Homily of Most Rev Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick at St John’s Cathedral, Limerick, for National Day of Mourning
14 September 2001
As we watched the chilling events of last Tuesday, and even still, it is hard to believe what we saw. The television pictures, unbearably painful as they were, in no way conveyed the scale of what was happening. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre were vast structures, dwarfing what elsewhere would be regarded as massive buildings. The real horror was to know that those burning and collapsing towers contained tens of thousands of human beings. Each of the lives that were being destroyed before our eyes was uniquely precious; each of them was infinitely more valuable than anything else in our world.
Since those terrible events, everyone with any scrap of humanity has been experiencing a tumult of thoughts and feelings — horror at the carnage and destruction, sadness for those whose lives have been so cruelly ended in the airliners and in the buildings, sympathy for those who mourn them, husbands and wives suddenly widowed, children whose mother or father will never come home, parents who have lost a son or daughter, compassion for those who are waiting desperately for news of their loved ones, admiration for the courage of the rescue workers, hundreds of whom lost their own lives in the effort to save others, solidarity with the people of the United States and with all the families in every part of the world, including Ireland, who have been directly affected by the tragedy, disgust at the thought that any human beings could callously plan such a deed, incomprehension about what could motivate them and how anyone could think that any cause could possibly justify it, fear that a line has been crossed and that this may mark the start of a new and terrible chapter in the history of human cruelty and that, God forbid, we may see similar or even worse acts in the future, helplessness because we feel there is so little we can do in response to such suffering.
We want to tell the American people who are here in Limerick, or who have visited us here, the many Limerick people in the United States, and all those who have been touched by these dreadful events that they are in our prayers and in our hearts.
Faced with this appalling reality, we may see some things more clearly than we usually do.
Our horror springs from the realisation of how precious every human life is. Each person has his or her own unique gifts, family, friendships, hopes and experiences. Each was chosen and brought into existence and loved by the God who created the universe.
Our compassion are expressions of a realisation of how fragile that precious gift of life is and that suffering is part of every life. We know that, on an individual level, the sorrow of bereavement can strike any of us and any time, and that each of us is destined to die.
We are fearful and helpless knowing that none of us is self-sufficient. At any moment we may stand helplessly in need of the support and the consolation and the love of others. Indeed, the truth is that we always need to be supported and loved, though we sometimes forget that we need it and often forget to be grateful for it.
Paradoxical as it may sound, this horror teaches us something positive. The worldwide shock and sympathy, the solidarity of the citizens of New York and Washington, the support that grieving and desperate people are finding in their families, from their neighbours and from strangers, shows us a fundamental truth about humanity. We are one human family. We are all brothers and sisters. If there is any good that can come from this evil, it might be that we would grasp and hold that truth more firmly and live it more generously and more effectively.
One of the most profound expressions of the unity of the human family is what we are doing here in our celebration of the Eucharist – offering thanks to God for giving us the gift of life and for calling the human family to share in the endless life of the Trinity. We are here to worship God. We are here to express our needs and our grief and our helpless pain to our Father in heaven. We do that united with his Son, our brother, in the unity brought about by their Holy Spirit.
Gathered here, we touch the truth that can offer some hope in the face of this horror. In the Eucharist, we are in the presence of the darkness of Calvary – a death that was barbaric and agonising and utterly unjust.
We bring to this Mass our fear and our hurt, our helplessness and our sorrow. We bring our prayers for the people who have lost their lives, for the people who are suffering the most awful anguish, for the whole human family and for ourselves. We bring those prayers to Jesus who died in agony, scourged and mocked and nailed to a cross, abandoned by his friends, betrayed by one of them, mocked by those who passed by, even though his life had been filled with unlimited love and care for everyone.
But in our celebration of the Eucharist we are recognising that Calvary, although it was a moment of darkness and barbarism, was also the moment in which God revealed his love most clearly. Jesus died because he had a love greater than anyone has (Jn 15:13). More than that, his love was the unconquerable love of God who created the whole universe out of nothing. Hanging on the Cross was the eternal Son of God, who “did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself… even to accepting death on the cross” (Second Reading).
That unconquerable love showed itself in the context of an entirely unjustifiable act of cruelty, in the context of the terrible grief of a mother watching her Son die, in the context of shattered hopes (“we had hoped that he was the one”… the disciples said on the road to Emmaus), in the context of the dreadful suffering of Jesus himself.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked that the chalice of suffering would be taken away (Luke 22:42). On the Cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) Those cries are being made by many anguished human hearts in the United States and all over the world because of carnage of last Tuesday. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “during his life offered up prayer and entreaty with loud cries to the one who could save him from death” and that “through his sufferings… he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation” (Heb 5: 7,9)
The feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross celebrates our faith that in Jesus every cry of human anguish is heard. Some people may have to drink deeply of the chalice of suffering not only because of illness or disaster, but, what is perhaps harder to bear, because human beings are capable, as we have seen this week, of unimaginably calculated and callous cruelty. But in Jesus we see the powerful love of God which is stronger than death or suffering or the worst that human ruthlessness can do.
There is sin and shocking evil in the world. We see that more clearly this week than we have for some time. There is no answer to the question so many bereaved people are asking, “Why should this have happened?” other than to say that some individuals coldly decided to carry out these acts. There is no guarantee that atrocities like this – the word seems too weak faced with what we have seen – will never happen again.
God showed us his love in the midst of the evil of Calvary, because evil is real and always threatening. He showed us his love in the context of Calvary so that we could know, however difficult it may sometimes be to believe and grasp, that this love, and only this love, can look the most appalling evil in the face and overcome it.
This love leads us, as it leads Jesus, to a life where there is no more death or mourning or evil. It must have been hard to believe that on Calvary. It is hard to believe it in the aftermath of Tuesday’s terrible deed. But the truth, the most fundamental truth, about our world is that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life (Gospel).
Issued by the Catholic Communications Office on behalf of Most Rev Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick.
Fr Martin Clarke (087 220 8044)
Ms Brenda Drumm (087 233 7797)