Post-September 11 lessons

Faith, hope and love are the only things worth building up and building on.

We search for meaning still in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Among words worth hearing are these:

If we had foolish unchristian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.

Before we weight these words themselves, we ought to date and place them. Oct. 22, 1939. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England. The evensong speaker that night? C.S. Lewis was addressing students who were about to turn from the study of mathematics and metaphysics to the study of war and death in the conflict that would become World War II.

There’s something incorrigible in us that we never learn the temporal nature of life. We are like children building sand castles at the shore, never taking account of the incoming tide. No matter how great the achievements of human culture, no matter the beauty and joy of life, we cannot find our security here.

The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers were monuments to our financial and architectural ideology. They dominated the skyline of New York the way our American enterprising dominates world markets.

Architecturally, the inelegant buildings were the tallest and sleekest of structures, all glass and steel. They were meant to transcend the past, not connect us to it. They intended to show the superiority and invincibility of our culture and our time. From the Observation Deck one would have clarity of vision to gaze upon the world below from a privileged height. With fork in hand, one could look out through Windows on the World.

All that came crashing down Sept. 11. We didn’t so much lose our innocence that day as we found our Achilles’ heel. When we hold our hopes in things that will pass, we have no room in our hands to grasp for the things that remain.

There is no excuse for what terrorists did to America that day. They had their reasons that reason cannot justify.

And yet, reason compels us to ask what and how to rebuild. Something less, I pray, than 110-story buildings that thumb their nose at vulnerability. Something instead, I pray, that will remind us of the remains of those who died and of things that remain.

St. Paul: And those these three remain – faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love. Not financial markets or pension funds or multinational corporations or unsinkable ships or unbreakable buildings.

Faith, hope and love are the only things worth building up and building on.


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