This past June, two of my nieces performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. They did beautifully, and it was a joyous and memorable occasion for me and my family members who were able to make it. It had been some time since I was last in Manhattan, and my sister and I decided to visit the 9/11 Memorial before catching a train back down to Baltimore.
It’s hard to put into words how I felt about the visit. Moving, powerful, emotional, tragic, and epic are a few that come to mind, but they do not fully articulate all that was going through my mind as we wound our way through the memorial. As I sit here now, safe and sound in my house on this 15th Anniversary of that life-changing day, the word hero comes to mind. That adjective has been kicking around in my head for about a month, but not just because of the heroic and brave actions of countless men and women 15 years ago.
This past Monday, September 5th, I went to a Memorial Mass for one of the heroic people in my life. Father Art Valenzano, one of my heroes, died a year ago, after a nearly ten year battle with cancer. Unbelievably kind, compassionate, holy, yes, even saintly, for nearly twenty years I had the blessing of working side by side with him. His impact on me was great, and I will always be grateful for his wise advice, presence, and witness.
This past July, a second great heroic figure in my life passed away. Another fine and holy priest, Vincent McMurry was a simple man and, as a good friend reminded me recently, Vincent was a “background kind of guy,” not in the spotlight or wishing any recognition. He was my spiritual director for many years, and the countless wise insights he shared with me during our meetings continue to impact my life.
Friends, this morning I feel blessed to have been able to have two wonderfully fine examples of heroic living in my circle of friends. There have been others to be sure, but Art and Vincent will forever stand out to me.
Just because I didn’t know any of the thousands of people who lost their lives on 9/11 does not mean that I couldn’t count them among those who have touched my life by their heroic actions. Their courage and bravery should provide a heroic witness to all of us, no matter who we are and where we live. I hope everyone reading this will one day have the chance to visit the 9/11 Memorial. For me, the memorial speaks not only of the tragedy of hatred, violence and terrorism, but more importantly, of courage, bravery, heroism, and the sacredness of each and every human life.