A week ago I was at a Paulist General Council meeting in New York City (Sept. 8 to 11). The weather was nice, the meetings went well, I got some very good Italian food, and I had a chance to catch up with a couple of friends from when I was pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church there (1993-2001). I also had the opportunity to concelebrate the Noon Mass on Thursday, September 11, the 13th Anniversary of the terrible attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and United Flight # 93. It brought back many memories of that day: people showing up at church covered in soot and grime who had run and walked all the way from down at the Twin Towers; frantic activity in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital (across the street from the church) as we awaited hordes of injuries needing emergency care, only to wait and wait and wait and have no one show up, as there were few wounded to treat because those who did not walk away did not live; news of a prominent member of our choir who was killed in the United Flight crash; and especially the awful acrid smell that persisted for days whenever the wind blew from the south.
I also remember the huge crowds at Mass the next several days. On the 13th Anniversary of that tragedy there was an increase in the daily Mass attendance, but it was nothing at all like the numbers we experienced in 2001. I remembered the theme of my preaching at that time, which was that if we give in to hate and intolerance and to seeking revenge, then the terrorists have won because then they will have turned us into terrorists too, with hearts bent on revenge. It struck me that thirteen years later, with Russia attempting to carve up Ukraine, with the tragedy of the Malaysian airplane shot out of the air and totally unsuspecting and innocent people killed for no reason, with terrorism still rampant in the Middle East (ISIS) and Africa (Boko Haram) and so many other places, that what I preached more than a decade ago is still a relevant and necessary message.
There are many evil and crazy people in the world, and a lot of them have guns and bombs. It is a dangerous planet that we live on, but the ultimate solution is not to destroy and obliterate all those who threaten us, or oppose us, or just disagree with us, because we then become the terrorists. They win by converting us to their lowest common denominator approach of ethnic cleansing and revenge.
We win by being true to what we believe. We cannot give in to facilely portraying all the members of any nation, creed, religion or region as terrorists, thugs, murderers, and enemy. Only by being true to our highest ideals and living them out do we overcome terrorists and crazies. Terrorists want us to hate because then we become like them. They must not win. We must not hate.