I was here in Washington together with 50 other bishops from around the United States for an annual meeting. Upon hearing news of the attack, we adjourned and did what the Church does in such moments — the only thing the Church can do. We prayed. We walked from our conference building to the Basilica of the National Shrine where we all joined in the celebration of the Eucharist.
We were not alone. The basilica was filled. Thousands of students gathered at the Mass.
We were not surprised by the number of people who came to church 10 years ago to pray at a time of deep national sadness and anxiety and to join in solidarity with those who had died, been injured or lost loved ones in the terrorist attack on our country. There was an instinctive need on the part of all of us to stand with each other before God. Hence, houses of worship were filled with souls seeking solace – including many, many young people.
It was a grace-filled moment for all of us — certainly not the tragedy itself but the re-awakening of our need for God. This is, as well, on the anniversary of the attack, a time for us to come to hear all over again what Jesus has to say — what he has to tell us about our human condition and how we are to deal with moments like 9/11 and its enduring memory.
Jesus offers us God’s response to our questions about life and how we are to live, how we are to make our way through life, what the purpose and goal of life is and how we should make choices along the way. When we listen to the consoling yet challenging words of Jesus we find not just an ethical or moral system, but a whole vision of the purpose of life. Jesus came to reveal to us who his Father is, and therefore who we are. As we come to know our relationship to God, we come to know our role in life.
Perhaps the reason Jesus attracted so many followers in his lifetime was the beauty of his message — the simplicity of his words and the profound option he places before everyone who would seek to hear, listen to and follow him.
Over the past decade we have listened as government officials and commentators in the media spoke about the origins of these terrorist attacks and these violent acts against innocent life. Almost all of the discussion focused on who is responsible and where they might be found. This is a legitimate discussion because we are dealing with an attack not only against our nation but the very principles on which it rests.
But there is another response to the question: “What is the origin of this attack?”
Jesus offers us an answer not only to this great act of violence — now known simply as 9/11 — but also to the very root and source of all such manifestations of hatred.