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Call to Prayer: Reflections on September 11, 2001

Tom Cornell, Catholic Worker and Catholic deacon, writes from Peter Maurin Farm, Marlboro, New York. The following is a talk he gave at Marlboro Presbyterian Church at a prayer service on September 13, 2001.

The skies have been empty over our valley these days, except for birds, geese and hawks, and they strangely few, as in another time. Tomorrow planes will fly overhead as usual. As usual? Has everything really changed just now, as we hear it said all around us? Or is it that our awareness is catching up with the reality? We can no longer afford the delusion of security by threat of violence. We have no choice any more. It is nonviolence or a New Dark Age. As horrendous as it is, the tragedy of September 11 could have been far worse. No Missile Defense Shield could have prevented it. No act of retaliation will prevent something like it again. A community of peoples bound in justice must be our shield, as God wills it.

Pray before all else, otherwise whatever we attempt will fail. Pray for the victims, their families, their caregivers, ourselves. Can we pray for the perpetrators too? We must! Otherwise the fear and the anger we feel will overwhelm us. If we can not bring ourselves to forgive at this moment, let us at least pray for the grace to want to forgive and to want to pray for our enemies. Father, forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Pray too that, as the guilty are brought to justice, no innocents pay for their crimes.

Christians pray in the name of the one who said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Jews pray, and Muslims pray, all to the same God of Abraham. In the Koran there is no patent for what has been done.

Muslims, Jews and Christians, and all who believe in the transcendent value of human life, pray one prayer. That is for peace. So we might all live and love and work and raise our families and pray together in peace, shalom, salaam, peace and goodness.

But God can take good out of evil. I think of Dorothy Day, the last time I saw her in the room where she would die not long after. Her short-term memory was gone, she spoke of long ago, of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, how the people of the city and of Oakland across the Bay rallied together in mutual aid and support, community. New Yorkers are doing that now, good out of evil. And that we recognize once again what we all once knew: there is a right and there is a wrong. Demand of our government, in the name of God, never again to target civilians, never again to countenance the targeting of civilians, by anyone. It is wrong.

Choose life. It is right. Then the blood of the victims will be joined to the blood of Christ to save the world.

Words are vain unless we ourselves join in true worship which is the works of mercy, the care of the injured, the widows and orphans, and forgiveness, free from that lust of the flesh which is revenge.

May God have mercy on us all and grant us peace.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXI, No. 6, November 2001.