Like most other Americans, I spent much of the day yesterday somberly considering the attacks on the United States that occured 10 years ago and contemplating the ensuing decade. As I made my way to Mass early Sunday morning, I was grieving for the lives lost and the families shattered, but also for the ugly way we have conducted ourselves as a people and as a nation following the initial outpouring of solidarity.
What we've seen in the last 10 years is a cynical misuse of grief and fear, used as a vehicle to garner support for unrelated - or at best tangentially related - foreign policy goals that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of the three readings at Mass dwelled upon debt and forgiveness and we were instructed very clearly to extend forgiveness to others, just as our God extends grace and forgiveness to us. If we fail to extend forgiveness, then the sin is our own. What is so terribly frustrating and sad is the way in which we as a nation have so pridefully ignored our own state of sin and sought only retribution - not understanding and forgiveness. While it is true that those who attacked us on that achingly beautiful September morning have not asked our forgiveness and most certainly suffer from pridefulness of their own, so too have we as a people neglected to seek forgiveness for the unspeakable violence that we have directed at the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Our leaders have not sought forgiveness. They have aggressively pursued acts of violence, such as "enhanced interrogation techniques" or bombing of villages by predator drones. One of the primary architects recently made the talk show rounds to reinforce his support of said techniques and brag about his certainty of purpose. There is no interest in forgiving or in forgiveness - only for exploiting fear and fanning hatred to further the interests of our war machine. We, in turn, as a people have not demanded that our leaders be humble. Instead, many of us have become even more fearful of the "other" who looks different, speaks a different language and worships God in a different way. Instead of loving our brothers and sisters as ourselves, we do not recognize these "others" as part of our human family.
The domestic policies pursued reflect that fearfulness. We no longer share a commitment to care for one another. We love our brothers and sisters - but only literally, not figuratively. The candidates for elected office that call themselves "Christian" should revisit this basic lesson that God became human just to tell us to our faces: forgive seventy times seven times and love our enemies. Easy to remember, but hard to do. People of faith must set the example for our leaders, living out the Gospel and insist that they follow our lead.