Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor. This attack eventually led to World War II. I have met veterans who had once been young and patriotically idealistic and had responded to Japanese aggression, altering their whole life for the good of our country. After what they had been through and what they had lost, including many of their peers, one can understand how they would not want us to forget the pain of their past and the military heroes of World War II.
The American Pearl Harbor tragedy of the new millennium was the events of 9/11/2001. This day does not pass without remembering the 2,977 men, women, and children who lost their lives in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA. I remember images of death and destruction that human eyes were never meant to see and the sad desperation of first responders who longed to help, many of whom became victims themselves.
In the years since, the events of 9/11 come up in conversations. I recall one time when I started to explain my personal experience, I noticed that the person I was speaking with wasn’t tracking my words as a fellow witness to the horrible events in 2001. And then I realized, this junior in college experienced this event as a history lesson, not personal experience as he was only 2 years old on 9/11/2001. I was happy that he hadn’t experienced the sadness and tension of that day. But in another way, I felt like those World War II veterans that I encountered so many years ago. I was desperate for the student to understand how radically life changed for the entire nation after 9/11 and how innocence was lost across our country.
Sadly, so many generations have these moments of tragedy. Sometimes these moments are natural disasters. But most often our communal pain and suffering has been caused by nations and people who perpetrate evil against others for a variety of reasons and motivations. In the end, this common recurring pain should motivate us to promote and pray for peace, justice and good will between nations and peoples. On this day, I turn to the wisdom of one of our modern saints, Mother Teresa. Having rushed to countless war zones with her sisters to care for the frightened, the orphaned, the hungry, and the injured, she once said that, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Even within our country, we have forgotten this important lesson. We have work to do on this sober anniversary of September 11th. Too many people seek to define themselves in terms of what divides us instead of what unites us. We are big on labels of condemnation instead of the dignity of every human person. We have forgotten we belong to each other.
Maybe we can challenge ourselves this weekend to do three simple things.