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Sept. 11 and the battle for hearts

“You will know them by their fruits,” Jesus told the crowd listening to him on the mountain top. This week, as we remember those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, I want to examine the fruits born from the choice in our hearts between hatred and love, so that it’s clear what is at stake.

God did not intend for death to be a part of creation, but it entered the world with the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Soon thereafter, Cain killed his brother when God chose Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s less generous offering. This was the first episode of violence in history.

Between 2000 and 2008, scholars gathered in Vienna, Austria, for the International Christian-Islamic Round Table. During that dialogue, professor Heinrich Ott described the phenomenon of religious violence in the form of an equation. A paraphrased version of what he said is: “When you love your fellow man, you love God. When you hate your fellow man, you end up hating God.” When one meditates on the two great commandments, one can see the truth of that conclusion.

The fruits of violence committed in the name of religion fill the news. We hear almost daily about families being torn apart and individuals’ lives being lost. One only needs to look at the attacks of Sept. 11 and the atrocities currently being carried out by the Islamic State, Boko Haram and others to see that this evil remains with us.

The fruit of people hating their fellow man is that they end up hating God. Their religion becomes warped and twisted by their hatred for their neighbor. The two loves are intertwined; you cannot love God and hate man, who is made in his image and likeness. No true religion allows this combination.

The fruits of loving one’s fellow man stand in stark contrast to the rotten fruit of hatred.

This past Monday and Tuesday, the Church celebrated the feasts of the Birth of Mary and St. Peter Claver, S.J. These two saints, of whom Mary is certainly the greater, both loved their fellow man, and therefore loved God.

When the Blessed Mother experienced the persecution of Herod, when she heard about her son being ridiculed by the Scribes and Pharisees, or when she witnessed the cruel execution of Jesus, she was presented with the opportunity to hate her fellow man. But Mary chose to love her neighbor, and in doing so, she loved God.

The fruit of her holy life and death is beyond compare. History is filled with the stories of countless souls that have been reunited with God, miracles that have been obtained, and disasters that have been averted through Mary’s intercession.

St. Peter Claver was also confronted with the cruelty of man toward his neighbor in the form of the slave trade. He lived during the early 1600s and dedicated himself to serving the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought from Africa to the port city of Cartagena, Colombia.

Whenever a ship docked, the Jesuit saint would beg for food for the prisoners and then enter the holds to bring what he had to those in need. He also brought his skills as a doctor and teacher with him, which he would use to comfort their bodies and their souls. After feeding the slaves, St. Peter would give a brief catechesis and then baptize as many of them as possible. At his canonization in 1888, the lowest estimate of the slaves whom he baptized was 300,000.

St. Peter Claver loved his fellow man, and in doing so he loved God. Faced with the inhumane conditions and cruel treatment of the slaves, he responded with love.

Giving in to hatred is easy, but what it does to our hearts is disastrous. Hatred is what fuels the distortion of religion and twists it into violence, as we saw on Sept. 11. We must ask God for the outpouring of his love and the grace to resist hatred with love for our fellow man. We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us to follow the command of Jesus, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Finally, we must ask for the grace to love as God loves, that the Father in his love will increase the virtue of charity in our own hearts.

As we remember those who died on Sept. 11, let us also remember that Jesus’ death and resurrection makes triumph over death possible, it makes triumph over hatred possible. Let us trust in him to accomplish the miracle of making our hearts like his heart.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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