Finding and Losing God on 9/11


Accounts abound of how individuals found faith in God on September 11, 2001. But some people, including some young people, lost their faith that day.

Before his final interview for a lucrative job, John Jacobs stopped to buy a fashionable tie at an exclusive men’s boutique four blocks away from the Twin Towers. Annoyed by the fastidious salesman who was taking too long to process his credit card, Jacobs decided to pay cash for the transaction rather than risk arriving late for his appointment. As he was exiting the store, American Airlines Flight 11 hit the first building. A year later, when the shop was able to reopen, Jacobs returned to thank the clerk for inadvertently saving his life. He also thanks the Lord every day for the guardian angel God provides to watch over us and calm us especially when we are annoyed or in a hurry.

Three months after the terrorist attacks, 46 people crowded into the tiny conference room at the Catholic Guild for the Blind in Manhattan. They came to listen to Michael Hingson while his guide dog, Roselle, slept peacefully at his feet. Hingson recounted his anxious descent leading 30 people down the narrow stairwell from the 78th floor of the North Tower. They all were following his faithful, tireless golden lab. At several landings the descending employees had to step aside to allow firefighters carrying over 60 pounds of gear to ascend the stairs. All those helmeted heroes died. Upon reaching the lobby Hingson stepped into four inches of water, which had accumulated from the fire truck nozzles, but he feared it might be mixed with airplane fuel. He knew Roselle would be thirsty and said his greatest struggle was keeping her from lapping up any of the contaminated liquid. He also thanked God for rescuing 31 exhausted people and one very parched dog.

In a quiet living room, far from the chaos of 2,977 people being killed and more than 6,000 others being injured, was 12-year-old Doreen kneeling next to her mother. She was praying that her uncle who worked at the 107th floor Windows on the World Restaurant would survive. He did not. Years later she admitted it was on that day that she lost her faith in God for not answering her prayer. To this day she still cannot understand why her mom, whose brother never came home to his wife and three children, did not lose her faith in God as well.

Thomas Merton indicated that the true purpose of prayer is not to obtain what we want according to our plans but to accept whatever will happen according to God’s plan. He says by praying in this way we are actually freed by God from this world so that we can live in this world. The strength that comes from praying is this: we do not continue to live on earth as ourselves alone but as people who are united with God and therefore able to love as God loves. This may not make our crosses easier to understand, but it helps make them easier to bear.

Holy Homework: Let’s print out a collage of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., and keep it in sight during this month that marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Let’s offer prayers for all who died on that day and their loved ones, prayers of thanksgiving for all who found faith on that day, and prayers of petition that those who lost their faith on that day may find it once again.

Father Pagliari's monthly Holy Homework column can be found at https://www.cny.org.

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