Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
This Sunday marks the 10th Anniversary of the attack on the United States by the forces of Radical Jihadi Islam. Much can be said, and will be, about the vicious senselessness of the attacks, about the courage of the rescuers, about the grief of the families, about the valor of the passengers of United Flight 93, about the many stories of bravery, honor and heartbreak that come down to us from that terrible day. It’s been 10 years, and yet for many of us it is still too painful to remember without tears, in part because the mass media and the internet made it a “family event” for the entire globe. I have good friends who were simultaneous witnesses to the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. We all followed it, aghast, in real time. When I think about it, I still feel the knot in my stomach, the anger, the desire for vengeance, the tears. All the emotions are still there and need only the direct focus of the gaze on that part of the heart to bring it all back. For those who lost somebody they loved, I can only imagine the pain.
9/11 is something else for us though. It is the first post-modern tragedy in Western history. This is reflected, first and foremost, in works of art like this:
Yes, that ugly thing is actually what our elites call a “memorial”. It calls us simply and solely to remember this world and the fact that the victims are dead. It demands we have no faith, slaps us for the sin of hope, and mocks us for charity. It rubs our noses in grave dirt and kicks us in the teeth if we try to look beyond the ruthless secularism of the post-modern West. I hope it is vandalized because it is an act of vandalism. Our dead deserve far better than that piece of slag. They cry out for a hope beyond this vale of tears. And thanks be to God, they still have one in our deathless Lord, to whom we can still pray on their behalf.
Equally telling of the poverty of post-Christian culture is the fact that postmodernity, by common consensus, has agreed to give this tragedy no name. Our history is littered with events with names: The Battle of Bunker Hill, Fort Sumter, the Assassination of Lincoln, Armistice Day, Pearl Harbor, the Moon Landing, the Challenger Disaster, etc. “9/11” is not a name. It is a coordinate on a calendar, a sort of statistic. Postmodernity could give it no name for the same reason Mayor Michael Bloomberg could not bear to allow clergy or the heros of that horrible day (people like this):
... to attend his little “memorial” ceremony: because our elites are trying to figure out how to have a culture like the “Church of Christ without Christ” in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, a place where “the deaf don’t hear, the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk, the dumb don’t talk, and the dead stay that way.” We cannot memorialize it with a name because we cannot give it a meaning. That would be dangerously religious-sounding. So our elite propose to us rituals without transcendent meaning, secularity without a vision beyond this world, memorials with no faintest hint of hope.
Of course, the irrepressible urge of the human person to seek meaning—to find hope in tragedy and life in death—cannot be stopped by pressure from postmodern elites. And so, the workers who toiled in the rubble of the World Trade Center made the Cross at Ground Zero a focal point of their prayers as they bore the anguish of their bitter work. (The Punishers of Popular Piety have, of course, sought to banish that Cross.) Likewise, the vast majority of Americans fell to their knees on that day and the days following as they sought to find hope and life in the face of such terrible pain and destruction. That is still the norm as we approach this weekend and the memory of that awful day. So the best way we as Catholics can remember 9/11 is to go to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and pray for our dead, knowing that love is stronger than death and that the power of the Holy Spirit is not blunted or slowed by death—or by bureaucrats.
As for Mr. Bloomberg’s Sanitized-for-Your Protection “memorial service,” I cannot but hope that New Yorkers, citizens of that wonderful, brassy and deeply religious town, will simply ignore their elite’s attempts to make a desert and call it peace this Sunday. My fervent hope is that a crowd gathers outside St. Pat’s, that representatives of every major religion in the NY area (yes, including Muslims, who lost many innocent people in the towers that day) are allowed to speak, to mourn their dead, to commend them to God according to their consciences and traditions, and to grieve together for all we Americans lost that day. I hope that crowd then heads over to Ground Zero and—very peacefully and very loudly—breaks forth in the Prayer of St. Francis at full voice immediately following Michael Bloomberg’s speech filled with empty and meaningless post-modern platitudes. September 11 is a day for the grieving heart to reach out to God who pities us in our sorrow, not for the sterile post-modern puritanism of the Correct Bureaucrat. Let us, as a people, mourn and love our dead and commend them to God as we say, “Mr. Bloomberg. They are his, not yours.”
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.