Today is the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, a terrible event we will never forget. We remember all those who were killed and their families.
It is said that at the end of his life St. John the Apostle said hardly anything to his followers except, ‘Love one another.’ I suppose he had got to the stage where he realized that was probably the only thing that was truly important. If we really manage to do this then everything else is included. There is nothing more important than this.
One of the biggest challenges we are being faced with today is the problem of terrorism and how to respond to it. Small groups of people who are consumed by evil and hatred want to bring fear and pain to others. People are being killed for no other reason than hatred. The saddest part is that it is often being done in the name of God. What a terrible insult to the God who created us out of love. Usually our reaction to any of the acts of terror that we hear about is to become angry and hate these people back. They hate us so we will hate them even more. They try and hurt us so we will try and wipe them out completely. Generally that is the first thing that comes into our heart when we hear about all these terrible acts of violence for no reason. Satan, who hates God’s creation and wants to destroy it, is behind this evil. Jesus spoke of the reality of Satan many times during his life on earth. We would be foolish to think that Jesus was exaggerating. Satan wants us to hate the terrorists just as they hate us; to kill them just as they try and kill us, but Jesus teaches us something different.
First of all it is important to say that Jesus always wants us to work for justice, to stop evil, to prevent violence. We must do everything we can to try and stop this kind of evil. But God also teaches us that if we turn to hatred and violence the way the terrorists do, then we are no different from them. Jesus teaches us by his life that the way to respond to it is by working for justice first, but also by not allowing ourselves to be drawn into hatred and violence. He tells us to remember that those who carry out acts of terror are human beings, not monsters, even though they have become consumed with evil. We can conquer evil by refusing to hate back. We will win them over by refusing to kill back. That is the way of God and that is what changes the world. Jesus—the only one who was completely innocent and only did good—allowed himself to be tortured and killed in order to win happiness for us, even for the people who were killing him. ‘Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’ In doing this He was also teaching us about the greatest power on earth, which is the power of love. To love means to refuse to hate, to refuse to turn to violence, because that is what changes the world.
After the attacks in Paris which killed 89 people at a concert hall last November (2015), one man called Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in the attack wrote the following open letter to terrorists.
(Antoine Leiris is a journalist at the French radio network France Bleu. His wife Hélène Muyal was killed in the attack).
“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.
“I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.
“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”
The letter continued: “You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost.
“I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.
“Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have.
“Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep. He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free. Because you will never have his hatred either.”