Like the 20e anniversary of the September 11 attacks is coming, we probably all remember the events of the day and their aftermath.
My personal connections included a girl in New York and a niece and brother-in-law who both worked for the Pentagon but were thankfully not there that day. My niece’s office was under renovation, so she was in temporary quarters in another location. Without it, the results of that day could have been more tragic for our family since their usual office was in the destroyed section of the Pentagon.
There are a number of other things about that day that I can remember, but perhaps what was most poignant happened the following Friday at a church near my office in Houston.
The collective sob
Memorial services were held throughout the city. I heard about a mass scheduled for noon this Friday at the nearest Catholic church to my workplace. I decided to use my lunch hour to attend.
Time was running out so I barely got there and found a lack of parking because many, many other people had chosen to come as well. I had to park a few blocks and run to the church. I believe I got the very last seat in the building, and it was only achieved with a lot of wrinkling in the bench.
You couldn’t have brought another person into that church. Not only were the benches crowded, but the aisles were filled with those who had to stand. It occurred to me that a fire marshal would not have approved.
Mass was fairly normal apart from the huge crowd and the circumstances. The homily was short and not deeply deep, but it was not necessary. The celebrant only had to review the reason for the Mass and ask all of us to pray for our country.
Apparently this plea for our nation touched a chord of sadness, patriotism, fear, so much emotion aroused by the attacks, because as the priest finished his homily there was a sound like a collective sob coming from the congregation.
It’s a sound I’ll never forget, although I don’t really have words to describe it. It only lasted a moment, although tears flowed here and there throughout Mass as people struggled with their feelings. Following this unexpected and unpremeditated moment, some cracked at the confirmation of the enormity of our loss and our precarious future.
The Church Magnet
I was touched by the turnout and so happy to see people turn to the Church in these difficult times. It seems instinctive for people to attend church in times of crisis.
I remember the death of President Kennedy. After her death was confirmed, the sisters at my parish school led the eight classes to church to recite a rosary. As if a drumbeat had sounded all over town, people were starting to join us at church, even sympathetic Protestants, and soon our big church was full. It was as if a magnet had drawn them there.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior researcher at the National Review Institute, wrote for September 9, 2021 Angelus News (https://angelusnews.com/faith/why-september-11-2001-was-different/} about this same phenomenon on September 11. She commented: “Twenty years ago we looked for assurance, help and consolation with God. “
She remembered the ‘church doors around [New York City] open and people coming in and out. Watch the video of the prayer service that week at the National Cathedral and you will see a nation calling out to God for help, hope and meaning. We were united.
Lopez continued, “I’ve seen people flock to God. You don’t have to be religious to see it. At the Ground Zero memorial are on display the holy cards people left in their offices, along with signs and mementos of the Masses that would occur daily during rescues and salvage debris in the following days. You could see people praying together on the streets – they wanted and knew they needed God.
However, Lopez did not see this same reaction during the pandemic. On the contrary, it seems that the culture of cancellation has canceled even God.
I hope the multiple TV shows on September 11 will remind Americans of a time when we were united as a people instead of being so polarized. I hope we will come together and follow our natural instincts again to seek God.