September 11 – XXIV Sunday in Ordinary Time

My Dear Friends,

This day will always be solemn for us. Even though 21 years have passed, the scars of this day still hurt us. We were wounded as a nation on September 11, 2001, yet we will never forget how our churches were filled that night and the following Sunday with people just simply turning to God for answers. We wanted peace. We wanted to feel close to God, and yes, to each other. One of the things that I will always hold close to my heart is the sense of unity that we felt as a nation in the aftermath of those terrorist attacks. That unity feels fleeting two decades later. While we mourn those who died in the planes and those first responders who gave their lives, we can truly honor their sacrifice by praying for and working towards unity as a nation. 

There are two iconic images that many of us will recall from the days after 9/11. The first was the steel beam cross that emerged in the rubble of the World Trade Center. A reminder that Christ accompanies us even in the darkest of places. The other image was of the three firefighters hoisting the American flag in Ground Zero. I made two copies of that photograph. One I gave to my brother as a present when he graduated from the Fire Academy and became a firefighter that very month. The other still sits on a bookshelf in my office as a reminder not only of this date but that I must always pray for those who protect us. 

Our police officers, firefighters, and first responders, along with the members of our military, represent the best among us. Heroic, selfless men and women, who as we saw on that tragic Tuesday morning, without regard for their personal safety, ran into two burning towers. Those heroes of 9/11 personify that beautiful verse uttered by our Lord in St. John’s Gospel: “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13).” 

So today, we honor all the victims of 9/11, and we pray for our nation. We pray that the unity we experienced during that fateful September may somehow be rekindled. And I want to leave you with the powerful prayer recited by Pope Benedict XVI when he visited Ground Zero in 2008, and ask you to pray it on this solemn day as well.

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. 

We ask you in your goodness 
to give eternal light and peace 
to all who died here— 
the heroic first-responders: 
our fire fighters, police officers, 
emergency service workers,
and Port Authority personnel, 
along with all the innocent men and women 
who were victims of this tragedy 
simply because their work or service 
brought them here on September 11, 2001. 

We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, 
suffer from injuries and illness. 
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families 
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. 
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope. 

We are mindful as well of those who
suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 
Our hearts are one with theirs 
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. 

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: 
peace in the hearts of all men and women 
and peace among the nations of the earth. 
Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds 
are consumed with hatred. 

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.

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