Do Not Be Afraid
A Priestly Response to the Events of Tuesday, 11 September, 2001.
by Fr. Bob Papi
Holy Mother the Church, in her wisdom as the pre-eminent teacher on earth about the reality of human history and the human person, provides prayers and readings through Holy Mass for every aspect of human life.
In her Mass 'In Time of War or Civil Disturbance' she places upon our lips and within our hearts a series of prayers which articulate the universal hunger for peace and the profound anguish of those who suffer the devastation of hatred expressed through violence.
It is the act and voice of the priest who, in the person of Christ, prays over the gifts in this Holy Mass: " Lord, remember Christ Your Son who is peace itself and who has washed away our hatred with His Blood. Because you love all men, look with mercy on us. Banish the violence and evil within us, and by this offering restore tranquility and peace. Grant this through Christ our Lord. "
Drawing on the Holy Gospel according to St. John, Holy Mother the Church likewise places upon our lips and in our hearts these words of the Communion Antiphon to remind us of the truth that Christ is Risen and the victory over satan has been won, we are redeemed, yet pilgrim still through the anguish of life within a culture of death. Thus Holy Mother the Church seeks to comfort us as we struggle to witness in daily life and to preach with our lives the Gospel of love, life, forgiveness and mercy:
"The Lord says, peace I leave with you, My own peace I give you; not as the world gave do I give. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." [cf. Jn.14:27]
The brutal act of war inflicted upon the people of the United States Tuesday September 11, 2001 is experienced by most people around the world as a visible act of war against every human being.
Yet for a generation a war of surgically precise brutality has been waged against unborn innocent brothers and sisters in the millions without the same universal reaction of anguish and horror.
Likewise for a generation we have lived in an affluent culture (a culture about which most of the world barely dares dream of ever sharing in, and thus their frustration becomes despair which turns to the heat of bitter hatred expressed through the evil of violence.) Ours is the culture of innumerable variables and wealth in food, clothing, housing, entertainment, medical care, leisure, wealth, etc. We have, either by disinterest or deliberate choice, allowed our elected governments to make choices of policy and law within the confines of American, Canadian and European life, which perpetuate daily brutal war against the human person not only through abortion but immense poverty, homelessness, and other evils as well as actions and attitudes towards others which continue immense horror in the Holy Land, Northern Ireland, Sudan, Angola, Liberia and many, many other countries engulfed in civil war, or by famine. Yet we insist that we be spared any form of discomfort, punishment for our sins or the heat of Divine anger.
This is NOT to imply in any way that those who have been murdered or wounded in the recent act of war against our brothers and sisters in the United States deserved to be brutalized. Rather to plead that we put our faces to the ground, as Holy Mother the Church does for us in the Holy Mass in Time of War or Civil Disturbance, and plead with the Holy Trinity for the gift of grace, both the grace of conversion and the means and time to convert, before our arrogance plunges the entire world in a global war beyond imagining.
The Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, opens with these words:
"The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts."
This truth, rooted in our common baptismal vocation to participate in the 'prophetic mission' of Christ, compels every Christian to not merely have a heart devoid of all forms of hatred and violence but as well to actively love and serve Christ in every other human person.
Certainly all Christians, indeed every human being just on the basis of natural law, must be 'pro'life. But hating those who choose or perform abortion is to be 'anti'life, for hatred is the emotion which enables human beings, such as those persons who planned and executed the recent acts of war against our brothers and sisters in the United States to choose sin and death over holiness and life. Hatred is the emotion which so poisons a human heart that the human being will in choosing hate over love, evil over good, death over life, reject their very humanity.
It will not be through military might that we will - as many voices assert - show the agents of terror, violence and war that we are stronger.
Love alone is stronger. The Light of the Risen Christ is stronger.
Only when we, in Christ and with Christ, shine forth the light of the Gospel of Life, the Gospel of Mercy, through true love in our hearts and lives, only then will we, in truth, be what Christ declares in the Gospel, 'light of the world and salt of the earth.'
