Before 9/11, I was simply a high school sophomore “figuring out who I was” and where I wanted to go to college. But afterwards, I started to think more about public service. Military service seemed like the best way, as I was familiar with it due to my dad's own military service. After some encouragement from family friends, I applied and was accepted to the US Air Force Academy. Upon graduation in 2008, I was commissioned a second lieutenant and began service as a communications officer. I served on active duty for six years, one tour in Iraq, and I continue to serve as a reservist. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to serve, for the people I encountered and how my military service has shaped me into the person I am today.
I share my military service to paint another picture alongside the backdrop of so much grievance and loss caused by the 9/11 attacks. My story is not a common story among the American population. To this day, approximately only 7% of Americans have served in the military. And of that population, only 18% make up the post-9/11 veterans. But what is a common story is that among the men and women who chose military service, many feel their lifelong call is to serve others. While most Americans have been reading about it, those with military background have practiced a life of service that is indelible. The military trains and shapes you to protect the lives of your fellow man. As you go up in the ranks of the military, your greater responsibility is to be a leader who ensures their subordinates have the tools and training to get the mission done. This familiarity with and desire for a life of service among those in the military offers hope in the midst of such tragic events like the attacks on 9/11. As a result, veterans have been inspired to serve, even beyond military service. Those who come home from active duty are still seeking a mission to serve, and the Church is a good place to do just that. For some, religious life or the priesthood do not seem that far off. Others take leadership positions in their parish councils as lay members or advocate for the veterans to be welcomed into their local Catholic community.
As you consider pastoral ways to remember 9/11, I encourage you to seek out veterans or those returning from military service in your community. These veterans can be a part of the hope in our world and help seek the good out of such loss. I invite you to enlist their support to organize a memorial prayer service in your local church. Beyond military veterans, we also see the other local emergency services who have also been greatly affected by 9/11. Don’t forget to include them in your outreach as well.
Here are two practical suggestions on what to include in such a memorial prayer service:
- Select a few people to share their story. As Pope Francis stresses, the community of God’s people is like a field hospital. We are each called to serve and dress one another’s wounds just as Christ did. Jesus said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mk 2:17) There are also resources available to find out the names of the people lost in the attacks and those who stepped up and took care of the survivors. Father Steven McGraw, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, is one of those who answered such a call. On Sep. 11th, he was on his way to a funeral service at the Arlington National Cemetery and accidentally took a wrong turn leading him to the Pentagon parking lot. This was just as Flight 77 flew overhead and crashed into the Pentagon. After his shock, he immediately reached for his stole and holy oil to begin ministering to the wounded and dying. His service was simple, but so crucial in such a time. There are many stories like his which can easily be researched and found on the web.
- Pray for our enemies. Jesus said, "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you." (Mt 6:14) In this Year of Mercy, we celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee to receive God’s mercy and to be ministers of His mercy. "At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully." (MV, 9)
To learn more about serving others through faith-based service opportunities, please visit the website of our affiliate, the Catholic Volunteer Network, by clicking here.