Today, our nation commemorates the 15th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While 15 years ago might seem like a long time to a freshman in high school who only knows about that day from history books, for those of us who loved through those attacks it seems like just yesterday. Like many of you I can still remember where I was when I heard the new, the paralyzing emotion of fear, the disbelief that someone would hate us so much to do such horrific things, and the admiration I had to see a country come together to help in any way they could, but what I remember most vividly is the soul searching that went on for our nation as the smoke continued to rise from those crash sites days after the attacks. As we look at our world today, we still remember the victims of those heinous attacks and honor the countless heroes who rose from the ashes to save lives and keep us safe. Yet at the same time we often find ourselves wondering how such great evil can exist in our world.
The attacks on September 11th opened our nation’s eyes a new era of evil and left many asking how a loving God could allow such evil in His creation. Sadly this question has caused some people to turn away from religion, claiming that religion only leads to wars. Yet this is simply not the case. Historians estimate that there have been 1,763 wars waged over the course of human history and of those 1,763 wars, only 123 or 6.98% are considered religious in nature. Even if religion does not cause wars, if God is all knowing, all loving, and all powerful then why is there so much evil in the world? God certainly has the power to remove every form of suffering and violence from our world, so why doesn’t He?
Today’s Gospel story of the prodigal son reminds us that God wants nothing more than to be our Father. There is nothing on earth that compares to the love parents have for their children but that love comes with the risk that their children will not love their parents in return, because no matter how much a parent loves their children, they cannot force their children to love them in return. As a loving Father, God extends His love to us, desiring that we love Him back. Since love demands a free choice, it cannot be forced, so this invitation to be a child of God comes with the risk that we will use that power for evil.
Friends, “love does not exist in words or feelings but in deeds,” so God gives us the gift of our free will so that we can choose to love Him through our actions knowing full well that we will fall short of the love He deserves. If God simply intervened to make the world peaceful without our cooperation, He would take away our ability to choose, which would also take away our ability to love Him and thus would keep us from having the relationship with Him that He desires for each of us. Rather than intervene to remove terrorism and violence from our world and take away our opportunity to love Him, Jesus entered into the darkness of sin to seek us out, by opening His arms on the cross and welcoming us back no matter how far we have strayed from Him.
Ultimately if God intervened to remove terrorism and violence from our world, He would radically change the relationship we have with Him; we could no longer be sons and daughters free to love God, but rather puppets under the strict control of the great puppet master God. Rather than change our relationship “God makes use of evil in such a superb way and with such skill that the result is better than if there had never been evil.” After all the sites of those horrific attacks became not only a place of death, but “a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”
As we commemorate the 15th anniversary of the attacks on September 11th we are invited by today’s Gospel to take a step back and recognize that even in our darkest hours God stretches out His hands in mercy to hold us as His sons and daughters, if only we are willing to run back to His mercy and love. Since “love casts out fear” in the midst of so much great evil in our world, our greatest hope is in the inexhaustible mercy of God. “While the human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people … Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say,”  because we know God’s mercy to calls us to a life with Him.
 Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod. Encyclopedia of Wars. New York: Facts on File. (2004).
 St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011) Pg. 175.
 Wilfrid Stinssen,. Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011. Pg. 15.
 Pope Francis Address at the September 11 Memorial on September 25, 2015. Accessible at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/september/documents/papa-francesco_20150925_usa-ground-zero.html
 St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011) Pg. 248.
 Pope John Paull II General Audience on 12 September 2001 accessible at http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/2001/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_20010912.html