Father Franklyn M. McAfee began writing the homily for 9/11 victim Barbara Olson the way he began writing every homily — by listening to music. Requiem, Opus 9 by Durufle inspired the message for her memorial Mass.
Olson, a lawyer and television commentator, was on board American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon Sept. 11.
In his homily, Father McAfee spoke about the deep loss experienced by those close to Olson, the great sense of solidarity among Americans and the hope offered by Christ in His resurrection.
The message reached the many bereaved who crowded into the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington Sept. 15, 2001. But after that, the homily took on a life of its own, said Father McAfee. The Mass was live-casted by Fox, CNN and others. The homily was reprinted by the Wall Street Journal. Many people sent him letters, thanking him for his words.
“I heard from people I’d never heard of before, it was amazing,” he said.
Fifteen years later, Father McAfee’s message is relevant for a world still beset by the evils of terrorism. Below are excerpts from the homily, originally printed in the Catholic Herald’s Sept. 20, 2001, issue.
I cannot explain the madness that took place on Tuesday. For what we saw with our own eyes is the face of evil. And evil cannot logically be explained because, as those of you who are steeped in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas know, evil — malum — is nihil. It is nothing. Since God is existence itself — God told Moses, “I am who am” — evil would be non-being. Nothingness. And to confront nothingness is to come face-to-face with unspeakable horror. ...
A handful of terrorists commandeered four planes, crashing three of them, including Flight 77, into symbolic buildings, killing in the process thousands of real flesh-and-blood people with families. These terrorists gave their lives, and took so the lives of so many others, with no hesitation at all. Have Satan and death won?
What did Americans do when they heard the shocking news and saw the devastation? Did they take to the streets with signs and placards, marching with fists upraised, saying, “death to terrorists!” No, they did not.
What did they do? They took to the streets — in search of places to give blood. In fact, in some places so many of them that there was a seven-hour wait to give blood. They took to the streets to bring food to those who were rescuing people. They took to the streets to go to church, to hold candlelight vigils, to pray. …
During the devastation of World War II, Pope Pius XII said, “The future belongs to those who love, not to those who hate.” Barbara Olson, full of life, cheerful, laughing, smiling, loving, was the opposite of the dark powers that brought her death. But their evil deed was in vain. We are people of life. And no terrorist, no matter how powerful, can take that away.
As Pope John Paul II has said, “When God gives life, He gives it forever.” We believe in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. We Catholics also believe that the soul is immortal; it cannot be destroyed. We believe that Barbara Olson is alive, not just in our hearts and in our memories, but actually alive, fully conscious and aware. Now. We know this because Christ is risen from the dead. And if it isn’t true, if Barbara is really gone and gone forever, if you will never see her smile again, or hear her laughter, then this is all playacting. And I had better go and get another job. Because there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem, our hearts, though mourning, are full today.
We will see Barbara again. Death cannot win against life. Christians are those who, in the midst of December, believe in Spring.
Read the full text of Fr. McAfee's homily here