17 years ago today, the United States was forever changed. Terrorists hijacked four airliners, intending to make suicide attacks on certain institutions of the United States. Two planes were crashed into the World Trade Center, in New York City, NY. A third was plowed into the Pentagon, command central of the U.S. military, in Washington, DC. On the fourth airplane, passengers and crew attempted to take back control of the plane, the terrorists dove the plane into the ground in Pennsylvania. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, from the structural damage caused by the crash, and the fires that followed, collapsed in on itself, killing all those trapped inside. The Pentagon suffered severe damage, and many military and civilian personnel were either killed or injured. All together, there was 2,977 victims of the attacks, who died.
On the day this happened, I was working in an office, in downtown Boston, MA. I could listen on a radio, while I worked; so I was listening to public radio news. I was shocked when I heard of the first plane crash into the Twin Towers. The historian in me, remembered a similar crash in 1945; when a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber accidentally crashed into the Empire State Building. But as time went on, and more stories came over the air waves, I could tell that what was happening was no accident. Further down the street from where our office building was, was another building that housed the Boston Stock Exchange. In front, they had a display window, that held large TV screens, showing news and how the markets were performing. I could see a large crowd gathering in front that display window. The size of the crowd extended out into the street.
Our bosses called us together, gave us a rundown of what was known, and told us to go home. I stayed for a bit, I know it seems not to make any sense; but I was not going let any act of terror, keep me from doing my work. It took a nervous call from my wife to get me to stop and leave the office. Once outside our building, I found streets and sidewalks normally bustling with cars, trucks, and pedestrians, deserted. Also, deserted was the train station. The following mornings, when I would be waiting for the commuter train to take me into the city; I looked up into sky. Normally, I would see a half a dozen contrails of airline jets flying to and from Logan International Airport. That day, I only saw a few contrails, and they were circling overhead. They were jet fighters.
There is not much more I remember of those days that followed the tragedy of 9/11. I know I attended prayer services. Prayer intentions for the victims and their families were mentioned at Masses I attended. Little did I know what the long-term effects would be, resulting from those acts of terror. Two wars, one still ongoing, to a certain extent, with its share of dead, wounded and families shattered. We became a country that seems to be constantly on guard; with the individual rights we have held so dear, sometimes willingly given up for security. In our name, persons have been subjected to “enhanced interrogation;” torture by any other name is still torture. And there are still victims of the 9/11 attacks who are dying; dying from the cancers and other illnesses brought on by the smoke and contaminated dust from the Trade Center.
We cannot forget those who lost their lives in the attacks; we must continue to remember them. We must pray for and support the survivors; those who lost love ones; and those who are still trying to deal with the effects of those days on their minds and souls. And honor to those first responders, in the past, today, and in the future; those who charge forward into danger, when others may flee.
I close this reflection with a prayer to Mary, Mother of Sorrows, asking her intercession for us all in these dangerous times:
Remember, most loving Virgin Mary, never was it heard that anyone, who turned to for help, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, though burdened by my sins, I run to your protection for you are my mother. Mother of the Word of God, do not despise my words of pleading, but be merciful and hear my prayer. Amen.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them.
And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Well, talk about good timing, when I came across this during my web surfing. Thank you, Mr. Peters!
Outside my office building in the South Shore, the company lowered the American flag to half staff. It honors the memory Sargent Michael Chesna, a Weymouth, MA police officer, who died in the line of duty. Many of us, in the face of violence or disaster, will run for cover. Extraordinary men and women, like Sargent Chesna, with the duty of protecting us, will charge forward. Sadly, some do not return.
We remember their courage, we pray for, and support their loved ones that are left behind. And we also must remember the victims. In this incident, we pray for Vera Adams, shot in her sun room.
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them!
Through the mercy of God, may they Rest In Peace!
NEW ORLEANS — The 18,000 deacons in the United States exercise a ministry of presence, bringing the healing and hope-filled message of Jesus Christ to people they encounter daily in their parishes, other ministries and workplaces. That diaconal ministry of presence will be front and center July 22-26 in New Orleans. About 2,800 people —…
In the Scriptures for this past Sunday, we read from the Book of Wisdom, that God creates life, only life. He meant for humanity to be immortal. It is only because humanity allowed evil into its hearts, that death came in.
