By the time the second tower fell, and the planes had crashed in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, on Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of souls had fallen into eternity, a fate that suddenly or slowly, will face us all. Watching the memorial on TV, who could not be reminded of the personal nature of this ultimate experience. We live in the age of the personal, and personal responsibility for our lives is a great blessing, although as those who died on that day remind us, it can also be a great and awesome responsibility.
Whether their service to society was trying to rescue others, or fulfilling the responsibilities of their ordinary daily work, they had put themselves into the arena, with all the risks which making a gift of yourself to others involves. One of the more touching comments during the reading of names of the fallen was the mother who, speaking aloud to the deceased, said the family always teaches the children to hold the door for others just as you did on that day. How the ordinary virtues, repeatedly practiced, can lead to a true heroism worthy of Heaven!
Courtesy, chivalry, humility, compassion, mercy were among the great Christian contributions to Western Civilization, as it built on the fading barbarism of Rome. As we move further from the Christian roots of that civilization, it is easy to see the coarsening of society, as too many treat others as things, not individuals worthy of laying your life down for.
Perhaps those who meant to bring America to its knees on that day helped do exactly that, but not in the way they intended. Maybe we have learned, and each year re-learn from these memorials, the importance of retrieving the personal, and its authentic virtues, from a society that seems at times to treat us as interchangeable parts in a great mass, things to be used and discarded.
Most touching was the comment of a young man, not 10 years old, who was in his mother’s womb at the time of attack. He publicly thanked his dad for his generosity in wanting to have children, for wanting to have him! How great a hope are such children, and a reminder of how important our generous example is for building a civilization of life and love in the face of adversity.
The Missing Prayers at Ground Zero
As a footnote, the decision by organizers of the 10th anniversary event to not include a moment of prayer, and to exclude religious leaders, was a bizarre one. How many during those days and after said a short prayer before the famous cross at Ground Zero? And who can forget that a New York Fire Department chaplain was killed ministering to others during the attack on the Trade Center? Yet, there are no atheists in the fox holes. Speaker after speaker referred to the enduring spiritual sense of these events during the reading of names, as did many official spokesmen. The natural law of life cries out against the seeming finality of the grave, demonstrating the innate sense of eternity planted in the human heart, and the meaninglessness of the ideology of political correctness.
For those looking for an alternative to the missing element of prayer, we present the prayer prayed by Benedict XVI at Ground Zero several years ago (along with actual video of the visit and recitation of the prayer).
In addition to the official events, there were events commemorating the events in song and story, and many prayer services to mark the day, such as the memorial Mass held at St. Francis Xavier church in Manhattan.