Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is the homilist for Mass on Sept. 11 at St. Mary, Middletown – part of a three-day, in-car revival titled “God, Country, Family” that is being hosted in the parish parking lot. Following is Bishop O’Connell’s homily for Sept. 11.

Most of us here this evening can remember a time when 9 and 11 were just numbers.  That time and memory abruptly ended on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, when our country experienced the deadliest attack in its history.  9 and 11 became inextricably linked forever in a date the entire world recognizes simply as “9/11.”  It is hard to believe that this national tragedy occurred 19 years ago today.

Time has passed – it always does.  But the painful memories of the 2,977 people who tragically lost their lives and another 25,000 who suffered injuries will never be erased as long as there are people who knew, loved, miss and remember them – as long as we, as long as you remember them. They were our mothers and fathers; our sisters and brothers; our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our parishioners here at St. Mary, Mother of God. For us, “9/11” has become a sacred day and being together in prayer this evening is most fitting.

Our Gospel reading from St. Luke tonight raises thought-provoking questions: Can the blind lead the blind?  Won’t both fall into the pit?  It is easy to understand these questions and easy to answer them.  But, as we have come to realize in Jesus’ parables, there usually is a bit more depth to them than what we might first think. 

In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has just finished the “sermon on the plain (referred elsewhere in the Gospels as the “sermon on the mount”)” after calling his twelve disciples on the mountain where he had taken them to pray.  They came down the mountainside only to find a great crowd had gathered, waiting to hear Jesus, to be healed and cured by him, just to touch him because he had a reputation of power.

The point of Jesus’ first question is this: We must be very careful WHOM we choose to follow.  The point the second question poses depends upon the first: We must be very careful WHERE they lead and WHERE we follow.

The terrorists behind 9/11 were truly evil men with hearts full of hatred and destruction.  That’s who they were. Blind guides!  And the path they led, for the sadly misguided people – their blind students, who believed in them and their lies – was hatred and destruction.  They gave their followers not the will of God but a glimpse of hell: That’s where they led them, and they followed them unquestionably there.  They hated our country; they despised us for our freedoms, for our values, for our faith and for the very opportunities they provide us.  They earned the label “terrorists” because blind terror was all they had to offer, flowing from who they were and what they stood for.  Sadly, so sadly for our innocent families and friends – whose only circumstance was getting on a plane headed for California or showing up for work that day in New York, in Washington, in Shanksville, Pa. – they dragged the innocent down with the blind and guilty into the pits of destruction they had made.

For those of us who witnessed and yet survived that fateful day, that “9/11” of 19 years ago, our national memory, our parish memory, our personal memory endures. Painful though those memories may still be, they have not blinded us to the Lord Jesus’ Gospel message and his light that alone illumines all darkness, to the comfort that his love alone brings, to the hope that he alone can offer, to his truth that alone removes the splinters in every eye.

My sisters and brothers, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves today, in our challenges and sufferings, in our freedoms and our joys, with the clearest eyes and vision for the future, let us seek to follow the Lord Jesus, and with the intercession of his beloved Mother, our patron, let us, as St. Paul beckons us in his First Letter to the Corinthians tonight, let us do all we can “for the sake of the Gospel so that we, too, may have a share in it.” Amen.