Love, Mercy, and 9/11

Airliners were flown into New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon 15 years ago today, killing nearly 3,000 folks whose chief offense had been living in an American city and going to work Tuesday morning.

The 19 immediately responsible died with their victims. They were waging Osama bin Laden’s religious war against the United States.

Osama bin Laden is dead now, and so are a great many others: perpetrators and victims; Christians, Muslims, and folks who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On top of that, about 1,800,000 folks were stopped last year, while trying to get into Europe. Some may have had ulterior motives; but most were trying to stay alive, fleeing because their former homes had become a war zone.

It’s the biggest problem of that sort Europe’s had since the 1940s. Quite a few folks are upset: partly because most of the refugees hadn’t had opportunities to fill out all their paperwork before entering Europe.

The “European migrant crisis” is anything but simple.1

My family and I aren’t as far-removed from the situation as it might seem.

The regional economy here in central Minnesota includes a fair number of jobs that require no language skills or previous experience: so quite a few immigrants find their way here, despite the climate.

How I feel about that involves stories about sheep, a lost coin, and a playboy.

Living the High Life – – –

Today’s Gospel reading is a longer version of what we heard back on March 6.2 Both start in the same place:

1 The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him,

“but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

“So to them he addressed this parable.”
(Luke 15:13)

The rest of Luke 15:132 is the familiar parable of the lost sheep, coin, and son; three mini-stories with the same message.

The ‘prodigal son’ story has inspired a mess of creative works, including a painting by Rembrandt, an oratorio by Arthur Sullivan, a movie starring Lana Turner, and a track on Kid Rock’s The Polyfuze Method album.

Yet another — mercifully short — retelling shouldn’t hurt. Feel free to skip over the next few paragraphs.

The younger son asks for his share of the family fortune, gets it, moves to “a distant country” and lives the high life.

Luke doesn’t say, but I figure the sons are probably ‘college age:’ 18-25, which you couldn’t pay me to go through again.3

– – – Until the Money Runs Out

Then his money runs out and a famine hits.

The good news is that he doesn’t starve. The not-so-good news is that the only position available is swineherd: low status, bad work environment, and worse pay.

That’s when he has a eureka moment:

“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.

“I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

“I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” ‘ ”
(Luke 15:1719)

You know the rest: the father runs to greet him, orders an extravagant feast, and tries to calm down his older son — who’s understandably piqued. (Luke 15:31Luke 15:32)

Before talking about sinners, immigrants, and mercy, I’d better talk about sin.

Sin, Sinners, and Me

I sin when I decide that I’ll do something I know is bad for myself, or others: or decide to not do something I should. It’s an offense against reason, truth, and God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 18491864)

That happens whenever I don’t love God, love my neighbors, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937)

Happily, acting like the post-swineherd prodigal son is an option as long as I’m alive. (Catechism, 976983, 14421470, 1021, 1988)

“Love” isn’t “approval,” and I’ll get back to that.

Maybe it’d be simpler if humanity was split into the “righteous” and “sinners:” but that’s not how it is.

I’m a sinner, since I occasionally offend reason, truth, and God.

That doesn’t mean God made a horrible mistake when creating this world and me.

The universe is basically good, and so is every person, including you and me — basically. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism, 31, 299, 355)

Something obviously went wrong, but it wasn’t a design flaw.

We are rational creatures who can decide what we do, like angles. Unlike angels, we are also material creatures: spiritual beings with a body made from the stuff of this world. (Catechism, 311, 325348, 1704, 17301731)

Having a body isn’t the problem, by the way. Satan, like all angels, has no body. That didn’t stop Satan and other angels from saying “no” to God. (Catechism, 385395)

Since I’m a Catholic, I see original sin as the lasting consequences of a really bad decision.4

Love and Moderation

I also must see human beings as people: all human beings.

Genesis 1:27 says we’re made “in the divine image.”

