In the wake of 9/11, everyone said, “Never forget.” It’s important to teach our kids about the events of Sept. 11 and its aftermath … and for Catholics, that involves a larger lesson: teaching them how to respond to a crisis as Jesus calls us to.
by Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry
The slogan, “We will never forget” that emerged in the days after the events of 9/11, was a natural outflow from the national experience of that day. Those of us who were old enough to understand the significance, the terror, the loss would always remember what a beautiful day it started out as, and where we were when we found out that the twin towers had been hit, and then were glued to the TV as each new horror unfolded. We could never forget the images, sounds, and fear of what else might come. We could never forget our hope as first responders worked tirelessly to find survivors in the wreckage, and our wonder at the emerging stories of those who got out, those who should have been there but weren’t, and those who lost their lives saving others.
Though our children were either too young to have understood it, or not yet born when it happened, it’s important to talk about this event that shaped our national identity in that moment, our international response, and the way that some would come to view those are different from us. We need to teach them what Jesus tells us our response to violence should be, what our Church’s response was, and what our responsibility going forward must be.
Church Teaching about Retaliation and Interfaith Relations
One of the things that I found most striking after the attacks on 9/11 were the Mass readings for the weekdays and weekends that our Lectionary provided. And the Churches were packed — as the nation was grieving, our natural response was to go to God’s house. We looked for comfort in God’s Word, in the Eucharist, and in our faith communities. The readings were all about forgiveness, reconciliation, and repairing relationships; it was the speck in your brother’s eye, the beatitudes, building our houses on firm ground. God had his kids all together in those days, and wasn’t missing the opportunity to remind us that our response when we’re attacked is peace. Our Church prayed that our country’s response would be measured and just, rather than a retaliation against our perceived enemy. The faithful needed to hear these things, because many were tempted to blanketly label a group of people as “terrorists”, as “enemies” — and some retaliated against innocent people who “looked like” those who perpetrated the attacks, and many others began a campaign to keep out anyone associated with Islam, or countries that practice Islam.
- Jesus is our primary source when it comes to how we should behave with one another. When he was attacked, when his mother was being made childless in his unjust murder; when humanity turned on God and killed him, Jesus’ response was, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
- In the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns us about acting out in anger. He tells us that, “‘You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.'” (Mt 5:21-22) We are called to forgive rather than to act in anger.
- We’re taught that it’s never okay to kill another, but that it is our responsibility to defend the lives of others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), when breaking open the Fifth Commandment, makes the distinction between the deliberate taking of another’s life, and defending the lives of the innocent. #2267 says that, when the guilty party is clearly identified and known, they should be held responsible for their crimes if they have killed someone. It also says that that individual (or group) should be given any possibility of being sorry and redeemed.
- The Church values and seeks to protect the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which establishes religious freedom for anyone in our country. We believe that all faiths should be safe to worship in the way they see fitting. In “Dignitatis Humanae,” The Declaration on Human Dignity, religious freedom is marked as being one of the foundational necessities for people to live fully as children of God. This goes for Christians, and everyone else.
- The Catholic Church teaches that we should be in dialogue with, and find common ground with our Muslim brothers and sisters. In the document, “What Catholics Should Know About Islam,” which can be found on the USCCB website, we are told that, “In many practical ways, Muslims and Christians cooperate in activities great and small to protect the dignity of the family, care for the poor and needy, and promote economic and social justice. These areas of cooperation continue to increase as members of both religions have recognized common ground in their responses to problems in contemporary society.”
Ways to Remember 9/11 with your Family
Here are some suggestions for how your family might make Sept. 11 a little more meaningful:
- Tell the stories of that day from your perspective. Where were you, how were you affected? What was your Church community’s response?
- The first known casualty from the attack on the twin towers was Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain of the NYFD, who rushed in to help the victims. Read this story together to learn more about this priest who is sometimes called “The Saint of 9/11” (there’s a movie of the same name).
- The Blessed Virgin Mary told us to pray the rosary for peace in our world. Pray the Rosary together (or a portion of it) for those who were lost on that day, those who were left behind, and for our country as we struggle to become a nation of peace.
- Sept. 9 is the feast of St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest who worked diligently for the dignity of African slaves who were brought to the new world. He offered them whatever material comfort he could, taught them about Jesus and baptized them, and tried to convince their owners to be kind to them. Read about the Knights of Peter Claver who, in the tradition of their namesake, work for and promote positive race relations. See how you can be inspired as a family to bring unity in your community where there is racial or religious division.
- Check with your local parish to see if there are any prayer services or special Masses that you can participate in. See if your local clergy association is offering any interfaith services in honor of 9/11.
- Get ahold of a children’s book about 9/11 called, “The Little Chapel that Stood” and read it together.
- Talk about the difference between how villains deal with their hate, anger, and confusion, verses the way that heroes deal with them. How should we deal with our feelings when people hurt us? How should we respond to them?