“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
In the last several days as we have seen the coverage and remembrances marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, you may feel overwhelmed as we try to take it all in. Perhaps you have even tried to imagine what it was like to walk through the dust, ash and debris of that day, especially in New York. But most of us can’t comprehend it. Our minds are not big enough to take it in. Sometimes when things are more than we can comprehend, we feel paralyzed to know what we can do to make a difference.
I recently finished reading a book titled Thunder Dog. It is a true story of a blind man named Michael Hingson and his guide dog named Roselle, who safely led him out from the 78th floor of the World Trade Center after the first plane hit the north tower. The author said that there were several moments on9-11 when he didn’t know if he would survive, but that it was holding to the faith that if he and Roselle worked together, they would be okay.
In the book, written 10 years after 9-11, Michael Hingson says that in the midst of the grief and loss, there is an opportunity for change and a chance to move forward. “But to do that,” he writes, “we need to work together. That’s how the terrorists succeeded, with 19 people functioning as a cohesive unit and demonstrating teamwork by planning, coordinating, and working together in secret to carry out the deadly attack.”
Obviously, 9-11 was a coordinated effort by terrorists to do extreme harm, but it shows what can happen when working together. And a big part of working together for good is loving God and loving our neighbor.
One of the risks in times of crisis or remembering crisis is that our emotions turn us toward revenge and we fail to be Christ-like. We quickly trade the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor as revealed in Jesus, for anger that bends toward exclusion and revenge for the pain that has been inflicted upon us.
As we think about working together and living out our love of God and neighbor, I invite us to use the prayer of St. Francis to guide our thoughts and actions.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Loving God, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.