There are no coincidences. Of the seven possible days in the week, today, the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, falls on the day of the Sabbath celebration. And of all the 365 days in the calendar, today’s Mass readings center around forgiveness. It would be surprising if any homily in America this day does not put the 9/11 attacks in the context of these readings.

Our thoughts and prayers must first be with the victims of the attacks and their families; with those firemen and police and clergy who died while responding to the attacks; with the military members who have lost lives and limbs and the prospect of peace of mind in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and with the victims of violence in those countries. Today’s homilies will also rightly make these points.

And, as Christ tells us, our thoughts have to be with the terrorists and their masters who took some 3000 lives.  In His view, we must think of them seventy-seven times. We must defend ourselves against them, not allow their vision to prevail – and still forgive them. Trying to do all of that with faith, hope, and love is truly a needle hard to thread.

Perhaps the most asked question in the media this last week – even more frequent than “Will the president’s jobs plan help?” or “Who won the Republican presidential debate?” – was, “What has changed since September 11, 2001?”

We should consider always the effects of the attacks on those whose lives have been directly darkened by the loss or harm of a loved one. But for my little part, I am struck by how little has changed.

Just before writing this column, I went for a run on a nearby path, the same path where I went for a run the afternoon of the 9/11 attacks. After watching the second airplane hit the tower with colleagues on the National Security Council staff, I evacuated the White House complex and rode to near my home with a co-worker, my assigned task being to help her stay calm – her husband worked at the Pentagon, from which we could see the smoke rising.


Some time into the slow drive, her husband called her cell phone to say that he was all right. Figuring that the next days would be busy, and determined to preserve a semblance of normalcy, I went for a run. Then as now, with New York and Washington under terrorist warnings this weekend, I did not know if or when the next attack would come.

Beyond such trivial details of continuity, the same questions that drove history before 9/11 are still with us, unanswered.

Will the West, whose moral decay gave Islamist terrorists reason to believe that Europe and America were ripe for defeat, accept the challenge of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (who together have faced the earthly totalitarianisms of fascism, communism, and Islamist extremism) and recover the combination of faith and reason that was the basis of our civilization?

Will the culture of life prevail over the culture of death? Can the City of God, which will only come down fully by God’s grace at the end of time, at least make a few gains on the City of Man? The 9/11 attacks changed many lives, but they did not answer these questions for our society, nor for our individual souls, nor have they determined our personal choices.

On a less grand scale, as we go about our ordinary tasks, what are we to think on this day of remembrance? What do we say to give meaning to terrorist attacks and war, to the service of those who look beyond themselves to protect us at home and abroad? What can order our reactions when the powers of darkness, rulers of this world, light up the skies with the deaths of innocents?

Long before a few people with a nihilist vision flew airplanes into the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, today was going to be the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Feast of Our Lord, trumping any other event on the calendar. Today, let’s remember the gospel of forgiveness. Let’s remember those who have died. Let’s remember that the world has seen, and will see again, acts of great evil and acts of great service and self-sacrifice and love.

Today, September 11, as on every Sunday, the Office of Readings guides us in what to think and sing, and it does not change with fiery attacks or horrific wars or financial crises or any of the other vagaries of this world.

Te Deum. . . .“Make them to be numbered with thy Saints: in glory everlasting.”

Joseph Wood is an itinerant philosopher and easily accessible hermit affiliated with Cana Academy, Walsh University, The Catholic University of America, and the University of Notre Dame Australia, none of which bears any responsibility for his errors or missteps.