A decade ago, columnist David O’Brien wrote: “American individualism is real, and it is good. When their lives were on the line, many endangered Americans thought not of themselves but of others. Evil is real; sin is real; humanity is limited, but love is not. On 9/11, the United States of America was tested, and, for one shining moment, it was found worthy.”
On that day, many heroes emerged. First among them were the flight attendants on American Airlines Flight #11 who quickly alerted airline executives of a hijacking in the sky early that morning before national leaders and the world were, in turn, alerted to the unfolding atrocities. Among them, also, were the brave passengers of United Airlines Flight #93 who, notified by loved ones of the terrorist acts and knowing that they would die, initiated the first counterattack in the War Against Terror with the famous battle cry, “Let’s Roll!” as they averted the destruction of another iconic national structure and, by their sacrifice, protected and saved many more lives. These warriors remind us that courage is not the absence of fear but the act of doing something brave, right, holy, and good while still being afraid. There were heroes at the World Trade Center, including Father Mychal Judge, OFM, fire chaplain, who was on the scene immediately to anoint bodies and save lives before he, too, was killed and designated as “Victim 0001,” the first identified body on that fateful day. The night before, he said Mass for firefighters and in his homily reminded them of their task: “We are here to do what God has commissioned us to do. We get on that rig, go out, and take care of the job—no matter how big or small. We have no idea of what God is calling us to do…but He needs us. Let Him take us where He wants us to go. Let us meet who He wants us to meet…”
There were many who met in the smoke-filled stairwells of the twin towers, including many earthly and heavenly angels. There were millions of First Responders that activated the American Spirit that day. From Emergency Medical Teams that descended upon New York and Washington, D.C. working round the clock with little sleep…to those, coast-to-coast, praying in churches and donating blood…to members of our military fighting on the battlefields of foreign soil over the past twenty years, that spirit is strong. It is a spirit that is European, Asian, African, Latino, Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, Navaho, Apache, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, agnostic, black, white, red, brown, democrat, republican, and independent. It is a spirit that is rooted in a sense of destiny, that triggers heroism, and that pursues a better existence not knowing what lies in the distant future but addressing what lies immediately before us. It is a spirit that conjures up the nobility of men and women who were subduers of the land and bearers of faith, who gave us life and taught us love, whose bodies are buried but whose names live on in our hearts, whose souls are with God but whose spirits remain close to us and mix with the Holy Spirit to give us courage, just as it instilled courage in the first Apostles.
On this National Day of Remembrance, we honor patriots: those who fashioned this great nation centuries ago with a vision of freedom for all citizens and hope for all the earth as well as those courageous souls that protect and serve and demonstrate heroism for us today. They understand the message of true peace. More than the absence of war or conflict, it is presence of love and of God. And they understand true justice: not so much about getting even but about getting right with the Lord and with one another. Twenty years after the day America got blindsided by senseless acts of terror, let us, even for one shining moment, be found worthy of that spirit that we have been privileged to inherit from those who have gone before us.