It was a “light bulb moment” for me as your rookie archbishop.
Two years ago, on September 11, 2009, I accepted a gracious invitation from Father Kevin Madigan, pastor of the historic parish of St. Peter’s, on Barclay Street, to offer a memorial Mass on the eighth anniversary of the tragedy.
Photo by Chris Sheridan
This Mass, the pastor explained, had become a cherished annual event, very appropriate, I agreed, since the parish is so close to Ground Zero. Father Madigan went on to tell me how the venerable church structure had itself been damaged in the attack, and that it had become a center for rescue operations, care for the wounded, and solace to families and friends during those dark days. Sure enough, I found the Mass very moving, as I did my visit to the Ground Zero Memorial afterward, where I was able to pray aloud the oration offered by Pope Benedict XVI when he had visited the revered area in 2008.
(By the way, I’ll offer the 12:30 Mass at St. Peter’s again this year, with Cardinal Edward Egan—who was on the frontlines that frightening day—as preacher, this September 11, 2011. You’d be welcome.)
Anyway, a remark made by Father Madigan that first visit remains imprinted in my heart.
“Archbishop Dolan,” the parish priest remarked as we were vesting for Mass, “we New Yorkers don’t just remember the horrors and sorrows of September 11th; we also celebrate September 12th.”
It took me awhile to get the insight of his statement: New Yorkers were shocked, scared, angry, saddened and shaken by the unforgettable death and destruction of 9/11, true; but, New Yorkers were not paralyzed or defeated! They immediately rallied, becoming people of intense faith, prayer, hope, and love, as the rescue, renewal, resilience, rebuilding, and outreach began. And it has not stopped since.
9/11 could have turned us into petrified, paranoid, vicious animals, and our demented attackers would thus have won; or, it could bring out what is most noble in the human soul, such as heroic sacrifice, solidarity in service, non-stop rescue efforts, communities bonding, prayer for those perished and families mourning, healing and renewal. 9/11 did not have the last word; 9/12 did.
Thank you, New York, for that amazing example. Those days I could only admire you from afar. Today, it is my singular honor to claim to be one of you, a grand community that taught the world a lesson of renewal and resilience.
This same lesson is taught in the Bible. Sadness and adversity will come to all of us sometime in life. We all have our mini-9/11s.
When they come, we can react in one of two ways: we can curse God, be frozen into self-pity, curl up in a ball, give up and let the crisis defeat us; or we can rely on God, dig in, rally, count on family and friends, and keep going.
God’s Word strongly encourages option #2.
New Yorkers chose that one, too.
Today, Sept. 8, the Church celebrates the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She knew both the supreme joy of Bethlehem, and the profound sorrow of Calvary.
Next Wednesday, Sept. 14, the Church will celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. On the cross, Jesus turned darkness to light, sin to grace, hate to love, death to light. No wonder a cross of steel, forged in the destruction of the attack, was found in the rubble.
So, this weekend, once again, our eyes will tear up, our throats lump, our lips quiver, our hands will fold in prayer, as we never forget 9/11;
But, once again, we’ll be grateful for heroic sacrifice, communal solidarity, hope and renewal as we celebrate 9/12.