We are rational and therefore like God, made in the image and likeness of God; created with free will, masters over our actions. (Catechism, 17301825)

All humans are people, with equal dignity: no matter where we are, who we are, or how we act. (Catechism, 360, 17001706, 19321933, 1935)

That includes the 9/11 hijackers.

Thinking that they’re people, with the dignity due to any human being, doesn’t mean I must approve of what they did.

They deliberately killed a few thousand folks, including themselves. They apparently agreed with Osama bin Laden, that Americans should be killed because our government wasn’t doing what bin Laden wanted.

I don’t approve of everything my government does: but killing office workers isn’t a reasonable response.

Murder, deliberately killing an innocent person, is wrong because human life is sacred. (Catechism, 2258, 22682283)

Killing my neighbor is wrong; even if I don’t like the color he painted his house, his political views, or how he worships.

Okay, let’s say killing innocent people is wrong: but what about not-innocent people?

Let’s say my neighbor goes nuts and tries to kill me and my family. Loving my neighbor doesn’t extend to passively accepting death at my neighbor’s hands.

I’m allowed to avoid or resist the attack; using the least force necessary. The same principle applies to groups of people. (22632267, 23072317)

“Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. … Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.66

(Catechism, 2264)

Like I said, the basics are simple: I must love God, my neighbor, and myself.

Applying those simple principles: that’s where it gets tricky, which gets me back refugees, immigrants, and other “strangers.”

America’s consumer spending per household is the second-highest in the world. This is not a poor country.

I think so many folks try to move here because we’re still one of the better places to raise a family.

I don’t see immigrants as a problem, partly because all of my ancestors are immigrants.

Even if I did, I couldn’t: or shouldn’t. Not if I’m going to take my faith seriously. (Catechism, 2241)

Besides: the repentant son and the loving father in that parable seem like better role models than the older brother.

The idea of treating folks who moved into the neighborhood from another country the same way we treat old neighbors isn’t particularly new. It’s also what we’re supposed to do. (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:3334; Matthew 25:35)

Maybe that sounds nice, but why should I care?

Backing up a bit, I follow Jesus — who set a very high standard; dying for my sake, and yours.5

The Best News Ever

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (Matthew 5:45; John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 1, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

This is the best news humanity’s ever had.

However, accepting God’s mercy is an option. We can say “no” and walk away. Each of us has free will. (Catechism, 311, 396, 10211022, 1704)

I decided that accepting God’s offer made sense, so acting like a member if the family seems reasonable: to me, anyway.

Admitting my faults — and forgiving others — is vital. (Catechism, 1847, 2840)

More about forgiveness and alternatives:

11 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.

“But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
(Matthew 6:1415)

1 2 ‘Stop judging, that you may not be judged.

“For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”
(Matthew 7:12)

1 Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. 2 For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things. … There is no partiality with God.”
(Romans 2:111)

Forgiving others and showing mercy does not mean being stupid.

We can decide that what someone does is a “grave offense,” responding with charity and justice. (Catechism, 1861, 19281942, 21972246, 2401)

And we must trust God’s justice and mercy for what happens to them — and each of us — in the long run. (Catechism, 1861, 19281942)

More of my take on acting like God matters:


1 A little background:

2 Gospel reading for March 6, 2016; the fourth Sunday in Lent:

And see:

3 The 18-25 demographic, a little background:

4 Definitions:

CONCUPISCENCE: Human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism, and which produce an inclination to sin (1264, 1426, 2515).

ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God’s will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the ‘new Adam,’ came to redeem us (396412).

SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854).”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

It’s a big deal:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,

“that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
(Matthew 5:4445)

“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ”
(Matthew 25:40)

“Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”
(Romans 5:10)

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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8 Responses to Love, Mercy, and 9/11

  1. Naomi Gill says:

    Acute or obtuse? “what we do, like angles.”

    Number agreement: “seem like a better role models than the older brother.”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

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