Archbishop Dolan's Homily at St. Patrick's 9/11 Mass

«There Were no Atheists on 9/11 Here in New York»

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NEW YORK, SEPT. 12, 2011 ( Here is the homily delivered Sunday, Sept. 11, by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York at the 9/11 Memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. The Mass marked the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed some 3,000 in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

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They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I’ve heard it said as well that there were no atheists on 9/11 here in New York. That’s why we decided to gather for this greatest of all prayers, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, at these very moments when bells are ringing throughout the United States, when people are united in their parishes, their churches, their synagogues, and their mosques, their heads bowed in reverent silence, recalling  –recalling with somberness, recalling with gratitude and recalling with prayers — the events of 10 years ago today at these very moments when the second of the Twin Towers was attacked.

And that’s why I’m grateful for your presence this Sunday morning. Cardinal Egan, thank you for being here. You were on the front lines that day and we are glad you are with us this morning. You and I are going to be together down at Saint Peter’s on Barclay Street, one of our historic Catholic churches, which was actually damaged that day by part of the buildings falling and that served as a place of refuge and care for those who were wounded and outreach to those who were mourning and searching. It was a real sanctuary that day.

Mercy, forgiveness, pardon, healing, compassion, redemption, kindness, patience…Those are all words from God’s Holy Word in the Liturgy of the Word this morning. You all realize, of course, and it’s basic to anybody who considers himself or herself a person of faith, that there is an intense battle that is being waged in the human heart. It’s that battle, that war, that is going on in the human soul that gives rise to all the violence, and battles and wars that we see outside. You and I are aware of that tension deep within. It’s a battle between sin and grace, between darkness and light. It’s a war where evil is against good, where death is versus life, lies versus truth, pride against humility, selfishness against selflessness, revenge versus mercy, hate versus love, Satan versus Almighty God.

Now a decade ago, at about this very moment, throughout the United States, throughout the world, and especially in this our beloved community, it seemed that the side of darkness had conquered, as innocent people perished, as valiant rescuers rushed to their aid, as families were fractured, and as a nation seemed on the ground.

And yet what I propose at our Mass this Sunday morning, on this tenth anniversary of that day, is that as a matter of fact the side of light actually triumphed, as temptations to despair, fearful panic, revenge, and dread gave way to such things as rescue, recovery, rebuilding, outreach, and resilience. The side of the angels, not of the demons, conquered. Good Friday became Easter Sunday. And once again God has the last word.

Perhaps what gives us most consolation would be our young people, our children. Last night, Cardinal Egan, Monsignor Ritchie, and I were in this Cathedral for the commemoration of the New York Fire Department. It was standing room only. There we heard two young people, Ashley and Patrick, recall with immense gratitude and pride their fathers, firefighters who perished that day. There I quoted Commissioner Cassano, who told us that he is amazed at the number of children of those firefighters who perished that dreadful day who now want to be firefighters and rescue workers. And there I met Anthony Palumbo, whose father Frank was a firefighter who died that day, and who is now preparing for the priesthood. This morning I am honored to welcome our servers at Mass, Conor, Aidan, Kieran, and Declan, whose father, Vincent Halloran, was a firefighter who perished that day. Your Eminence, I understand that you celebrated his funeral here at Saint Patrick’s. They are here with their mother, Marie, and we honor them and their beloved father, Vincent. What consolation you give us. They are living examples that God alone has the last word.

Finally, another consolation is the magnificent story that Monsignor Ritchie, the Cathedral Rector, tells us. High above, in the ceiling, it looks like stone, but it is really wood. Our firefighters know, and every few months, from the local firehouse, they come to inspect the ceiling, and they walk through what they call “the lumberyard.” And there are windows up there, that are crusted with soot and grime from decades past, and the firefighters have a custom of etching their names in those windows. On there are four names of firefighters who were here just days before 9/11 and who lost their lives trying to rescue others on that dreadful day we recall right now.     

We might renovate this Cathedral, but we are never going to clean those windows, because those names are going to remain etched there, as those names remain engraved on our hearts.

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