Since Sept. 11 not a day has passed without reminders of the tragedy being thrust before us. Grief, loss and mourning remain part of our national consciousness, like a dull ache that sometimes becomes acute. Advent, Christmas and the coming of a new year, the first without lost loved ones, will be a time of deep emotion for bereaved families especially, but also for our country as a whole.
Soon after the attacks, religious leaders offered solace and comfort in the face of terrible evil. They also asked that we examine ourselves, not suggesting that these tragedies were in any way justified or a punishment for sin, but restating an existential spiritual truth: we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. At times of profound emotion and awareness of weakness, we are best able to engage in an examination of conscience and also be attentive to all who are in pain.
Without suggesting that one area is more important than another, some self-examination might be in order regarding our attitude toward immigrants and refugees. The Catholic Church was a major leader in the assimilation of immigrants all through the 19th and 20th centuries. We must enhance and expand this sterling record in the century just begun by welcoming immigrants into our country and our church. Our national policies, even at a time of heightened security, must reflect the tradition of welcome and generosity that has enriched us immeasureably.
The position and role of women in society has been the subject of focus, especially as we learn more about the multiple atrocities perpetrated against women throughout the world. (Even the joy that has attended the birth of a Japanese princess is marred by a present law there that would prevent her from occupying her throne.) Although in the United States society has made great strides to advance the dignity of women, there remains much to be done.
The sacredness of human life must also remain a priority. The epidemic of abortion weakens us daily. The acceptance of euthanasia in some parts of our country is deeply troubling. We must not lose heart even where there seems to be little progress. The increasing unease with which citizens and government view the death penalty demonstrates that hearts can be softened.
Our nation’s conduct of world affairs must reflect the best side of our own national awareness. Our track record is not good when it comes to foreign aid. Far too much is spent on making war possible and far too little is spent on promoting good health throughout the world. Support for just societies everywhere in the world is the best guarantor of peace and prosperity for ourselves. Our toleration of war profiteers and traffickers in the arms trade does not do us credit. We have a preeminent position in the world. With that comes greater responsibility than we had when we were a relatively small and self-sufficient nation. We are the creators of globalization and we have an obligation to see that it is a positive force for all the inhabitants of the globe.
Racism is still a reality and a persistent curse among us. Our enemies did not distinguish those whom they killed according to race, religion or ethnicity. Our solidarity in suffering must lead to a more just society here at home, free of prejudice and discrimination.
We are a prosperous country, one that enjoys the benefits of our own hard work and our God-given natural resources. But we sometimes seem to be so taken with materialism and consumerism that we become a parody of ourselves. The search for the latest gadget overtakes the quest for true fulfillment.
we are vulnerable, despite all our technical capability. We can be and have been wounded. Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels, after viewing the gaping pit at ground zero in lower Manhattan, likened it to the wound in the side of Christ, from which blood and water flowed, grace and redemption. The very place of evil, suffering and death is also the site of generosity, heroism and determination. That site, and the date of its passion, will be forever linked not only to suffering and death but also to our capacity for altruism. The names and the faces of those who ran toward danger to save others will not be forgotten. Those men and women proved in an instant that instinctive heroism is not a fantasy. Already that great good is an evident outcome of the tragedy.
Our woundedness and suffering have also allowed us to turn to God in a way that our power and possessions did not. And our self-examination allows us see ourselves as dependent on a loving God who, in our poverty, hears the cry of the poor. Unable to control the world, we are better able to pray the prayer that Jesus taught us: Thy kingdom come.