Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily commemorating Sept. 11, 2001:
September 11, 2016
Today, we remember 9/ll, that unforgettable tragedy that impacted our whole nation and indeed the world over, that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, destroyed a part of the Pentagon in Washington, DC., and killed thousands of innocent people in those locations and on the 4 airplanes that were hijacked and crashed. We continue to pray for all who died and those who were injured, and for their families and friends. It is also good for us to reflect on what 9/11 means: how should we understand it?
Since the commemoration of 9/11 occurs this year during the Jubilee of mercy, let us look at the contrast between the purpose of the terrorists who carried out these atrocities and the purpose of the Year of Mercy.
The Year of Mercy is to be a true encounter with God: “Whenever we encounter God”, the Holy Father said, “we discover that He is full of mercy, gracious, rich in kindness. We call Him the Father Almighty, and He truly is all powerful. Nothing is beyond the reach of His power. The greatest use of His power is when He freely forgives sin. The greatest use of God’s might is when Jesus suffered and died for us on the Cross. Jesus brings us a living experience of the closeness of the Father, His tenderness and compassion.”
The contrast between the use of power by terrorists and the use of power by Jesus could not be greater. Terrorists want to tear down, kill and destroy. Jesus came to build up, heal and save, and to give His own life as a ransom for many.
In the Gospel passage for today’s Mass, a complaint against Jesus is raised by the Scribes and Pharisees (Lk 15:2): they say “Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.” For us friends of Jesus, that’s no reason for complaint. That’s good news! That is what Jesus does every day in Catholic churches — here at the Cathedral and wherever Mass is celebrated around the world. Here Jesus welcomes sinners and shares with us the Bread of Life.
This is also where Jesus welcomes sinners, burdened by guilt and shame; and frees us from that slavery in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
God deals with the destruction wrought by sin by offering Himself as a ransom for all. He said, “It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice. I came not for the righteous but sinners.” Jesus desires not the death of the sinner but that he be converted and live.
The great compassion of Jesus is captured in the parables that He told, such as those in today’s Gospel passage, where He says (Lk 15:1ff), “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99…who have no need of repentance.” Who was the most fortunate here? The 99 or the lost one? It is the one whom Jesus seeks out, yes? The more we stray from the Lord, the more He seeks us out, not to punish us but to bring us home–back to the Father’s house; back to where our dignity and freedom are restored.
With this in mind, Pope Francis requested us priests, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, to make ourselves available for confessions on a much more frequent basis; he also asked all pastors of parishes, to add at least one hour of Confessions per week to the parish schedule.
Without explicitly saying it, the Holy Father was exhorting all the faithful to find in the Confessional the tenderness of the Lord and His mercy.
A second request of Pope Francis was that all followers of Christ engage in the opposite of revenge and hatred, namely in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. When we engage in works of mercy, we do something beautiful for God, as St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta would say. It is truly beautiful and merciful to:
- Feed the hungry;
- Give drink to the thirsty;
- Comfort the afflicted;
- Shelter the homeless;
- Visit the Sick;
- Forgive those who offend us;
- Bear wrongs patiently; and so forth.
It is we ourselves who are enriched as the Lord makes us instruments of His peace and, through His grace at work within us, restores dignity and hope.
To understand the difference between the perpetrators of atrocities of 9/11 and the faithful followers of Jesus, we need only to gaze on the Cross of Christ, where He rescues the world from sin and from the horrors of violence, and where He opens the door to the Kingdom of God.
What we find in Jesus is a super-abundance of mercy (John 3:16), “God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.”
Heaven and earth will pass away. Violence and sin will pass away; evil will not endure. But God’s love is everlasting. His mercy is inexhaustible. As St. John writes (1 Jn 2:2), “Jesus is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”
Let us praise and give thanks to the Father then that He has called us to be His beloved sons and daughters and bestowed on us His mercy, which is stronger than sin and more powerful than death.
On September 11, 2016, let us rejoice that “Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Thanks be to God that He welcomes you and me with such tenderness and love.