I can remember it vividly because I was in bed with rheumatic fever and like everyone else I wanted to know where Pearl Harbor was. Another date that stands out in the memory of the American public is November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. On that occasion I was working with some patients in a mental institution in New Jersey. Everybody can remember what happened and where they were on September 11, 2001 when the terrible atrocities took place at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon in Washington and in a field in Pennsylvania.
There are times in our life when we go from one day to the next without any great major change in our daily way of operating. But everyone reading this, if you do any reflection or serious thinking, has to recognize that from September 11 onward our life has been changed and our attitudes have been jolted. All of us, no matter where we live, when we think of this atrocity, are reminded how fragile life is, how we do not know what is around the corner for each of us. Most of us when we get up in the morning might think that I could be involved in a train accident or a car accident, but I can guarantee you none of the 6,000 people who went to the World Trade Center on that day thought that they would be put to death by two planes that crashed into these buildings. That was beyond anyone's imagination. The more you think of it, the more you think of anthrax, the more you think of a plane crash of this uniqueness, it should remind us we are but a short time on this earth and we have to use our time more wisely than we might have thought about before September 11.
Each of us, in the light of these terrible atrocities, has to reexamine, if life is to make any sense during the war we are now engaged in, our relationships and our priorities. Your relationship with God has to be a primary relationship. Over the years we know that the God we believe in is the God who created heaven and earth, all the galaxies, all the stars, the sun and the moon, the oceans and the rivers. That is what we have been taught for years and it is still very true and very valid. But if our life is going to change and the course of our civilization is going to change, we have to make God more personal to ourselves and to others. We have been taught by Christ, himself, when he said, "wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Whatever you do for these my brethren you do for me. When I was hungry, you gave me to eat, thirsty you gave me to drink, naked and you clothed me." I am sure these teachings of Jesus Christ were part of the idea of President Bush not only in dropping food, but asking for money to help the Afghanistan children who are living in such abject poverty. That was his way of making Christ personal. Each of us in our own way of life has to make Christ personal to others
One of the qualities that is so often missing in the American Catholics way of living is that often we do not radiate Christ to others. We are followers of Jesus Christ. The same Jesus Christ died on a cross for us. The same Jesus Christ taught us to forgive those who trespass against us. The same Jesus Christ at the hour of his death said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." The same Jesus Christ expects us to bring those same acts of charity and forgiveness into the lives of those with whom we live and work. We cannot always be talking about God as an abstraction, the God of the sun and the moon and the stars, we have got to make God more personal to others by our Christlike actions with others. Each of us has an obligation to make this world a better place in which to live. We do that by bringing the message of Christ and the actions of Christ into the lives of others.
Another relationship and priority that has to be considered, especially during war time, is the value and importance of solid friendships. If there is a time when friendships are really needed, it is the time when families are in a crisis or communities are in a crisis or the country is in a crisis. If you go back to your Baltimore catechism, you might remember that each of us was taught that there were seven sacraments. Many famous theologians have always thought that there should be an eighth sacrament and that eighth sacrament is called the sacrament of friendship. Next to your relationship with God, your relationship with others in the form of a friendship is a sign of the grace of God on earth. It is incredible to me how so many people go throughout life not having the basic ingredients of what a solid friendship is all about and never make any effort to see how those ingredients can change and better your life. A friendship means that you do not have unrealistic expectations of another. A friendship means that when a favor is done for you there are no feelings of indebtedness on the part of the one who received the favor because a friendship is given with total unconditional generosity and no strings attached. Henry Adams, in his book the Education of Henry Adams, once said "to have one friend in life is much, two are rare and three are hardly possible."
I am constantly amazed when I cover the three nursing homes in my home parish in Connecticut and I look at these elderly people who rarely get a visitor from one end of the year to another, I just wonder how their lives would have been enriched if they had cultivated one solid friendship. A friend is one who is an ally when an alliance is needed. A friend is one who will nurse you through a sickness without any feeling of indebtedness to the one who has been helped. A friendship is the eighth sacrament that should be practiced by each of us especially in the light of the tragedy of September 11. A friendship basically benefits everyone. Yes, we are disappointed by friends from the past and some relationships do not work out, but if you work at it, if you do your best to be an unconditional lover, or one with unconditional generosity, a friendship is a pearl of great price. There is nothing like it on earth.
In this age with our new war, each one of us has been radically changed by the events of September 11. If we are going to preserve peace in our everyday way of living two things should be upper most in our mind. Our relationship with God and our relationship with friends. There will never be an explanation that will totally satisfy anyone concerning how a religious group of fanatics could, without any mercy, kill 6,000 people. If we have a relationship with God, we know that relationship with God will help us to live through faith and hope with the unanswered and the unresolved. That faith and hope, because of our relationship with God, will give us a certain degree of peace. Our friendship with others on earth will help us maintain the peace Christ had in mind when he said, "my peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you."
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