Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never, Never Forget || 9/11 & the Ever-Present Christ

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.
We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.
We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.
God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.


This is my article running over at Patheos today. It is reprinted here in its entirety.

9/11 and the Ever-Present Christ 
By Pat Gohn

For those who observed it, it was unlike any other day in recorded history. It was seared into the memories of those who lived it. It changed lives forever. In the retelling, its horror still scandalizes people. And writers will continue, and well they should, to use the strongest language possible to describe it…

Total annihilation.

Immolation of all things holy.

Innocent human life crushed.

Grisly death.

Indeed, the blackest day.

Meanwhile, she stood by watching it, buffeted by the morbid cataclysm set in motion… eyes riveted, unable to help, and unable to walk away. 

Then, all of a sudden, the earth quaked. And an excruciating sword of suffering sliced once-recognizable lives into two distinct halves -- before and after that hour.

Hell was having a proverbial field day. Heaven cried.

As Jesus died upon the cross, Mary, his mother, deeply pained and grieving, stood by.

The death of the Savior, God’s Only Begotten Son, bore the sins of every single evil action in history  -- before, during, and since the Crucifixion. In no uncertain terms, despite the wickedness, vice, depravity, sadness, and bad news that unhinges the strongest souls, death and sin have been permanently vanquished through the shedding of the blood of Jesus.

The body of Jesus was raised to perfection after death. Even in its glorified state, it still bears the scars from the wounds of his suffering. Not to remind him of the victory over death and sin, but to remind us. There is the hope of heaven -- or restoration and reunion -- through the Divine Mercy of Jesus who was crucified, died, and was raised. He lives to come again.


For the Christian, suffering, atrocities, and death, are not the ultimate end.

But, events like “9/11” still shock us.

And rile us.

Intuitively, deep down, we know there is more to life. Humanity knows this about itself. The will to survive and live beyond the grave is innate to the species. It is a holy desire designed in us by God himself, as he crafted man and woman in his image! God our Creator knows us best and longs to see us live in union with him and one another. He built that same longing into us. We know it in the deepest recesses of our hearts, but our experience of it is often dulled by sin and miseries.

The death of innocents, especially when it is perpetrated by our inhumanity toward one another, pummels and bruises our convictions about what is good and true and beautiful about life, and about a God who loves us. Suffering and evil taints our reality to the point that we actually become accustomed to tragedy. Each time we play a different part. We might be a victim, a survivor, or an onlooker.

But the truth is that no matter where we are on the tragic continuum, God is deliberately near to each soul he has made. The Lover of our souls is intimately aware of our circumstances and profoundly in tune with our sufferings.

We know this because God, in Jesus, became a man, a human person like us in all things except sin. He lived, as the prophet Isaiah says, as “a suffering Servant,” acquainted with our grief. Entering in the deepest suffering on Calvary, and combating the darkest evil, Jesus gave us a way through the sufferings, sin, and evil we face. It would not be easy, and it would require grace from him.

Jesus knows every victim, survivor, and onlooker even if they cannot fathom God’s nearness to them amidst carnage.

How does one go on? How does one begin to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of tragedy? 

One piece at a time.

I found it comforting that, in the careful sifting of the fresh rubble of the World Trade Center twin towers, crews performing search and recovery duties unearthed an iron cross. Made of fused I-beams from WTC Tower One, it was erected at Ground Zero as a symbol of hope to the onlookers on site and around the world. The blessing of the cross makes it something more than a symbol. It becomes a sacramental. A sacramental points to something much larger than itself. It reminds us of the sacred in our ordinary lives.

On a day like “9/11”, the cross should remind us of the presence of Jesus in the midst of all suffering. Thanks to Christ’s victory Calvary’s Cross, it bears particular witness to Christ’s presence that day -- inside the doomed, scorched wreckage.  For, God is everywhere, and Christ is especially present to every person at the moment of death.

"Am I a God at hand, says the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23: 23-24.)