In the Council's document mentioned above we are taught in paragraph 80 that, ". . . this generation should realize that they will have to render an account of their warlike behavior; the destiny of generations to come depends largely on the decisions they make today."
As we come to grips with this most recent act of war, our prayer and fasting must be for our own and the world's absolute conversion of heart. All our conversations and emotional urgings for retribution should be tempered by the urgent warning from the Holy Spirit through the words of the Second Vatican Council that ours indeed is the generation which must render an account of our behavior. We must never forget that, as individuals and as nations, the destiny of future generations does depend on the choices we make today. Indeed these words echo the equally urgent pleadings of Our Lady of Fatima who warned of the devastating consequences of our failure to truly repent and be converted.
The Council continues in paragraph 82:
"for unless animosity and hatred are put aside, and firm, honest agreements about world peace are concluded, humanity may, in spite of the wonders of modern science, go from the grave crisis of the present day to the dismal hour, when the only peace it will experience will be the dread peace of death. The Church, however, living in the midst of these anxieties, even as it makes these statements, has not lost hope. The Church intends to propose to our age, over and over again, in season and out of season, the apostle's message: 'Behold, now is the acceptable time' for a change of heart; 'behold, now is the day of salvation.'"
While it is the duty of our political leaders to implement that on a national and international scale, it is the baptismal duty of every Christian to act this out person-to-person.
In his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socilais, Pope John Paul II teaches the truth that:
" . . . acts of terrorism are never justifiable . . . what Christianity forbids is to seek solutions . . . by ways of hatred, by the murdering of defenseless people, by the methods of terror." [cf.para.24.4]
We must expand our hearts to give this teaching the widest possible - that is the most loving and merciful, the most divinely generous - interpretation and application.
Abortion, euthanasia, discrimination, rejection of another person with words, or actions, that cut to the quick of a human heart, [and we all know in our own hearts what these acts and attitudes, these words used are], these are at the root of the larger evil which engulfs so many human beings such as happened this past Tuesday (11 September, 2001).
Indeed earlier in the same encyclical, the Holy Father points to the denial of basic social justice as the early beginning of a process which leads to
". . . the temptation among the victims of injustice to respond with violence, as happens at the origin of many wars." [cf.para.10.2]
Pope Paul VI was the first to teach powerfully the direct link between the encouragement and growth of a real peace among nations and individuals and the 'progress and development' of peoples. Yet we in the Western world in particular continue to resist this direct link in very large measure because we refuse to act upon the immediate demand of such a truth, repeated by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus:
" Creating such conditions calls for a concerted worldwide effort to promote development, an effort which also involves sacrificing the positions of income and of power enjoyed by the more developed economies. This may mean making important changes in established lifestyles . . ."[cf.paras 52.2/52.3]
Holy Mother the Church in the Holy Mass 'in time of war' and in the words of the Popes is simply applying to the immediate moment of human history and therefore to this brutal act inflicted upon our brothers and sisters, the very words of Jesus Himself:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. [Mt.5:9]
I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and on the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. [Mt.5:44/45]
We all know the passages about the true disciple who denies self, forgoes un-necessary possessions, and even necessary ones, who gives to the poor, serves, and loves others. Yet our Western culture, known for centuries as the Christian culture has become the culture of greed, hatred, and death we struggle through each day. Thus the world is filled with those who give into frustration, anger, hatred and violence. All the military retributive might of the United States, Canada and other nations - while it may well, for a time, seemingly satisfy our emotional need to have 'done' something, to have garnered ' an eye for an eye' - begs the question 'How many eyes of how many human beings will it take? '
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Holy Mother the Church presents her teaching on the reality of war and the responsibility of the 'state' to protect its citizens. However, as often happens in our era, even basically good-hearted Christians frequently 'cafeteria' baptismal truth and obligations. That is they pick and choose those aspects of truth which are least likely to truly unsettle the comfortable lifestyle we have come to take for granted. Surely this recent act of war, surely the continuing war waged against the unborn, should compel us to that true conversion of heart where we embrace each and every aspect of what the Church teaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, as true and as important as the entire teaching is, we should in particular open our hearts to and seek to live out, the teaching in Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2308:
"All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war . . . "
It is particularly difficult to embrace certain aspects of objective truth living through the reality of this immediate evil and brutal horror and the fear which has resulted. But this precisely is the baptismal commitment of 'taking up' our cross each day as true disciples and following Jesus Christ, never forgetting that He IS risen and has conquered death.
