Culture

Twenty Years After 9/11 — and Getting Past the Pandemic

An American flag and red rose at the edge of the south reflecting pool of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in lower Manhattan in New York City, September 8, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
If anxiety is our idea of normal, it’s no way to live.

‘How easy it is, in times of ease, for us to become dependent on our routines, on the established order of our day-to-day existence, to carry us along.” These words greeted subscribers to the monthly Magnificat 20 years ago on the morning after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The meditations in Magnificat (us.magnificat.net — a daily gift in my life) are chosen months in advance. There was no way for the editor to know what we all would be facing on September 12, 2001. There was many a person who saw a divine hand in that selection. It certainly helped hearts. It can again.

The meditation was from Father Walter Ciszek, S. J., a Jesuit priest who spent 23 years in Soviet prisons, convicted of being a “Vatican spy.” The words from his book He Leadeth Me come from a man with the courage of conviction and with the wisdom one gains in suffering well. They are words for we who are pandemic-weary, stunned and despondent by some of what we are seeing on the news and struggling with in our lives. We have a desire for normalcy, but would that be just a false security?

Father Ciszek has thoughts about “normal”:

We don’t have to desire much of the things of this world — to be enamored of riches, for example, or greedy or avaricious — in order to have gained this sense of comfort and well-being, to trust in them as our support — and to take God for granted. It is the status quo that we rely on, that carries us from day to day, and somehow, we begin to lose sight of the fact that under all these things and behind all these things it is God who supports and sustains us. We go along, taking for granted that tomorrow will be very much like today, comfortable in the world we have created for ourselves, secure in the established order we have learned to live with, however imperfect it may be, and give little thought to God at all.

And this is what wowed readers, looking for some insight in the terrorist attacks on the United States two decades ago:

Somehow, then, God must contrive to break through those routines of ours and remind us once again, like Israel, that we are ultimately dependent only upon Him, that He has made us and destined us for life with Him through all eternity, that the things of this world and this world itself are not our lasting city, that his we are and that we must look to Him and turn to Him in everything.

That is not to say that God caused the attacks. He is good, He does not do that. But He must have allowed them. And He may have allowed them because we forget Him. Many of us forgot Him in a whole new way during the pandemic. On the surface, we went virtual as a matter of charity. But it went on and on — and it continues for some. Not too long ago, Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York City told me two stories of priests who encountered people in a grocery store and a liquor store, and he encouraged them to go back to church. Grocery store and liquor stores stayed open all throughout the shutdowns, but the places of worship did not. That seemed to send a clear message about what we consider essential. And what suffering that adds to the pandemic. People can’t walk into a church and encounter God, but they can drown their fear and sorrow in the offerings of the nearest liquor store.

Father Ciszak, in the excerpt from his excellent book in Magnificat, September 12, 2001, continued:

Then it is, perhaps, that he must allow our whole world to be turned upside down in order to remind us it is not our permanent abode or final destiny, to bring us to our senses and restore our sense of values, to turn our thoughts once more to him — even if at first our thoughts are questioning and full of reproaches.

We were questioning 20 years ago, and we are again today.

Then it is that he must remind us again, with terrible clarity, that he meant exactly what he said in those seemingly simple words of the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not be anxious about what you shall eat, or what you shall wear, or where you shall sleep, but seek first the kingdom of God and his justice.”

Goodness, are we anxious! We wonder about the people whom we have welcomed into our country. We wonder about the next terrorist attack. We worry about COVID-19 and variants. We worry about finances — oh goodness, how we do! Enough! There is more to life than fear and demanding security. The future is unknown. All we can do is love. And trust in God. Faith is a gift, and I pray it for you. And if we believers did a better job trusting in Him, we wouldn’t be the nation of fear we sometimes seem to be. Now and then, this is a crucial takeaway. Beatitudinal living makes all the difference.

 

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