September 11 is a day of remembrance that evokes a sense of utter empathy for the suffering of individuals and families, a natural outrage toward the perpetrators, and a wide spectrum of feelings toward our government's response on our behalf these past five years. President Bush responded to our grief by waging two wars, doubling expenditures on our military, and significantly sharpening public perceptions of the danger of the modern world. Remembrance of 9/11 has been the rallying cry for war, high end tax breaks, and the election of conservatives.
But the word "remembrance" means something very special to Catholics. At each Mass the priest repeats, not once but twice, Jesus' essential words, "Do this in remembrance of me." He was speaking specifically about body broken, and blood spilled, for the wellbeing of others. Contrast his words with new reports suggesting that a minimum of 62,000 people have been killed by both sides directly as a result of our American "war on terror," and probably closer to an upper estimate of 180,000. Refugees are now estimated at 4.5 million people. The newest war appropriation this past week by the US Congress has pushed funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan past $500 billion--money that might have been used to develop new energy technology to end dependence on Mideast oil, eliminate global poverty, or provide health security for all Americans. Is all this death and displacement what Jesus had in mind, when he commanded us, "Do this in remembrance of me?"
On the domestic front in the United States, life has taken a significant turn for the worse on several fronts. Three recent polls by the Pew Research Center, Peter D. Hart Research, and Lake Research Partners found evidence of deep pessimism among American workers about the likelihood that their wages would keep up with inflation or that their children would do better economically than had they. The Pew poll found that 69% of workers said they suffered more job stress than a decade ago, 62% felt less job security, and 59% said Americans had to work harder just to stay even. The economic response of some in Congress has been to aggressively pursue extension of tax cuts for America's wealthiest, with a devotion to the idea of trickle down economics that will "lift all boats." Is this what Jesus meant, when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me?"
Violent crime in the United States has increased sharply this past year, according to new FBI statistics showing the murder rate up almost 5% over 2004. Robberies and assaults have also risen around the country. Meeting in August, mayors and police officials from around the country cited the escalating number of weapons on the streets and looser firearms laws as the principal reasons for the new surge in violence. But no fewer than five bills are currently under consideration in Congress to weaken existing gun laws, all being aggressively pushed by the gun lobby and conservative lawmakers who otherwise promote themselves as advocates of "family values." Is weakening our gun laws, and contributing to increased violent crime what Jesus sought when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me?"
As Catholics, we understand that Jesus set an example for us, indeed one which is virtually impossible to achieve-he allowed himself to be tortured to death in defense of those on earth who have no voice. He identified strictly with the victims of the world, and he responded solely with love. "Do this in remembrance of me," he said. Now as we gather to console one another about what we've been through over the past five years as a nation, will we continue to fool ourselves into thinking that more violence can end the current violence? That a greater disparity of wealth in the United States can create a more widespread sense of economic security? That more guns will make anyone safer on our streets?
When Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me," he was calling us to selflessness like his, to creativity like his, and to love like his. Catholics and people of true faith will increasingly see that we can only make progress in our injured world if we seek the kind of self-sacrificing remembrance to which Jesus himself called us, when before long the tenth anniversary of September 11 comes around.