As we struggle to come to grips emotionally with what has happened, as we struggle with what for many is an assault on faith because of such immense evil invading our lives, we should also pray and fast to take into our heart this statement of reality and hope from the Catechism, paragraph 2317:
"Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war. Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: 'they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Because of modern media, millions witnessed 'live' this recent act of war, 'saw' living human beings, our brothers and sisters, leap to their death from buildings, which became immense funeral pyres. Since those events priests, ministers, rabbis, spiritual leaders of all religions, social workers, doctors, teachers, neighbours and mothers and fathers have been confronted, particularly from children and youth, with the so basically human question of anguished bewilderment and shaken faith: "Why?" often expressed also as, "How could God allow this?"
All our words of assurance and comfort, given to others or sought in our own hearts, must, in the face of the evil confronting us, be rooted in the ultimate truth of the person and teaching of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
"In Jesus Christ, the whole of God's truth has been made manifest . . . He IS the TRUTH . . . The disciple of Christ consents to 'live in the truth', that is, in the simplicity of a life in conformity with the Lord's example, abiding in His truth . . . The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known . . . " [Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 2466 to 2473]
The Catechism is filled with words of consolation which in this time of anguish and fear are a real source of inspiration and reassurance of the truth that Christ IS risen, has conquered the darkness of evil and death by the brilliance of His very self. Commenting on the words of Christ from the Cross as forming the 'loud cry' of His filial prayer to the Father the Catechism teaches:
" All the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up in this cry of the Incarnate Word. Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them by raising His Son." [cf. Para.2605/2606]
For those left behind after the killing of thousands through this recent act of war against our brothers and sisters in the United States and for millions around the world who witnessed this brutal event, fear has become an oppressive aspect of life.
We must strengthen and comfort one another by heeding the words of Pope John Paul II from the pages of his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope:
" Be not afraid . . . Christ addressed this invitation many times to those He met . . . The words Christ uttered are repeated by the Church. And with the Church, they are repeated by the Pope . . . Be not afraid! These are not words said into a void. They are profoundly rooted in the Gospel. They are simply the words of Christ Himself." [cf.p.4ff]
Our Blessed Mother Mary, Refuge of Sinners, Queen of Peace, Mother of the Church, invoked as Our Lady of Fatima, by any of the innumerable titles of affection we have for her, is truly in these days 'our refuge and our strength.' We should 'fly unto' her, confident she will bring us to her Son, confident she will enable us to open wide the doors of our being to the action of the Holy Spirit as He brings us to true repentance and conversion.
I began this reflection drawing from the 'Holy Mass In Time of War or Civil Disturbance' and conclude with the Post-Communion prayer and the Communion antiphon from this Mass, for when confronted with acts of evil which our minds cannot comprehend, and while our hearts are weighed down by the immensity of evil, it will be through the grace which comes in acts of faith, rooted in hoped, and in acts of true charity towards one another, prayer and action, that we will experience the peace which Christ not only promises but offers immediately:
"Father, you satisfy our hunger with the one bread that gives strength to mankind. Help us to overcome war and violence, and to establish your law of love and justice. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord."
"The Lord says, peace I leave with you, My own peace I give you; not as the world gave do I give. Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid."
Fr. Bob Papi
Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
© September 14, 2001