Last Updated: October 29, 2001
The Chinese symbol for crisis is a product of two Chinese words: danger and opportunity. The USA and the world has not faced a greater crisis than the terrorist assault on September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. No other crisis in history has resulted in the grounding of air traffic worldwide, the cessation of trading on Wall Street, 24 hours commercial-free coverage by the media, cancellation of all sporting and entertainment activities, and much more. It is a time of unprecedented crisis. For many people, the events which have been played and replayed on the TV screen looks surreal and unbelievable. Many people have been trying to process the incident which has left everybody in a state of shock, grief and anger. As people of God with all these emotions in our hearts, what light does our faith shed on these questions that some of us cannot even put into words. A short homily such as this cannot pretend to have all the answers but, to help you in your struggle to make sense out of this senseless catastrophe, I invite you all to see this crisis as a time of great danger and great opportunity as well. In his first public reaction to the attack President George Bush said, "The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake, we will show the world that we will pass this test." A time of test is a time of danger (because one could fail the test) as well as opportunity (one could pass the test and come out the better for it). Our hope and prayer is that not only President Bush and the American government, but also the American people and the whole world will be able to make the right decisions at this critical time and pass the test which this crisis presents. If this is a test, what then are the questions? President Bush summarized it in one word, the "resolve" or the spirit of the American people. I will like to expand this under three headings: (a) the American spirit of patriotism. Will the crisis tear Americans apart or bring them closer together as a nation? Some people almost failed this test when soon after the attack they doubled and tripled the price of gasoline. But the American public soon rose to the challenge and the heroism, generosity and self-sacrifice shown in the rescue effort shows that this crisis has not broken but has rather strengthened the American spirit of togetherness. The first test has indeed been passed. (b) the American spirit of justice and fairness. The second test is: will America be able to find and bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime? From what we have seen so far, there is little doubt that the long arms of justice will soon catch up with those responsible for this mayhem. The question is, will people be able to hold their anger in check until the right culprits are identified or will they take out their anger and frustration on any person or group of persons who look like the suspects, who come from their countries of origin or who belong to their religion? While justice demands that guilty people be made to pay for their misdeeds, fairness demands that no innocent persons be held responsible for what they did not do. Terrorists have killed innocent Americans. If Americans responds by killing other innocent people, how then can Americans show that they are more civilized than the terrorists? Americans will have passed the second test when they are able to do justice to whom justice is due, and fairness to whom fairness is due. (c) the American spirit as "one nation under God." Before this crisis America was fast sliding into the depths of religious indifference. To expose the crucifix in the classroom was a crime, to say prayer in a public place was politically incorrect. But all this suddenly changed since disaster struck. Why must it take a disaster of such apocalyptic proportions to bring America back to its Christian religious origins? Someone has said that God whispers to us in our well-being and shouts to us in disaster. If God is shouting to us in this terrible disaster what else could God be saying except calling America back to the Christian principles of her founding fathers. This is probably the ultimate test that this crisis presents to America. After the culprits have been identified and brought to justice, after the tears have dried and time has healed all wounded hearts, after the dust has settled and the collapsed houses have been rebuilt, maybe the test that will remain is how Americans respond to their Christian heritage. I think it was Cardinal Egan who said that this is a spiritual and moral wake-up call for America. God help America to pass the test. God help us all to pass the test.