Here is the opening of my "Opening the Word" column in today's edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper:
“To err is human,” wrote Alexander Pope, “to forgive, divine.” Alas, modern readers sometimes assume that “err” refers to an innocent mistake or laughable foible. But to err (from the Latin, errare) means to depart from moral truth, to spurn right action. Pope was making reference to this statement by St. Augustine: “To err is human, but to persist in error out of pride is diabolical.”
This same truth is presented in today’s reading from Sirach: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” The text contrasts vengeance with forgiveness. It makes clear all men are sinners; the questions that follow are vital for everyone: Will I forgive those who have committed injustices against me? Will I seek pardon for my sins, knowing life is short and God is a just judge?
It is always challenging to hear this passage, but it is especially difficult to contemplate, I think, on the 10th anniversary of the violent attacks we now simply call 9/11. What took place that day was diabolical, even while the brave and selfless response of so many to the pain and death around them was dramatic and inspiring. The questions raised by such violence are painful and trying. How, in the face of such evil and destruction, can we forgive those who trespass against us, and who wish to destroy us?
We can see why Pope would write that forgiveness is divine, for man’s natural inclination is toward revenge and hatred. We might feel the same desire for retaliation when we are victims of a lie, treated unjustly, mocked for stating the truth or “crucified” for our beliefs. Of course, Jesus Christ was the victim of lies, was treated unjustly, was mocked for being the Truth and was crucified — literally. And yet the Savior cried out, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Read the entire column at OSV.com (subscription required).
God has the last word.
Of all the reflections made on and lessons taken from the September 11th attacks on the United States ten years ago, would it be presumptuous for me to suggest that this is the most important?
We won’t ever fully make sense or have peace about what happened. It was evil, what was done to those innocent Americans – to the men and women whose barbecued remains lingered in the Manhattan metropolitan air for days afterward, including in National Review’s offices where I was that day, uncomfortably close to the site of the attacks.
But you didn’t have to smell what I did or see the people hanging “Missing” signs on every available lamppost and wall where their loved ones might be recognized – what for many would only prove to be an early memorial to someone murdered that day. That coming together in the hours, days and weeks afterward had something to do with the shock of confrontation with evil that everyone within reach of that day’s images felt. Some say we all changed that day.
But did we?
Prolific journalist Russell Shaw has an excellent article in Our Sunday Visitor newspaper about several different aspects of 9/11: "Sept 10, 2011: Ten Years Later, We Remember".
Peter Leithart, on FirstThings.com, argues, "The message of 9/11 was always this: The gods are still back, and they are here to stay." Meanwhile, Michael Novak, on NRO, contends, "Ten years after Sept. 11, 2001, the world has a different face, a wholly new (well, fairly ancient) set of problems, and above all, a new promise."
Five years ago, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., wrote an excellent essay for Ignatius Insight, titled, "9/11 Revisited"; it is still a good and timely read. An snippet:
I argued from the very beginning that the attacks had already begun in the previous two decades with various bombings of ships, embassies, and aircraft in other places throughout the world, and that the driving motivation behind them was not secular, nor political, but religious. What was going on came from a theological understanding of Muslim purpose in the world. Even those Muslims, however few or many they be, who did not think that such means were the wisest ones to use, none the less, understood the legitimacy of the purpose behind them.
I further argued that, by not acknowledging this motivation, we, in a sense, did not do justice to what was going on; we did not, that is, do justice to the men who conceived and carried out the destructive plan. We thus wandered off into fields of explanation that were elaborate, sophisticated, "scientific," and often self-serving, but which did not correspond to what we were seeing, to what these men said of themselves. Basically, it seemed to me that by calling this a war on "terrorism" a war against "fanatics" or "madmen," we, in a real way, demeaned both our enemies and ourselves. We did not want to look in the eye of the real storm.
The USCCB has posted a piece, "A Time for Remembrance, Resolve and Renewal: Statement on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11", authored by Archbishop Timothy Dolan President; it concludes:
This tenth anniversary of 9/11 can be a time of renewal.Ten years ago we came together across religious, political, social and ethnic lines to stand as one people to heal wounds and defend against terrorism.As we face today's challenges of people out of work, families struggling, and the continuing dangers of wars and terrorism, let us summon the 9/11 spirit of unity to confront our challenges.Let us pray that the lasting legacy of 9/11 is not fear, but rather hope for a world renewed.
In remembering the fateful events of September 11, 2001, may we resolve to put aside our differences and join together in the task of renewing our nation and world.Let us make our own the prayer of Pope Benedict XVI when he visited Ground Zero in New York in 2008:
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….
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.
There are many, many articles and essays about 9/11, and I'll probably add links on this post to more of them in the next day or so.