Sunday, September 11, 2011

Redefining Heroism

“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.”  (Roman 14:7)

To be human is to be selfless.  It is to love others more than self.  True heroism involves putting the common good over one’s self, and laying your life down for another.  This is what our Lord did.  This is what we see on the cross.  Ten years ago, our definition of what it means to be a hero changed.  Men and women we see every day, and pretty much take for granted most of the time, were all of the sudden seen in a new light. Firefighters, police officers, and first responders were seen throwing themselves into harm’s way, as they do pretty much every day in this country, and were rightfully and finally given their due for running into two burning towers.  I always tearfully recall their heroism and that of our military whenever I hear the third verse of “America the Beautiful”:  “O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife.  Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!”

Today we honor all those men and women who lay their lives down for us whether on our street corners, in firehouses, or in the deserts and mountains of Iraq or Afghanistan.  So many who teach us on a daily basis that selflessness is what makes our nation great.  And that selflessness unites us.  Today we have with us members of our local fire department.  You always have a special place in my prayer life because my brother is a firefighter and civil servant as well.  He became a firefighter just a couple of weeks after the terrorist attacks, but five years ago today I was honored to give the invocation when he joined the City of Miami Fire Department.  That evening I wrote:

“[As for my brother], I often take what he does for a living his vocation for granted.  Many people celebrate my vocation to the priesthood, and they call my life "heroic."  But today as I saw my brother become a firefighter for the City of Miami under the backdrop of the burning twin towers, I wondered, "who truly is the hero?"  Right after the ceremony we proceeded outside to the training center for a demonstration of their skills.  Some were ordinarily impressive and some were jaw dropping.  Then we looked up to the top of this ten story building and saw my brother waving at my parents and at his son, then, with the crowd in awe, with two of his classmates, he proceeded to scale down the building…HEAD FIRST!  And so I wondered, as I often do when I see pictures of the World Trade Center on 9/11, "Would my brother run into those burning towers?"  After watching him scale that wall, after hearing him take the firefighter's oath which forsakes self for the good of others, the only answer I could come up with was an unequivocal "yes."  Makes you want to rethink your definition of a hero.”

These men and women remind us that loving others, loving country, more than self is the greatest attribute of an American.  They unite us through their heroic example of courage.   Ten years ago, our nation was firmly united in one of our darkest hours.  If any good came out of that horror, it’s that we were reminded that we were one and that a nation united is far stronger than any terror attack.  Our churches were filled as people looked for answers, for as Christians we knew that only with Christ could we make sense of the senseless.  May this solemn occasion serve to remind us once again that true heroism lies in selflessness, and that our strength as Americans lies in knowing that we are the United States of America:  one people, one country, one nation under God!