Last Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and D.C. in which thousands of Americans died at the hands of hatred and malice. In now-perennial custom, we are asked again on 9/11 never to forget the lives lost that day. We are asked to mourn the dead, sympathize with the living and celebrate the heroism shown, particularly in New York City.
We ought to ask ourselves, however, what form this mourning, sympathizing and celebrating should take. In never forgetting, we ought to ask ourselves how to remember.
The temptation is to remember with anger and vengeance — that is, to remember as Achilles remembered his dear Patroklos. Achilles mourned with spear in hand, thirsty for the blood of the Trojans. That is, of course, no way to remember, but rather the best way to forget the dignity and value of the cherished dead. We ought to remember more boldly, more virtuously, more courageously and — dare I say — more eucharistically. We ought to remember with love in our hearts.
When Christ told his Apostles, “do this in memory of me,” he intended that they remember his sacrifice. He did not intend an empty memory. He intended that they take action so that His sacrifice would live on, ever new and quite literally, in every Eucharistic celebration. It is heresy to suppose that the priest’s words, “this is my body” carry no true meaning and no real call; likewise, it is heresy to utter the words “never forget” without intending a true and real remembrance — a remembrance of action.
The memorial action Christ beseeched his apostles to take involves no vengeance or hatred. It has been a longstanding teaching of the Church to condemn the blaming of the Jews for the Crucifixion. But it was the individual guilt of the tormentors and the original guilt of mankind that crucified Christ. That guilt cannot be transferred to the Jewish people.
So too, it is the individual guilt of the terrorists and the original guilt of mankind that felled the twin towers. That guilt cannot be transferred to Islam as a whole.
The mission of the Church in remembering Christ’s sacrifice has been to perpetuate Christ’s love on the cross, not his suffering. Feed the hungry, care for the poor, tend to the sick, etc. — with no flippancy.
Likewise, the mission of America in remembering 9/11 ought to be to perpetuate the heroism and selflessness of the fallen, not their suffering. Neither naivete nor cloudy idealism demands this, but rather a very realistic call to greater virtue.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the first responders paid no head to the conflict and hatred of the moment but fixed their eyes only on the work they needed to do; they heard the call to greater virtue.
Should any be tempted to think that 9/11’s lesson applies only politically or that it is irrelevant to our little University of Dallas, let them think again. Conflict and hatred arise on an individual, communal and national scale. In each instance, let us never forget the virtue taught by 9/11, and so remember to always fix our eyes on the good work at hand.