Prior to 2001, September 11 was not a particularly notable date in any calendar (unless it happened to have been your birthday). For those involved in university life, it tended to fall during the business of the beginning of a Fall term and passed largely unnoticed. In 2001, September 11 was a Tuesday. I was working at the UNLV Newman Center and took Tuesdays off in those days. I went to work on that Tuesday anticipating the need for the University community to respond to the unfolding tragedies on the East Coast. By noon, we had organized the first of many inter-faith events at UNLV that would typify responses all over the country. 9/11 was made a significant day ten years ago and continues to be one of those generational markers that defines our culture for a time. It has become a national day of remembrance, a national day of mourning, and time to put balm on our national wounds.
As we remember those who died in the violence of terrorism a decade ago, it is important for us to honor the day in its proper context. Yes, nearly 3000 people lost their lives to violence and hatred on 9/11, but many more have lost their lives in other acts of terror before and since. Many more thousands have died in the terror of war since 9/11. Many thousands have lost their lives in natural disasters both at home and abroad since 9/11. Many have lost their lives to famine and starvation since 9/11. Many thousands (in fact, millions) of the unborn have lost their lives in the terror of abortion before and since 9/11. 9/11 is significant to us as Americans because it shattered our notion of security. The lives lost on that day are precious in our eyes, in God’s eyes. But in God’s eyes, they are no more precious than all those other lives lost in willful human terror and natural disasters.
As Americans, we can sometimes be myopic in our remembrance and mourning. As Christians, we are called to work to relieve all human suffering, whether it comes from terror or disaster. There is also a great American tradition of such relief stretching all the way back to our founding. Through most of our history, the world has been able to look to the resource-rich United States for support in all suffering. Since 9/11 much of the world has shared in our mourning. The best way for us (Americans) to remember those who were lost on September 11, 2001, is to make sure that the rich American and Christian traditions of charity and justice are extended to ALL throughout the world.
Fr. Bart, O.P.