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Patriot Day, September 11, 2014: Who Are We Becoming Thirteen Years After the Attack on Our Nation?


As I write this reflection, the news is filled with speculation over what President Obama will say tonight in his much anticipated National Address. The whole Nation is pensive, wondering what we will do as the escalating threats and despicable acts of the insidiously evil Islamic State reveal the very face of hell.

Thirteen years ago, 19 terrorists, claiming to be acting in fidelity to Allah, hijacked four commercial airliners and intentionally massacred 2,977 men, women and children in New York City, New York, Washington, DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The plane that crashed in that Pennsylvania field was supposed to hit the United States Capitol Building.

The brazen nature of their act of war against the United States was a clear signal of a turn in U.S. history. We were vulnerable on our own shores.

At 8:46 A.M, ET, American Airlines flight 11, on its way from Boston to Los Angeles, crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 A.M., ET, United Airlines Flight 175, also traveling from Boston to L.A., crashed into the South Tower. The shock rippled through the Nation like a tectonic plate shift.

Then, at 9:37 A.M., ET, American Airlines Flight 77, traveling from Dulles, Virginia to Los Angeles, California, flew right into the Pentagon Building. It was surreal. America was in collective shock. The command center of our military forces was struck by a hijacked commercial airliner, filled with passengers, turned into a missile.

Minutes later, at 10:03, A.M, ET, United Airlines Flight 93, on its way from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, was, at least for a short time, diverted by the heroic action of passengers, and crashed into a filed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

As the reports of those acts of war hit media sources, the visual images of the South and North Towers of the World Trade Center, a once great center of commerce, collapsing in a pile of rubble and smoke, captured the collective eyes and heart of a Nation in utter shock. All of this occurred within 102 minutes. 102 minutes shook the United States of America to its core.

Osama Bin Laden, the self proclaimed leader of that evil band of Islamists calling itself al-Qaeda, an arabic word meaning “the base”, not only admitted the heinous act of war, but gloated in its aftermath as if it were some kind of noble act!

Thirteen years later, we still face the evil acts of that organization. It is not decimated, it is growing and spreading with new leaders and under new names.

Worse yet, we recently witnessed the beheading of two of our journalists by the Islamic State. Osama Bin Laden may be dead but Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the self proclaimed Caliph, has taken his place, as a symbol of organized evil being inflicted upon the whole world.

ISIS, ISIL or IS has established a Caliphate in lands formerly referred to as Syria and Iraq.

It is engaged in a pattern of beheading, crucifixion, group slaughter and terrorist intimidation against innocent men, women and children. It hates Christians, the United States and the West. Once again, claiming to be engaged in all of this in the name of Allah, it calls what is evil good.

The source behind this entire undertaking called ISIS,ISIL,IS or the Islamic State is not the good God, but the devil himself.  Everytime I hear or read the madness offered by leaders of this dark movement, I am reminded of the words spoken through the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah ” Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! “(Is. 5:20)

September 11, 2001 changed the United States of America. Every anniversary since that day is an existential moment, an invitation to reflect on who we are  becoming. The actions of those evil men and the heroic response of those ground zero heroes call us to such a reflection.

So too, does the continuing menace of the Islamic State.

I vividly remember the events of that fateful day. I remember where I was – and the immediate way in which I responded. Thirteen years later, the memory of the day evokes a deep seated response within me – a love for this Nation, accompanied by a deep concern for her future.

On this thirteenth anniversary we should honor the memory of the almost 3000 innocent people whose lives were violently taken by evil men who claimed that their god told them to kill the innocent. Along with mourning the victims of the attack on the US, we should also mourn the loss of the many thousands more who have been murdered by the Islamic State.

Those evil men crashed two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another into the Pentagon, and tried to crash the fourth in the U.S. Capitol, had the explicit intention of killing as many innocent people as possible.

We are rightly inspired by the courageous response of our fellow countrymen and women. Every year since September 11, 2001, we are reminded of who we can become as a good and free people. The heroes of Ground Zero were lights in an age of increasing darkness. That darkness still threatens.In fact, it seems to be growing.

On December 18, 2001, President George W. Bush signed a Joint House Resolution #71, designating September 11th as Patriot Day. We should observe this day by reflecting on what it means to be a Patriot in the United States of America. What is the uniqueness of what historians call the American experiment?

Just this past Tuesday, a friend of mine wore an old t shirt to our work out at the gym. It was imprinted with “United We Stand” and “One Nation under God” and bore the date, 9/11. Are we united and do we stand under God?

I remember the amazing courage demonstrated on September 11, 2001, when the first responders rushed into that devastated wasteland in New York. I remember the way we came together in prayer. All over the Nation, following the lead of people in the streets all over New York City, we prayed. I remember the steely resolve, as we responded to the horrible acts of war committed against us. We quickly became “One Nation, Under God, and Indivisible”, as we cleared away the rubble in the streets, and rediscovered a treasure in our National heart.

