On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Mrs. Brown, my first grade teacher, interrupted indoor recess to call us to the reading rug at the front of our classroom. “Boys and girls,” she said slowly and calmly, “there was a very bad plane crash in New York this morning. A lot of people got hurt... let’s say a prayer together.”
The Boston College student body has grown up in a post-9/11 world, vigilant of the lingering threat of terrorism and violence. Throughout elementary and middle school, lockdown drills, TSA security checks, and “if you see something, say something” became routine and expected. As we grew older, we witnessed our country become seemingly more polarized and divided than ever before.
A little over a week ago, police arrested a man accused of planting three bombs in New York City and New Jersey, injuring 29 people. Personally, the incident brought back memories of the Boston Marathon bombing; while I was not present, my family was standing on Boylston Street that day. Luckily, they escaped unharmed. Since writing the first draft of this column a few days ago, even more incidents have affected the country, from Oklahoma to Minnesota and even on our own campus.
In times of increasing acts of violence and hate, how can we still embrace faith realistically? When events seem outside of our control and unpreventable, can we seriously still believe in the greater hand of God acting in the world?
Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” I like this quote, because it reminds me that at our core, we are all more alike than we are different. Our existence is based upon God’s love for us. Because we are all loved by God, we are called to reflect this love to one another. Faith is essential in a volatile world, because it reminds us of every person’s innate dignity and worth. In the face of fear and disagreement, faith forces us to take a step back and remember what is truly important: our shared humanity.
Where is God in all of this, then? At the risk of sounding cliché, God is in all of us. God is present whenever we consciously choose love over fear, acceptance over hate, and an open mind over rash judgment. I think St. Francis summarized this best when he prayed,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
So, fifteen years later, I think Mrs. Brown had it right when she called my first grade class to the reading rug that afternoon. Our first response to incidents of violence must be to gather as a community in solidarity and prayer. Poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long.” Even if we never achieve a non-violent world, the pursuit of peace through faith is worthy in and of itself. We cannot control acts of violence, but we can control how we respond to them.