A Picture of Hope from 9/11

by Will Deatherage, Executive Director

“We’re getting there! We’re getting there!” the operator says, trying to reassure a worried voice.

“Doesn’t feel like it, man. I’ve got young kids!” replies the panicking man. Their call is soon disconnected.

Soon, another call comes in: “It’s really bad. It’s black. It’s arid. Does anyone else wanna chime in here? We’re young men! We’re not ready to die!” he exclaims. This call eventually meets the fate of the first.

Moments later, the final exchange is made. “Hello! We’re looking… we’re overlooking the financial center. Three of us. Two broken windows… Oh God! OH!”

The frightening sound of crumbling is broken by a more terrifying silence.

The fires of Hell have erupted from two towers. The pitch-black smoke is only broken up by suits, ties, and dresses that occasionally descend upon the screaming spectators. Broadcasts are interrupted, armies of first responders are deployed, and local workers are told to run for their lives. Millions of Americans call their loved ones in sheer distress, many for the last time. Suddenly, the earth shakes, debris flies everywhere, and within seconds there is only one tower left. On the other side of the planet, mobs burn American flags, chanting “Death to America!” and “Beloved Bin Laden!” The world’s Superpower has been angered, and it is prepared to launch an all-out assault against whoever is deemed responsible for this tragedy.

The ethics of the War on Terror are complicated. On one hand, the United States was attacked by a militant group who enjoyed alliances with several governments who were hostile to us. Additionally, several dictators who undoubtedly treated their citizens like cattle were accused of harboring weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, the raw emotion of a culture obsessed with reparations and righteous vengeance greatly impaired our sense of reason and prudence. Almost twenty years later, our nation is haunted by a stigma against our Muslim brothers and sisters, as well as the deaths of hundreds of thousands who gave their lives fighting a war that was largely fueled by anger. The temptation to harbor ill will against entire cultures and societies is still strong today.

Contrast this attitude with that from a scene nearly twenty years prior: On a cold winter day, Pope John Paul II walked into a prison cell. One can only imagine if his once bullet-ridden stomach churned in nervousness. Regardless, the Holy Father set his physical and emotional wounds aside as he reached for the hand of the man who tried to kill him.

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.

Sir 27:30

Why exactly does God condemn wrath, though? As sinners, we have no right to stay angry at others, and it is not our duty to exact vengeance upon those who offend us because our lives are not even ours to begin with. They are God’s, which means that God alone has the authority to righteously judge and punish others. Yes, we need laws to ensure that human dignity is protected, but the moment that law and order becomes oriented towards punishments and revenge (some would argue it already has) it becomes infected by the vice of wrath. The author of Sirach writes:

The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.

Sir 27:30-32

Even God’s wrath is reserved, though. We cannot forget that at Christ’s hour of death, after being tortured and ridiculed in the most humiliating fashion, He ultimately begs for God to grant forgiveness to His persecutors. If God incarnate can seek reconciliation with the very people who tormented him so viciously, then the human race has no excuse to act on anger. The Psalms inform us:

The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

Ps 103: 1-2

The temptation to blame and hate groups of people for our problems extends far beyond terrorism, though. Our modern secular world does not treat Christians very charitably. It seems that the media and corporations can say and do anything they wish if it desecrates Christianity, but the moment that we stand up for Catholic social teaching, we are instantly “cancelled.” I’ve spoken with many Catholics whose response to this is simply to walk away and keep their faiths to themselves. Many of them even cut off all sources of “toxicity” in their lives. I know several Christians who have cut ties with friends because they are liberals, Muslims, or homosexuals. Often, this “detoxification” is actually a passive form of wrath, as it is often done out of fear, spite, and even hatred. This is the opposite of how we are called to respond to those whom we disagree with, as well as those who hurt us. Christ does not want us to abandon the world and alienate its inhabitants. Otherwise, He would have confined His ministries to the mountains rather than the public square. He does not want us to isolate ourselves as we laugh at a crumbling world. God calls us to love, and love requires respectful confrontation.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?” 
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

Mt 18:21

Sometimes I envision Christ urging me to “love your neighbor,” to which I respond “just one of them, right?” I must admit that recently I have found it particularly difficult to swallow my pride, meet people where they are, and give them the love and respect they deserve. Our world is currently one of mass paranoia, deceit, and destruction. But when I hear a political candidate announce their Pro-Choice stance, I try my hardest to hear Christ say “love your neighbor.” When another imprudent government response to COVID threatens the long-term stability of our nation, He still says “love your neighbor.” When our cities are burning down and police are beaten to death, He still says “love your neighbor.” And when I revisit videos of flames erupting from those twin towers because of Islamic extremists, He still says “love your neighbor.”

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