We are called to be One Nation, Under God.

As we consider the words of President Obama last night, walk through this 13th anniversary together, and face this new threat from the Islamic State, it is time to pause and reflect on who we are becoming.  Are we a free people? Or, have we lost sight of the source of our liberties, the God who brought us together in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and enabled us to rediscover our identity as a free people.

A Reflection on Freedom

There is no word which echoes more passionately within the heart than that word freedom. No word that evokes a deeper response. This Nation was founded by men and women who experienced threats to freedom’s promise and responded to them with heroism. It has beckoned from its birth to all who hear freedom’s invitation, to come and see it lived.

These compelling words written by Emma Lazarus are engraved on the pedestal of the Lady Liberty in New York’s Ellis Island:  “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Freedom’s lamp still shines beside that golden door. However, that light is being diminished by counterfeit notions of freedom which fail to recognize its source, comprehend its promise, accept its obligations or believe in its potential to build a better future.

Saint John Paul II was one of the architects of the freedom undertaking which brought down the Berlin Wall at the end of the last century. He once wrote, Human freedom belongs to us as creatures; it is a freedom which is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly. It is an essential part of that creaturely image which is the basis of the dignity of the person.

The yearning for true freedom is present in all men and women.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians Christians, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1)

The Lord Jesus Christ called us along the path to freedom with this promise, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32)

There is a struggle being waged over the meaning of freedom in this hour. It is a contest with extraordinary implications. Almost every contemporary concern that we face can be positioned within this struggle. As Christians, we know that freedom has a specific meaning.

Viewing it within that context is the only way we can obtain the desired result of happiness, social harmony and human flourishing, as individuals, as families, as communities, as Nations and as a global community of Nations.

How one defines freedom will influence the way that he or she views almost everything. Freedom has consequences. Freedom carries with it great responsibility. The capacity to make choices is what makes us human persons. What we choose either humanizes us further or leads us, ultimately, into slavery.

The capacity to choose reflects the Imago Dei, the Image of God, within every human person. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church wrote in their document on the Mission of the Church in the Modern World, Authentic freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image within man. (GS # 17)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rightly warned us that a dictatorship of relativism has been unleashed in this secularist age. The antidote is the message which the Church proclaims, that freedom must be exercised in relationship to truth or it is illusory and will lead to anarchy.

In 2005, he told an assembly of families: Today’s various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man.

This anarchic freedom is what Saint John Paul referred to as a counterfeit notion of freedom.  It can lead to something he warned of in his encyclical letter The Gospel of Life as the “death of true freedom”. This anarchic counterfeit masquerading as freedom permeates the West and is leading us into a new form of slavery.

Exposing such erroneous interpretations of freedom – and then proclaiming the path to true freedom – is our task as Christians living in an age which cries out for true freedom.  In one of his seminal works entitled “Introduction to Christianity” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote: one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom.

Philosophy deals with the existential questions. The men and women of this age are asking the fundamental questions about the meaning of life which men and women of every age have asked. They hunger for truth and they yearn to be truly free. They will never be satisfied without God, who is the source, author and way to freedom because he is also the source of all that is true and good.

The contemporary age is intoxicated on the wine of a false notion of freedom as a raw power over others who are weaker. An example the illusory claim of a “right” to do whatever one wills, including taking the lives of our first neighbors in the womb.

On May 8, 2005 Pope Emeritus Benedict opined concerning legal abortion and creeping euthanasia: The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery.

The new slavery of this age is being unleashed as human persons are routinely treated as property to be used and disposed of at will. We are becoming what Pope Francis called a throwaway culture.

We are are losing true freedom and as we willingly allow ourselves to be bound by the chains of our self-delusion, materialism and nihilism; imprisoned by the lie of what Pope Emeritus Benedict once called anarchic freedom.

To an age deceived by false concepts of freedom the Christian Church proclaims the unchangeable truth that some choices are always and everywhere wrong – choosing them does not make one free, rather it erodes authentic human freedom and leads to slavery and tyranny.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the wrong exercises of human freedom and reminds us of the implications of our use of our power to choose when it affirms: Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. (CCC, 1861.)

Freedom is not about the fact that we can choose. It is about what we choose. Authentic Human Freedom will never be found in choices which are made against God, against the truth and against the Natural Moral Law.

On the thirteenth anniversary of September 11th America should take time to reflect on who are becoming as a Nation. I am using the image of the cross at ground zero to accompany this article intentionally.

I will never forget when that cross emerged out of the rubble in the aftermath of the bombing of the World Trade Center by evil Islamist terrorists.

We all knew it was a sign.

Sadly, there was a lawsuit filed to attempt to remove images of that Cross from the National September 11 memorial and Museum in New York. It took an Appeals Court to stop that effort.

That Cross, rising from the rubble, visually demonstrates the source of true freedom. It is time we got back to it.


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