24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Tim 1: 12-17
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
Sept. 11, 2016
“This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1: 15).
Sometime today in cities and towns all over the N.Y. metro area, around Washington, D.C., and in a field near Shanksville, Pa., there will be memorial services. One of those services will be at the city hall of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., where Troop 40 BSA, my former troop, will take a prominent place, as they do every year. The service will include the reading of the names of, and perhaps the lighting of candles for, 5 Mt. Vernon citizens who died in the WTC on 9/11.
The Twin Towers
photo "swiped" from The Deacon's Bench
One of those 5 was our Scoutmaster, and my friend, Michael Andrew Boccardi, age 30. Over the course of several weeks, the New York Times ran brief profiles of every one of the 2,983 men and women who perished that awful morning in the Twin Towers. This is what Mike’s, captioned “A Loyal Scout,”* said:
Taking more than a dozen 15-year-old Boy Scouts to the wilds of New Mexico for a 10-day trip on horseback might not sound like the ideal trip for some people, but it was for Michael A. Boccardi. “It was a once in a lifetime thing,” said his friend Ed Maselli, an assistant scoutmaster of Troop 40 in Mount Vernon, N.Y., which Mr. Boccardi led as scoutmaster. “Snakes, bears, the whole nine yards. He loved it.”
Mr. Boccardi, 30, worked as a senior vice president of institutional relations at Fred Alger Management. [Their office was on the 92d floor of the North Tower and probably was wiped out when the 1st plane hit.]
Scouting captured Mr. Boccardi’s imagination from the age of 10; he had been an Eagle Scout himself. A typical month might include 20 nights devoted to various activities and events, according to the Westchester-Putnam Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Scouting was on his mind on the morning of Sept. 11. From his office, he sent an e-mail message to a mother of one of the boys just before 9 a.m. It was the troop’s revised newsletter.
Mike Boccardi, your humble blogger, and Ron Dingler
on a Scout trip to Camp Seton, Greenwich, Conn., in the late '90s
To which I’ll add that Mike also led us on 50-mile canoeing trips in the Adirondacks and on family outings to Disneyland and Disney World, as well as more mundane camping trips, ski trips, and movie nites, and the usual advancement and learning programs. For many Scouts, especially those from single-parent households, he was a father figure despite his own youthfulness. He was Scoutmaster by the time he was 25.
In 2001, I was stationed at Don Bosco Tech on Union Ave. in Paterson, N.J., 15 miles from Manhattan. From parts of Paterson people watched the Twin Towers burn and fall. A few days later we learned that 2 of the [expletive deleted] who commandeered the plane out of Newark had stayed in an apartment a mile down Union Ave. Unimaginable evil had been lurking that close to us, and we didn’t know it.
"The Pit" where the WTC once stood
How do we, as Christians, deal with the evil of 9/11, of attacks like those in Paris last November, of almost daily suicide bombings, of ISIS tyranny, of the Syrian civil war? of the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides of the 1990s?
An individual Christian is free to take Jesus’ words literally and turn the other cheek, offering no resistance, humbly accepting an injustice done to him (Matt 5:39). But we retain the right to defend ourselves against violence. And certainly we can’t oblige someone else to turn the other cheek; we are obliged to aid the weak and defenseless against evil—aiding widows and orphans, to use the classic phrasing of the Bible. We are obliged actively to resist evil aimed at our neighbor insofar as we have the means to do so, as individuals; as a society, e.g., thru providing for law enforcement; and as a nation, e.g., thru the defense of human rights in other countries and thru military action against those who make war upon us. It was a grave sin of omission that we and European powers stood by while a million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda in 1994. That’s why we have to continue to protest, march, and vote as long as abortion remains legal—and euthanasia is waiting in the legislative wings.
Some of the plaques listing all the WTC victims
But there are limits also on what we may do as individuals and a nation. We may not pass from self-defense to aggression (granted, the distinction may sometimes be difficult to figure out). Vengeance—for 9/11 or for what you might call “ordinary crime” on our own streets—is a sinful motivation. Self-defense is legitimate, but getting even or expressing our anger for its own sake isn’t. Police officers are obliged to use the minimum amount of force required to preserve public order effectively, apprehend suspects, etc. If our country finds it necessary to use military force, the moral law still holds; i.e., the requirements for waging a “just war” remain valid and binding, regardless of the other side’s barbarism.
The 9/11 Memorial Plaza includes the engraved names of all the WTC
victims in granite around the footprints of the 2 towers.
In the 2d reading today, St. Paul recalls his personal history—the awful things he did to Christians before his conversion, things he did with zeal for God, on his understanding of God’s Law. “I was a blasphemer,” he writes, “and a persecutor and arrogant” (1 Tim 1:13). In other places we read that he arrested the disciples of Jesus, pursued them beyond Jewish territory, put them in chains, dragged them into prison, and endorsed their execution (Acts 22:4-5; 26:10-11). You could say he was a Jewish jihadist. But, he observes today, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and he, Paul, “was mercifully treated” by the Lord’s “abundant mercy” (1 Tim 1:14-16).
Which leads us to another point: the hope that God’s mercy, God’s love, will touch today’s jihadists, the sorts of people who plan and carry out 9/11 attacks and other suicide missions, who behead and crucify and burn to death Christians, who wage war on women, children, and old men, etc. We are obliged by our Lord Jesus to pray for these—and for drug lords, and armies that invade neighboring countries without provocation, and dictators who use chemical weapons, and child traffickers, and others like those—to pray that, like St. Paul, they may yield to the grace of God and be healed and be converted to goodness. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Matt 5:44), even those who fly airliners into our skyscrapers and murder our loved ones—because God desires the salvation of everyone. We cannot for an instant hope or wish that anyone be eternally lost, eternally separated from God. Was I glad when our Seals got Osama? Yes, in a grim sort of way. Did I gloat? Hardly. Did I pray for his soul. Yes.
We who are created in God’s image, who have been baptized into Christ Jesus and who are supposed to be striving daily to become more and more like Christ Jesus must hope and wish and pray that the lost sheep be found, that the lost coin be found, that the angels and saints of God in heaven have abundant reason to rejoice (cf. Luke 15:1-10).
May God’s mercy be upon all of us.
|The 9/11 Memorial plaza on a cold day in November 2013.|
* NYT 10/14/01.