Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness in an age of terrorism

Deacon Walter Ayres, who serves as Chair of the Commission on Peace and Justice, used today's Gospel on forgiveness as a basis for a homily on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. You can send your comments to him at
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was getting off an Amtrak train at Penn Station with several co-workers when we received a call from the office. We learned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

A few minutes later we received another call from the office, telling us about the second plane.

My boss decided it was time to get out of town. He cancelled the meeting and we all bought tickets on the next train to Albany.

There was a lot of confusion on that train ride back home. One of the passengers said that he had been at the World Trade Center earlier and left after someone came running out of the building shouting, “Go back, go back. They’ve got guns.”

Another told how he had heard there was a third plane in Washington, and that it had hit the White House.

Of course, neither of those stories was true, but we did not know it at the time.

As I said, there was much confusion.

Today, 10 years later, there still is confusion, some of which may come from today’s Gospel.

That confusion is about forgiveness.

Who we forgive and when we forgive.

I believe in a forgiving God. In a loving God. In a God who wants us to live in a world of peace and justice.

I also believe in a God who wants us to see the world as it is, not as we wish it would be.

As we worship today, our nation is in a state of high alert for another potential terrorist threat. Do the people who may be carrying out this threat need to be forgiven?

Yes. At the appropriate time.

But right now what they need . . . is to be stopped.

And so we pray for all those brave men and women who are trying to do just that; who are risking their lives for our safety.

. . .

True faith recognizes the reality of evil in the world, and the need to stop it, not by any means possible, but by any means compatible with Christ’s teachings.

One can fight out of a sense of justice and the need to defend one’s family.

We do it with love for those we defend, not hatred for those we fight.

And while we forgive sin, we also punish crime.

In a sinful world, there often is a need to fight evil.

But true faith does not just recognize the evil in others. True faith recognizes the evil in our own lives.

All of us have done things for which we need to be forgiven. None of us is perfect.

It is this imperfection in our own hearts that should lead us to forgive the sins and faults of others, and to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed.

A recognition of our own weaknesses should allow us to apply one standard of forgiveness when we need to forgive. There should not be separate standards for those we love and those we may despise.

Who among us finds it possible to forgive the acts of people in other countries, but refuses to forgive mistakes or improper acts by our own leaders?

Or, who among us excuses whatever is done by our leaders, but cannot forgive the actions of those in other countries who may have been harmed by our efforts to prop up petty dictators for our own narrow economic interests?

As Christians, we are called to forgive our enemies as well as our friends.

That does not mean we ignore unjust or immoral acts, that we allow bullies to push us around or that we stay in toxic relationships when it may be time to leave.

After all, God wants us to be forgiving, not foolish.

We can forgive without having to forget.

We can forgive and still be angry.

Anger can be a normal and healthy emotion. What we do with that anger is what is important.

We can channel it into activities that help spare others from the sorrow we have endured, or we can stew in it as we become resentful and hateful people ourselves.

To help make sure that we end up as the former and not the latter, I want to leave you today with some homework.

For the next month, until the 11th of October, let’s pray for our enemies every day.

Those may be our enemies in other lands or in our neighborhood or even in our own families.

Let us pray that God will soften their hearts, as well as our own, to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Let us pray not that they be converted to our way of thinking, but that all of us be open to the stirrings of God’s Word.

Let us pray that the will of God becomes our own desire, and that we have the courage and strength to do whatever it is that God is asking us to do to bring his peace, mercy and justice to a broken world.

Let us also pray that if our prayers do not change our enemies, that they at least change us, and help us to become the people we are meant to be, a people compassionate and caring, and, not least of all, forgiving.

And let us do this with a sense of love, and a sure knowledge that God will forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

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