Christ, the crucified-now-Risen Lord, was found in the infernos that day. Christ was in the fiery heat, and the blackness of the smoke. His saving power alone could operate amid the heinous, diabolical treachery that took those lives that day.

On “9/11” Jesus stood as the threshold through death to eternity for every departed soul in Manhattan, Washington DC, and Shanksville PA.  Christ the Victim met every victim, those who suffered immediate death, and those who died lingering deaths from their wounds.

Who knows what instantaneous conversions may have taken place in those final moments of life for the victims of “9/11”?

But Jesus has a way of being present to those who suffer both in the short as victims and long term as survivors and onlookers.

Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace...
Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the Cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil, of sin and death. He conquered the author of evil, Satan...
For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.  (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, 1984, par. 26)
Jesus Christ is present in every human suffering.

In ten years since “9/11”, Jesus still promises to be present to the survivors and onlookers: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4.) Moreover, Jesus sends his mother, Mary, who once suffered grievously at the Cross, to supernaturally aid us in sorrow.

This is not all: the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother.... As though by a continuation of that motherhood which by the power of the Holy Spirit had given him life, the dying Christ conferred upon the ever Virgin Mary a new kind of motherhood—spiritual and universal—towards all human beings, so that every individual, during the pilgrimage of faith, might remain, together with her, closely united to him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of this Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of God.  (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, 1984, par. 26.)
The woman who stood by the bleeding, dying Christ has an important role to play for us. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the Catholic Church has long recognized September as dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.)

Mary’s ways teach us how to sift things. She models faith-filled suffering and a holy patience for the playing out of difficulties of one’s life. Mary knows how to grieve enormous losses. Despite sorrows piercing her heart, she chose to believe in the more of God’s economy: sharing in the cross with Christ lessens the burden for someone else.

 [Mary lives] this… Gospel of suffering. In her, the many and intense sufferings were… not only a proof of her unshakeable faith but also a contribution to the redemption of all. In reality, from the time of her secret conversation with the angel, she began to see in her mission as a mother her "destiny" to share, in a singular and unrepeatable way, in the very mission of her Son. And she very soon received a confirmation of this… in the solemn words of the aged Simeon, when he spoke of a sharp sword that would pierce her heart. Yet a further confirmation was in the anxieties and privations of the hurried flight into Egypt, caused by the cruel decision of Herod.
And… it was on Calvary that Mary's suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysterious and supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world. Her ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the Cross together with the Beloved Disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her Son. (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, 1984, par. 25.)
Mary was the first person to join her sufferings to that of Christ, the crucified One, the Victim whose blood saves us. When we follow her lead, our meager offerings of suffering somehow become redemptive… they have the power to help someone else in need, thereby allowing good to come of our pain.

Vatican II taught: “Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow grow meaningful.”

The way of suffering truly is the way of saints-in-the-making, be they victims, survivors or onlookers. It is the way we work, pray, and live through the worries and anxieties and difficulties of a post-“9/11” world.

This day, and every day, may we join our sufferings to Jesus, like Mary did.

Let there also gather beneath the Cross all people of good will, for on this Cross is the "Redeemer of man", the Man of Sorrows, who has taken upon himself the physical and moral sufferings of the people of all times, so that in love they may find the salvific meaning of their sorrow and valid answers to all of their questions.
Together with Mary, Mother of Christ, who stood beneath the Cross, we pause beside all the crosses of contemporary man.
We invoke all the Saints, who down the centuries in a special way shared in the suffering of Christ. We ask them to support us.
And we ask all you who suffer to support us. We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity. In the terrible battle between the forces of good and evil, revealed to our eyes by our modern world, may your suffering in union with the Cross of Christ be victorious! (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, 1984, par. 31.)


I thought this was interesting... 

More 9/11-related posts in yesterday's Among Women ReadHer. Including links to this new Smithsonian documentary: 9/11, the Day That Changed the World.

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