E.J. Dionne on 9/11, forgiveness, and the lectionary

In the Washington Post: “Forgiveness.”


  1. Good insight. Even more conspicuously, if you sang the Mass proper of the day, the INTROIT was as follows:

    Grant peace to those who are waiting for you, O Lord,
    so that your prophets may be proved trustworthy;
    hear the prayers of your servant
    and of your people Israel. Amen.

  2. See The Times on Saturday with the Credo article by Mgr. Rod Strange. “Forgiveness is unlimited, but it requires contrition”.

  3. Heather King, a convert to Catholicism, was shocked when she realized
    that the people in the pews around her at Mass subscribed to “war as the
    answer.” In spite of the Vatican’s letters (ditto for capital punishment_,
    Christ’s message …seventy times seven…still hasn’t been heard. The letters
    to the editor in the WP certainly prove the point. Sad.

    1. Ummm, I think it proves that the seed falls on good ground, on walkways, and on rocky ground, and in thistles and briars. Not all of it grows, and some that grows dies out soon after.

  4. Gee, anyone want to hazard a guess as to where Mr. Dionne stands on most political questions? (Rhetorical question, no need to respond).

    As the US Conference of Bishops’ homily notes for last Sunday put it: “It is important to remember, however, that forgiving another does not mean absolving them of responsibility. To forgive another is to confirm that they have done wrong and are in need of forgiveness. Mercy does not cancel out justice or the need for conversion, but it does open up a path of charity that encourages and promotes conversion and justice.”

    Also: “Nor does our personal renunciation of vengeance, counseled
    by Sirach and presumed by Jesus, require nations to forfeit the right of
    self-defense. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church sets forth,
    in footnoted detail, the rights of nations, the duties of leaders, and the
    obligations of citizens to preserve life and safeguard the common good
    in the face of aggression (1909; 2263–2267; 2308–2317).”

  5. Mr. McGuire – nice quote; if only the USCCB believed and acted consistently across all aspects of our shared life e.g. sexual abuse.

    In terms of abuse – do bishops really behave as if forgiving their priest abusers or themselves does not mean “absolving them of responsibility? Mercy does not cancel out justice or the need for conversion.” (your quote) When was the last time you saw a bishop face any type of justice because of a cover-up? (sorry, the people of God paying out an abuse settlement is not episcopal justice) When was the last time you saw a bishop not only report a cleric when there is a known, confirmed allegation but when found guilty, did something more than go through the paperwork and seek laicization – as if that is justice?

    So, you can point fingers at EJ Dionne (he will readily admit his biases and is proud of them) but we really need to clean up our own act first. As said above – what about the inconsistencies around the death penalty; or even just war theory?

    The catechism lays out lots of nice definitions, laws, and policies but the rubber meets the road in terms of accountability – even B16 has admitted that bishops really aren’t accountable in the current structure.

    1. I think I agree with this. Forgiveness seems to have at least two modes: we can say “I forgive” and experience feelings of catharsis and freedom within ourselves, or we can do as Christ did on the cross and pray “Father, forgive them, for they know not….” The second comes more easily than the first in cases in which the trespasser refuses responsibility, denies guilt, or eludes the law. (I too think of sexually abusive priests and lying bishops, as well as the 9/11 killers.)

      The second, “Father, forgive them,” expresses a hope that the trespasser will find the grace of self-knowledge and will repent and seek forgiveness. Even when we rejoice in our own feelings of forgiveness and freedom, we know that forgiveness itself is not merely a feeling. In the absence of the other’s repentance, we might improve our own state of mind and soul by saying “I forgive,” but the need of the guilty to render an accounting remains.

  6. I was not impressed by Dionne’s words, but I was impressed by the link to Leon Wieseltier’s Remarks at ‘9/11:

    We mourn only the loss of what we have loved and what we have valued, and in this way mourning darkly refreshes our knowledge of the causes of our loves and the reasons for our values.

    (and then he mentions among other things)

    by the liberty that we offer, to the individuals and groups; the ordinary lives of ordinary people on an ordinary day of work, that the multiplicity of cultures and traditions that we contain peaceably in our society is one of our highest accomplishments, that a country as vast and as various as ours may still be experienced as a community; and that the materialism and the self-absorption of the way we live has not extinguished our awareness of a larger purpose, even if sometimes they have obscured it

    The work of mourning, of understanding better what we love, has to come before forgiveness.

    In the case of the USA, part of that mourning is to understand our love of wealth and power, and therefore our vulnerability. In many ways the last ten years we have wasted much of our money and our power in denying this very vulnerability. In the process we have harmed ourselves far more than our enemies have harmed us.

    I think 9/11 is about mourning not about forgiveness, and how to go about mourning in a way that helps us to become “blessed.”

    As for forgiveness, I don’t think Americans need homilies about it, at least at the national level. The challenge of the Gospels is not to forgive Hitler, and the Terrorists. We can let that to God. The challenge has been in the past to forgive the Germans, and the Japanese. Americans did rather well, although it took some time (but not very much by world standards). The challenge today is to forgive Moslems; we are not there yet. But if the Arab Spring blossoms, I could see that happening in a relatively quick time, too.

  7. Jack – wise words and agree. Also, very much liked the link to Wiesletier – esp. his remarks that “grief” is affirmation; those who grieve do so out of love, absence, etc. and are not actions of someone who is indifferent.

    Actually, thought Wiesletier’s remarks were an excellent and poetic way of defining a “funeral” – that is what it brought to my mind. And that this ten year annivesary was “eucharistic” – we remember and in doing so we become again the blessed, loving, and affirming folks who responded to such tragedy and grief.

    Ms. Steinfels has an excellent post on dotcommonweal currently that highlights your thoughts about the Arab Spring and 9/11.

  8. In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, the spirit of revenge and retaliation is alive and well in the aftermath of 9/11.

    I therefore disagree strongly with those who would suggest the American bishops don’t need to preach forgiveness in relationship to this event in our history. They most certainly do, lest we consolidate the theme of revenge and getting even with patriotism and grief. There are a hundred ways we can justify hardness of heart, but that’s not the gospel. The teaching of Jesus shows us a different and better way.

    1. You are absolutely correct. I did a workshop last night and a gentlemen told me that he was on a plane and saw a funny looking foreigner. While sitting on the plane he told the man not to move. The gentlemen telling me this was a new catechist.

  9. O my gosh.. Jack – are you sure you mean that when you say we should not be giving homilies about this on a national level?

    Not only in regards to 9/11.. but my gosh.. did anyone hear see the Republican Presidential Debate at the Reagan Library last week? When a question was directed to Gov. Perry about his extensive use of the death penalty in Texas, a large number of people instantly erupted in a joyous celebration of applause. I could not believe my ears… people standing and cheering about nationally sanctioned executions!

    I believe we need a LOT more preaching in this regard. As Rita says – Jesus offers us all a different choice.

  10. Agree – or last night’s debate when a hypothetical was thrown at Ron Paul about an individual who has a heart attack with no insurance coverage – Paul actually framed his response half way compassionately but his initial comment about Americans take a risk and why should government or “us” have to bail them out – the crowd went wild.

    We live in very polarizing times and unfortuately the USCCB is also polarized. That may be part of the problem – they have different ecclesiologies and even basic theologies. It is very sad.

  11. Marquee sign this past weekend in front of the largest Baptist church in Marietta GA (meaning very large!): “9/11: Jesus or Muhammad for America?”.

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