In the reading from the Gospel of Mark; we see Jesus as the source of healing and life. A woman needed only to touch his cloak, and she was healed of her illness. Jesus restores a little child to life. And he will, by his death and resurrection, will free all from the power of death.
But death can take many forms. There is physical death, and then is the slow death of one’s spirit, one’s soul. Sometimes, the harsh circumstances of life can grind us down. So much so, that we begin to to feel dead inside to the beauty of creation; the love of others; the love of God.
It is in moments like this, that we need to turn to Jesus, through Word and Sacrament; through prayer and meditation. In encountering Jesus Christ, we encounter the healer, both of body and soul. Now this does may not mean an instantaneous healing. But if we remain open to the Spirit of Christ, working within us; we may feel a little more peace, a little more hope. And a new dawn will break open for us.
So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13: 12-15)
In the above Gospel passage, and in many others, Jesus stressed that those who follow him, must be willing to serve both those within the faith community, and those who are outside of it. Throughout all the Gospels, Jesus showed through his healing ministry, that the Messiah in their midst came as a servant to all. So his Church was also to be a servant to all, providing aid and support to the poor, serving those both within and without the Church. The Greek word “diakonia,” meaning “service,” has been applied to describe an aspect of life in the Christian Church. As related in the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles appointed seven men to serve the Hellenist Christian widows. In Christian tradition, they became known as the first Deacons. As the Church grew, so did the number Deacons, performing works of mercy to the poor. They became an Order in the early Church, an official sign of Church acting as servant to all.
As Europe moved into medieval times, as Christianity became the dominant religion in Western Europe, as bishops and the Pope inherited secular power, changes began to take hold. The papacy and the episcopacy began to take on the trappings of the nobility; some adopting the view that they, with the nobility, deserve to be served by the serfs and peasants. The idea of a servant Church almost disappeared; it was preserved by laypersons who were inspired to serve the poor; by some bishops and priests who established hospitals, homes for orphans, lepersariums. An active Diaconate also declined, becoming a transactional position that a man would acquire for a period of time before being ordained to the priesthood.
With the Second Vatican Council, the concept of a servant Church was reborn. The Council, and many encyclicals since then, have stressed that all members of the Catholic Church are called to participate in the ministry of service to the poor, the homeless, and the forgotten. Fulfilling this call can take many forms: giving financial support to charities; volunteering for food pantries and kitchens, homeless shelters and centers; visiting patients in hospitals and nursing homes. We need to be open to promptings of the Holy Spirit; and discern an opportunity to serve and show mercy.
The Council turned once again to the Order of Deacons, to be a visible sign of being a Servant Church. About fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI reestablished the permanent Diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church. Men, married and single, from many countries, including the United States, have stepped up and been ordained. They are servants to the Church and the world, through liturgical participation, works of charity, preaching and being religion educators. In the Archdiocese of Boston newspaper, The Pilot, three Deacons have written an excellent column on the Permanent Diaconate of today. I invite you to go read it.
In our country, in our world, there are people in need, who feel abandoned and discarded. In such times the world needs a Servant Church, to bring hope and relief. A Church who follows Our Lord Jesus command; “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
I am on Cape Cod this Thanksgiving Day, with my wife, her mother and some of her siblings, nephews and nieces. After a wet drive from the South Shore the night before, this day has been sunny, clear, crisp and cool. In the morning we went to the local Catholic church, and attended a Thanksgiving Mass. My wife, Peg’s father passed away in October, so after Mass, we visited his grave.
As I write this, various members of the family have bringing their donations for this evening’s dinner. Food is being prepared, table cloths spread out, and the table has been set. With all this activity, I have begun to reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving Day. Some trace it roots to the English Reformation, during the time when the Puritans had strong influence over the Church of England. Holy days were done away with; to be replaced by Days of Fasting during times of national tragedies, or stress, and Days of Thanksgiving for good harvests and national victories. The Pilgrims brought these practices with them to New England. Various colonies and then states would proclaim days of Thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln would issue a presidential proclamation, establishing Thanksgiving as a holiday throughout all the states.
