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September 11, 2003

 

Remembering September 11

 

Two years ago we were shocked to witness the fiery tragedies which claimed 3000 lives in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. In those first few hours and days only a fool could have assumed Chicago, Los Angeles, or any other American city were not soon to join the list of targets. Who could be sure nuclear weapons would not explode in a dozen major cities?

On September 11, 2001, we imagined thousands of people in the last violent and terrifying moments of life, realizing they would not escape and suddenly speaking to God within their hearts perhaps as never before. God save me. Please God help me! Jesus, don't let me die. Oh Lord, my child! -who will take care of my child? My God, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me, Lord, and help me. Please give me another chance.

More terrifying yet is the thought that perhaps even only one of those victims went to his end unreconciled with family, Church, or God, and brought suddenly to the threshold of eternity, the final instant of decision, did not grasp the outstretched hand of God and was lost, lost forever.

Two years and many miles separate us from these harrowing moments but the world still rings with the prayers of those desperate souls crying out to the Lord of the Universe, Who to each victim surely offered a final hope and chance of mercy. God grant that they each chose to receive it. May their last moments have been filled with faith in Your saving presence.

But what about we who witnessed this terrible spectacle from afar and remain behind?

I remember feeling as though I had been deeply changed by a new sense of how suddenly we may be called to final judgement, and I realized that I was not prepared to render an account that would wholly please the holy Judge we all will face. So many faults uncorrected, so many virtues unperfected. So many times I failed to live up to the truth of the Catholic faith.

I know I was not alone in this. Many acted differently immediately following the September attacks. Confession lines at many parishes suddenly were much longer. Mass attendance was up and congregations were more intensely reverent. Did you see how radio and TV changed? There was less vulgarity and coarseness. Less cheap violence, cheap sex, and raunchy commercial advertising; greater seriousness, patriotism, and at least the appearance of some understanding that a sword of fire had passed through the hearts of Americans. You and I wept for those who had died and for those who hadn't. We had been rudely awakened and reminded that our life and blessings mustn't be taken for granted.

But this initial reaction didn't seem to last very long. The spirit of this world does not concern itself with much soul searching and invites us to abandon contemplation of our inevitable death. "No sense brooding over the past or nursing old wounds. It's not healthy to be preoccupied with death and judgement, much less heaven and hell. Get on with your life. After all, God wants you to enjoy life, and He neither thinks you're perfect nor expects you to be. You're only human. So, eat, drink, and be merry! There will be time enough later to put things right with God." Truth mixed with lies surely is the enemy's most effective weapon. Before long the confession lines were again short, Mass attendance was less regular and less fervent, and the moral rot returned with a vengeance to TV and radio. For many, things largely returned to "normal", and another day in which God permitted tragedy to claim the world's attention began to sink into a cloudy sea of forgetfulness.

The September attacks were like the end of the world for those who lost their lives in them. To us who know not when our last day shall come their victims whisper a caution, a holy reminder, even if grief resists their recollection. They remind us that time is unpredictable yet short, and our eternal existence depends upon our being in the state of sanctifying grace at the moment of death -whenever it comes. Do not forget. Let us never forget.