Thanks, Amanda, for posting those links to the pieces in First Things on 9/11. I remember reading them at the time, and revisiting them again was instructive.

Today I came across a homily that was preached seven years ago and subsequently published in the Wall Street Journal . I hadn’t seen it at the time, but I wish I would have. It’s beautifully composed and rich in wisdom. Many of the themes should help anyone in a situation of powerlessness, coping to understand evil, trying to figure out how best to respond to wrongdoing, and/or grieving the loss of a loved one.

The homily was preached at Barbara Olson’s funeral (which fell on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows) by Father Franklyn McAfee. Olson was aboard United Flight 77 when hijackers crashed it into the Pentagon. From the plane, she called her husband Ted, and Fr. McAfee picks up the story there:

His wife was about to die, and there was absolutely nothing he could do. He was absolutely powerless. He was solicitor general of the United States, and he could do nothing for the woman he loved.

Ted, there is someone who understood your feelings, who knows your pain and sadness.

The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows honors the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, who stood next to the cross on which hung her own flesh and blood, nailed there by violent men.

She saw her own son dying, and she was unable to help. Only a parent or spouse can understand and know that pain. Mary stood there unable to do anything. She wanted to reach up and bandage his wounds, soothe his pain, wipe his brow, kiss away the hurts.

She was his mother. She would reach up and take him off that cross. But she could not. She was powerless.

. . .

I cannot explain the madness that took place on Tuesday. For what we saw with our own eyes is the face of evil. And evil cannot logically be explained because, as those of you who are steeped in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas know, evil—malum—is nihil. It is nothing.

Since God is existence itself—God told Moses, “I am who am”—evil would be nonbeing. Nothingness. And to confront nothingness is to come face-to-face with unspeakable horror.

We can, however, understand how people would be compelled to murder with enthusiasm so many people.

A terrorist is not born. Terrorists are made, with every conscious decision they make in life to hate, to choose death rather than life.

. . .

A handful of terrorists commandeered four planes, crashing three of them, including Flight 77, into symbolic buildings, killing in the process thousands of real flesh-and-blood people with families. These terrorists gave their lives, and took so the lives of so many others, with no hesitation at all. Have Satan and death won?

What did Americans do when they heard the shocking news and saw the devastation? Did they take to the streets with signs and placards, marching with fists upraised, saying, “Death to terrorists!” No, they did not.

What did they do? They took to the streets—in search of places to give blood. In fact, in some places so many of them that there was a seven-hour wait to give blood. They took to the streets to bring food to those who were rescuing people. They took to the streets to go to church, to hold candlelight vigils, to pray.

. . .

Barbara Olson, full of life, cheerful, laughing, smiling, loving, was the opposite of the dark powers that brought her death. But their evil deed was in vain.

We are people of life. And no terrorist, no matter how powerful, can take that away. As Pope John Paul II has said, “When God gives life, he gives it forever.” We believe in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. We Catholics also believe that the soul is immortal; it cannot be destroyed. We believe that Barbara Olson is alive, not just in our hearts and in our memories, but actually alive, fully conscious and aware. Now.

We know this because Christ is risen from the dead. And if it isn’t true, if Barbara is really gone and gone forever, if you will never see her smile again, or hear her laughter, then this is all playacting. And I had better go and get another job.

Because there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem, our hearts, though mourning, are full today. We will see Barbara again.

Death cannot win against life.

Christians are those who, in the midst of December, believe in Spring.

I believe Paul saw all of this, and was so moved that he picked up his stylus and wrote those words which have become the Christian’s battle cry ever since; the words that should be on your hearts and lips as you leave this cathedral today:

“Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?”

Read the entire homily here .

Articles by Ryan T. Anderson

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