Thanksgiving Day was meant to be a time of both feasting, and prayer. But as with Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving has fallen prey to commercial interests. Stores, car dealerships, you name it, sponsor special “Thanksgiving sales,” using the images of Pilgrims, Indians, pumpkins and turkeys to promote their wares. Groups of people have a different approach to the day. The Massachusetts town of Plymouth has a community parade celebrating the day; Native Americans hold a Day of Mourning.
May it be time to try to bring back the spiritual aspect of Thanksgiving? Whether you are a Christian or not; a believer or not; we all need to have time reflect on what good has happened in our lives this past year, if only to counter the negative experiences we may have had. As a believer, this day makes me aware that all Creation is gift; that our lives are gift; gifts from a loving God. Sometimes, circumstances may lead us to doubt that, but life is a gift, and God still cares for us, in wondrous and mysterious ways. And I am grateful for that.
As I walk around and see the woods and fields in autumn; when I look up into the evening sky, studded with stars, I am moved to thank God for the awesome beauty I am seeing. I close with a prayer from the writings of St. Francis of Assisi. Not exactly a Thanksgiving prayer, but I think it is appropriate for the day:
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
(Canticle of the Sun)
This past Saturday, my brother Deacons and I gathered at St. Edith Stein Church, in Brockton, MA. We were there to celebrate the ordination of 7 new Deacons for the Archdiocese of Boston. It was being held at St. Edith Stein, rather than at Holy Cross Cathedral, because the cathedral is undergoing a massive interior renovation. St. Edith Stein is a beautiful church, with an interior decoration that you do not see in more modern designed churches. It does have one drawback, very narrow stairs between the basement and main levels. The basement was where we gathered to vest for the ceremony.
Now, it had been raining heavily in eastern Massachusetts on Saturday, but the rain had stopped long enough for us to organize the procession into St. Edith Stein. The church itself was packed with the families and friends of the men to be ordained. A choral group from Holy Cross Cathedral lead the congregation in song, as we walked down the main aisle; bowed before the altar and took our seats
I have been graced with good spiritual experiences, when I attend Sunday liturgies of the Eucharist, the Mass. But there is something about a grand liturgy, like an ordination, that really draws me into a holy place. Our presider was Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, lead us in prayer. During his homily, he referred to the second Scripture reading, Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 6: verses 1 to 7. The passage describes how the Apostles had the early Christian community name seven men to serve the Hellenist widows. The Apostles laid their hands on the seven chosen men, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. Cardinal Sean noted that it was interesting that we now had before us seven candidates for ordination. He reminded us all that we, as deacons, are called to a life of service, both within the Church, and to the world.
After the ordination rite, we previously ordained went up into the sanctuary to welcome our new brothers into the fraternity of Deacons. We are joined together; to be servants by proclaiming the Good News to people, and by living the Good News. We are joined together; to be servants at the Eucharistic altar, to help add to the people’s experience of liturgy, to help distribute the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to the community through Holy Communion. We are joined together, to be servants to the poor, to those in pain and are alone. As a fraternity of deacons, we support each other, and learn from each other. Together, we help the Church bring the Good News to the world.
Just after the violence of Charlottesville, after watching scenes of white supremacists, and neo-nazis, carrying torches, and chanting hate; I saw a tv trailer. It was on PBS, and it was a scene from Ken Burns famous documentary, “The Civil War.” The scene was of a new military cemetery, located on the battlefield of Gettysburg. The actor, Sam Waterston, as Abraham Lincoln, was speaking the words of the Gettysburg Address. Here is a portion:
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, not long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
We are all “the people,” descendants of those who sought to create “a more perfect union.” The process has been messy, bloody, imperfect, and at the same time wonderous and life giving. We cannot surrender the process to the haters, the greedy, the terrorists, and the self-serving. We must work together, with respect, with dialogue, and with peace in our hearts. This ideal must not “perish from the earth!” So help us God!