9th Sep 2011
'Raised with Christ' on 9/11
by Kathryn Jean Lopez
God has the last word.
Of all the reflections made on and lessons taken from the September 11th attacks on the United States ten years ago, would it be presumptuous for me to suggest that this is the most important?
We won’t ever fully make sense or have peace about what happened. It was evil, what was done to those innocent Americans – to the men and women whose barbecued remains lingered in the Manhattan metropolitan air for days afterward, including in National Review’s offices where I was that day, uncomfortably close to the site of the attacks.
But you didn’t have to smell what I did or see the people hanging “Missing” signs on every available lamppost and wall where their loved ones might be recognized – what for many would only prove to be an early memorial to someone murdered that day. That coming together in the hours, days and weeks afterward had something to do with the shock of confrontation with evil that everyone within reach of that day’s images felt. Some say we all changed that day.
But did we?
Reflecting on the time since that day: At some point, someone took down the “Missing” signs. At some point, going to work became a little less nerve-wracking. At some point, I stopped looking at every backpack with suspicion. At some point, I got on a plane. But in large crowds at Macy’s or Penn Station, Times Square or much of Washington, D.C., it’s hard not to feel vulnerable.
The only protection is remembering who has the last word – who is our help and our salvation, and the only one who can love us with a perfect love. There is no politician for that.
Ten years later, the calendar provides a blessing. September 11 is a Sunday. There’s the nonsense of the mayor of New York excluding clergy from the official memorial. It is nonsense, but still, our Catholic clergy will be where they always are on Sunday: with their spiritual family, offering the only sense there is – Christ Himself, in the Mass.
This past week, we read from St. Paul:
Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Because of these the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient.
By these you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way.
But now you must put them all away:
anger, fury, malice, slander,
and obscene language out of your mouths.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.
Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.
That famous scene with President Bush, bullhorn in hand, standing next to firefighter Bob Beckwith is as iconic as you get in the history of a nation. One of the moments I most vividly remember is standing outside Grand Central Station sometime during that day, watching as New Yorkers applauded George W. Bush as he passed by. This was the president I had for months heard had “stolen” the election (You’d hear it from – or so it seemed – every commuter and cab driver who had a complaint about the world). New York was no longer jaded and sophisticated, it was a city of searchers. People wanted answers. Sense. Peace. Protection. I’m not sure that any of them were consciously saying that in their applause, cheers, and moments of silence before and after he passed by, but it was as clear as the sky before the Towers were taken down that Tuesday morning.
Of course, the politician was himself praying. George W. Bush would later write about that day:
I stepped into the presidential cabin [on Air Force One] and asked to be alone. I thought about the fear that must have seized the passengers on those planes and the grief that would grip the families of the dead. So many people had lost their loved ones with no warning. I prayed that God would comfort the suffering and guide the country through this trial. I thought of the lyrics from one of my favorite hymns, “God of Grace and God of Glory”: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.”
Growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time at St. Francis of Assisi Church, steps away from Madison Square Garden, the home parish of Fr. Mychal Judge, who rushed to the scene that day ten years ago. There is a memorial there now, with a foundation of three pieces of steel from the World Trade Center. But what the eye is drawn to is the artistic addition. As one description puts it: “A single golden rose rises gently from the mass of contorted steel and transcends the senseless brutality with an enduring promise of hope.”
We are a creative people, and we reach for hope using our talents. But ultimately, we don’t have to create a thing. Before all else, there is the cross, which points to Christ, our source of hope.
As New York Jesuit Fr. James Martin recently wrote: “God is like the firefighter who rushes into a burning building to save someone. That's how much God loves us. And I saw this love expressed in the great charity of all the rescue workers who gathered at the American Golgotha.”
Fr. Roger J. Landry of Massachusetts elaborates: “Just as the Cross on Calvary isn’t merely a symbol of pain and death but of the love that bore that pain and the life that triumphed over death, so the Ground Zero Cross is a clear reminder that evil doesn’t have the last word. The last word goes to God, a word of justice against those who do evil and on behalf of those who suffer it, a word of mercy that brings light even out of darkness, a word of life in response to death.”
The good fathers are speaking as St. Paul likely would. As he did to the Colossians.
Whether or not we’re from New York or D.C., we all remember that day. Some of us still mourn and celebrate the lives of loved ones who are no longer with us. We continue to debate issues of homeland and national security. But this is not the whole story of 9/11.
The real story is eternal.
Of all the lessons we could take away from September 11, 2001, we haven’t learned the most important one if we, raised with Christ – as if a Cross made of steel beams were showing us the way – cease to “put on” our new selves. The ones who, ten years ago, got on our knees. The ones who lit candles. The ones who prayed. The ones who wanted answers. He’ll be there on the altar on September 11, 2011 – just as He always is, having long rushed in to save us, ready to do it again and again in the sacraments where he offers us boundless mercy, for no other reason than pure, perfect love.
Because evil does not have the last word. When we despair, we act as if it does. We’re not lost.
September 11, 2011, is a Sunday. Let us pray. We don’t need a mayor’s permission. We could thank New York’s, though, for inadvertently reminding us where we truly belong – New York or anywhere else – any day, every day.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She speaks frequently on faith and public life.
(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)