As the events of my consecration weekend culminated on Sunday May 1, President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. That this occurred that night had deep significance to me personally because the journey that led to my ordination to the priesthood, and ultimately to my consecration as a bishop, began for me personally on 9-11.
Subsequently I wrote a book with Mary Donovan, the wife of Bishop Herbert Donovan, retired Bishop of Arkansas, on spiritual responses to 9-11. It is titled Will the Dust Praise You? (Church Publishing Inc., 2003). The book is a collection of people’s memories of September 11, 2001.
In light of the controversial scenes of rejoicing in our country over the death of Bin Laden, I want to share with you a passage from that book. It is the recollection of the Rev. Stuart Hoke. Hoke, who was executive assistant to the rector of Trinity Church was dispatched to the church—just a block from Ground Zero—where people were gathering soon after the planes hit the twin towers:
When the rector said to me, “Go into the church and do something,” I ran to Trinity Church, and, along with the organist, began doing an impromptu service. Reading prayers, reading Scriptures, singing hymns. At 9:59, when the first tower collapsed, all the lights went off and the place filled with debris. People screamed and they jumped under the pews. And I was as cool as could be. I was standing up there in front of the congregation doing my thing. I was reading the Beatitudes at the moment, trying to find something in Scripture that people knew, that would connect with them. I had gone through the Beatitudes: “Blessed be the poor in spirit, and blessed be you when men revile and persecute you” and all of that.
As the tower fell, I was reading the second part of the Beatitudes. And that was, “Pray for those who persecute you, never exchange evil for evil. When someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone wants your shirt, give him your cloak as well. If someone says to you, ‘Go a mile with me,’ go two miles.” And all of a sudden, there was this gasp in the congregation, and a sense of connectedness—not only to each other, but also to God who was saying something to us at that moment that was uncanny. We knew what was going on. We knew that terrorists were bombing us. And here we were saying, “Pray for those who persecute you. Never exchange evil for evil. Turn the other cheek.” The very things I don’t think I would have ever said, things that go against the American grain in such an incalculable way, especially right now.
We had a young journalist in the congregation at the time and he wrote the next day that was the very first strike against the war on terrorism—a priest reading the Beatitudes in front of the demoralized congregation.
It is my hope that we continue on this path Jesus set before his disciples so long ago as we continue to struggle with terrorism in many forms. Please join me in praying for those who persecute us. Join me in striving to avoid exchanging evil for evil. Join me in fighting terrorism in the manner in which our Lord would have us so to do.
+Bill Franklin, Bishop of Western New York