On 20th anniversary of 9/11, turn to Our Lady

By Chris Sparks

9/11 marked a turning point in the history of the world. It was a staggering moment of evil — planes flung at American buildings by the malice of Osama Bin Laden and his organization. Indiscriminate violence and destruction visited upon innocent civilians, upon uniformed personnel, upon anyone and everyone that Al Qaeda could strike.

How does anyone forgive after such a calamitous act of evil?

I look at that question, and I fall silent. I personally don’t have an answer, and am not sure how I would stand the test. But the Church can answer that question, and does through her inspired magisterium, through the Scriptures, and through the Tradition, especially as lived by the saints and martyrs.

The path to forgiving the unforgivable and loving the unlovable, as the late Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, taught, is through Divine Mercy.

Jesus Christ is Divine Mercy Incarnate. In His life and death, in the wounds scarring His body even now, we see written the answer to evil. We see that the world, the flesh, and the devil may do their worst against God and all of us made in His image and likeness, but in the end, we will rise. If we consent to mercy, we will rise to glory; if we refuse mercy and choose sin and death instead, we will rise to judgment. But an inevitable part of being open to mercy is also being open to giving mercy to others.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Mt 5:7).

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Mt 6:14).

So forgiveness for even the worst of sins or crimes against us is asked of Christians, and by the grace of God, is within the grasp of the Christian.

Again, don’t take my word for it — I’m no credible witness. But the Christian martyrs are.

The martyrs show across Christian history both a tremendous fortitude in the face of immense suffering as well as a tremendous sense of joy. Though the world counts them as defeated, the Church knows better. We recognize their faith, the marks of Christ’s wounds on their flesh, and the radiant joy in their witness. We see the hallmarks of the Gospel.

So the martyrs tell us how to forgive the 9/11 terrorists. The martyrs reveal to us the secret of greeting such evil with such generosity of spirit, with such joy even in sorrow, even in loss.

The martyrs show us the way, paving the path for even more pilgrim martyrs, more of us Christians to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, even unto suffering, even unto death, even death on a cross.

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do (Lk 23:34).

The martyrs demonstrate that imitating Christ can look like peaceful non-violence. And the martial saints show us that we can imitate Christ while defending our communities for love of neighbor. Saints like Martin of Tours, Louis IX, and Joan of Arc all lay out for us the way of faithful service to God and neighbor, even through military service, a way codified in the Church’s teaching on just war theory (see Catechism, 2308-2314).

We are to turn the other cheek when we personally are attacked, but when innocents are threatened, when our community is endangered, should the lawful authorities summon us, we may well have an obligation to answer. Certainly, the Church has room for those who are called to resist evil solely in non-violent ways, but there’s also definite room for taking up arms in service to our community.

But any temporary military conflict should never be mistaken as the ultimate answer to violence and war.

[T]he limit imposed upon evil, of which man is both perpetrator and victim, is ultimately the Divine Mercy — St. John Paul II, Memory and Identity.

We will never find a permanent path to peace through anything other than the mercy of God, because all earthly conflict can be traced back to what Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, calls the devil’s two weapons: sin and death. Everything got difficult in the Garden of Eden, and the answer to those difficulties can be found in the rays on the Divine Mercy Image, in the Blood and Water, in Baptism, Confession, and the Eucharist. As Venerable Fulton Sheen taught in his great book Peace of Soul, the path to worldly peace is marked along the route of man’s heart. That means we must be ready to forgive those who trespass against us, but it also means we must be ready to seek God’s forgiveness. Through grace, our hearts may become spotless, immaculate. Even if we have to frequent the confessional for the rest of our lives (and let’s be honest — that’ll be true for most all of us!), true peace will come with clean consciences, with hearts made pure and receptive to the will of God.

Saint Faustina gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when the soul has fully embraced Jesus:

From the moment when You let me fix the eyes of my soul on You, O Jesus, I have been at peace and desired nothing else, I found my destiny at the moment when my soul lost itself in You, the only object of my love. In comparison with you, everything is nothing (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 57).

The path to peace is the path to Jesus, the Divine Mercy. And the person best suited to help us follow Him faithfully is Our Lady, the Mother of Mercy.

Under the title of her Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Patroness of the United States of America, and Saturday is Our Lady’s day. This Saturday, on the 20th anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11, let’s take up the Rosary and ask Our Lady’s intercession for those who suffered and died as a result of that day.

Pray for the hijackers and the passengers, the men and women who went off to war as a result of that day, the men and women who’ve suffered terrible illness and even death as a result of their exposure to the burning buildings and the wreckage from that day, for the law enforcement and national security personnel who’ve been put in harm’s way and served our country as a result of that day.

Pray for the enemies of our country, past and present, for their conversion and that their enmity may become friendship and love.

Pray for the civilians who have suffered and died, the innocents caught up in a conflict in spite of themselves.

Pray for those who’ve been subjected to waterboarding, enhanced interrogation, and other tactics condemned by the Church.

Pray for those who violated civil and human rights in the name of defending civil and human rights, for those who bought into the terrible temptation of “anything in the name of.”

Pray that we may come to have forgiving, merciful hearts, and so be open to God’s forgiving mercy in turn.

Pray for the victims and their enemies, for our country, our Church, and our world, asking the Divine Mercy Incarnate and the Mother of Mercy to send God’s grace upon us all, to renew our hearts, and establish true peace, the peace of immaculate hearts, upon this world.

O Blood and Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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