April 20, 2008: “O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain….

“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.”

[1] With as many lay people present this evening as brothers.
[2] The photo hangs in my room near my desk.
[3] As reported by CNS, May 2, 2011.[4] The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (New York, 1984), p. 145, n. 198.[5] USCCB statement, Sept. 8, 2011:

Photo lifted from The Deacon's Bench

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