World Trade Center Memorial. Flickr

Pain and Judgement

When the dramatic dimensions of the tragedy of September 11th began to come into focus, as I watched my fellow New Yorkers I was struck by one thing above all others: the sense of bewilderment and pain
Maurizio Maniscalco

In the years I have been in New York, I have seen the events that struck Americans around the world, from the USS Cole to the attacks on embassies in Africa. The reaction at home was always, immediately, a vigorous demand for punishment of the presumed guilty parties.

This time it was different, and it is easy to understand why. What did people do?
With the phone system down and an eye on the television, some people closed themselves off in their houses. Others began to gather together to pray–in New York, in Washington, in the cities from which the airplanes had departed or to which they were destined, and in all the rest of this big country. Our friends did the same, some in parish churches, others at home. Others still, like Msgr Ronald Marino, ran immediately to the site of the tragedy.

The gestures multiplied as the days passed. Everyone participated in the services organized in their own parishes, and sometimes we ourselves proposed moments, offering the Traces Editorial, “America,” as a starting point for reflection.

In New York, many parish communities were hit. A large number of the fallen police officers and firefighters lived on Staten Island and in Brooklyn, the boroughs where most of us live. On Friday, September 14th, we came together in St Stephen’s Parish, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, invited by Fr Sansone, to sing with our choir before the unexpected crowd of hundreds gathered for Mass, and the parish priest asked us to read the Editorial before the final blessing, to give everyone there a suggestion for reflection and judgment.

The Editorial was the fulcrum of all the discussions. And there were lots of them, both in the organized moments and in personal discussions with coworkers or neighbors.
But moving from the wave of emotion to judgment is never easy for anybody. And here the wave of emotion is strong, very strong. That hole downtown is an open wound, and a very painful one. We have, sincerely, to love the truth more than ourselves, more than what comes immediately into our heads, for something to break through the wall of pain and give a meaning to the sense of profound injustice.
Along with those who welcomed “America” as a blessing, there were some who stared incredulously or even reacted with scorn: “The Twin Towers–symbols of power?” “Why criticize the West at all costs?” “Evil? Why, I would never do such a thing!”

The immediate temptation to pronounce the good as better than ever and the bad as the worst of all is strong.

“We must find ourselves again.” How? What is involved here is the affirmation of the truth above all other things, in our words and in our daily life. These are some of the many testimonies gathered so far.

I received many messages and phone calls from many friends from different places in the world. Everybody is very concerned with what’s happening to us here. They feel as if this thing had happened to them, as if the attacks had been in Paris, Frankfurt, or Dublin.

How is it that everybody is struck? Because we are human beings. We have a heart that desires truth, freedom, beauty, and justice.

In a moment like this, we all ask, “Why did this happen?” We try to find an answer from the television: who are the suspected persons or countries, how did they do it, what happened exactly? But after a whole day of watching the news, you still ask, like before, “Why did it happen?” You don’t simply want an explanation, you are asking for the sense of these events.

Nobody is offering us a sense. We cannot find it ourselves, either. But yet we ask for it.
We don’t only long for a sense, we also call for justice. But what can justice do? If the persons who are guilty of this are found, and if they are punished–will this bring back to life any of those who died yesterday?

We are in need of a sense of these events, but unable to find one. We desire justice, but cannot establish it. The reason for this is that we have something in ourselves that makes us infinite. Our desires for meaning and justice are infinite–we don’t want justice just to a certain degree, and we’re unsatisfied with simply a political explanation of the events–and yet, our capacities to realize the desires are finite. So we are like a hybrid: infinite and finite at the same time.

But though we cannot give ourselves a sense and cannot establish justice, we continue to demand this.

Up to this point, I can talk to you as a philosopher. But I don’t want to stop here; I want to go beyond that limit. Therefore I now talk to you as a Christian, not merely as a philosopher. Christianity announces that God became man, precisely to respond to our desires for truth, freedom, and justice–in other words, to save us. The way He responded to it was different from the way the people in the Holy Land at that time had in mind: they wanted to make him king, so that he may kick out the Romans. But Jesus did not resolve the problems of the people. Instead, He accompanied them in their difficulties. And today, He continues to do so–in the community of the Christians, in the Church.

Yesterday, I understood for the first time why this salvation passed through suffering. God could have saved us simply by forgiving; there was no necessity that He die on the cross. God is all-powerful: He can save us without any effort. Instead, He preferred to save us through suffering. All the people who died and who encountered Christ yesterday–because when you die, you see Christ in person–Jesus welcomed them and said, “I know what it means to suffer–I have suffered myself! I know what it means to die while being innocent–I went through this myself!”

If man’s desires are infinite, it means that each person, each “I” is infinite. Therefore, each person has an infinite value. No political goal could ever justify killing somebody of infinite value. Not only in discussions about Bioethics (stem cell research, etc.), but also in these events, it is Christianity that defends the value of each person.

All the things I just said came to my mind yesterday and today, and so I wanted to share these thoughts with you, in order to communicate my hope to you. In fact, we are not defined by evil. Evil can never be what determines our person. For this reason, I am happy that today’s classes are not cancelled: we continue our work, we continue to live. But whatever we will do, the way we will read our books in philosophy or anything else, will be different.
From the lecture of Tobias Hoffmann, Professor of Philosophy at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., September 12, 2001.

Human justice cannot bring the dead loved ones back to life–which is the ardent desire of anyone who loses a loved one. So there is nothing that human power can do to bring real justice to those grieving. Real justice to them is to bring the loved one back. Only Christ, the author of life, can bring back the dead to life. Only Christ can do justice. Therefore, the fully human response to the sorrow of losing someone to murder is to pray to Christ. That's seems to me the only reasonable position in front of such suffering because it is the only path that addresses the person's actual desire.

Revenge produces a temporary victory–but a victory that is ultimately devastating in and of itself. Revenge seems to signify the belief that death is the end. It confirms the belief that death is the end.

In seeking revenge we secretly or openly hope that accomplishing vengeance will somehow soothe the pain we are carrying around and somehow bring us the peace that eludes us. But by definition revenge does not bring back the dead. Only faith in Christ who is present can bring peace.

No doubt anger is a “natural” response to great injury. But that is different than saying that it is in any way an adequate or “human” answer to injustice and grief.
Doug Bond, lawyer and responsible of the CL Community of Chicago

Unfortunately, we lost a very dear close friend of the family, and my brother lost a friend too. What can I say? The terrorists did an unconscionable thing, for sure. But, in principle, it is the same thing we all do on a daily basis–we set ourselves up as the measure for all–idolatry! And, in thought, word, or action, have violently forced ourselves upon others. Love to everyone.
Rabbi Michael Shevack, New York

An event happened at our house the other night. Here is the story that I would like to share. Several months ago, my husband and I bought a new “piano.” We settled on a fancy digital piano for various reasons. In the last few months we discussed the possibility of having two of our most amazing piano-playing friends (one of whom is Chris Vath) come and show us what this technological instrument could do under capable hands. Then came the morning of September 11th. Thankfully, my immediate friends and relatives were spared (one truly miraculously from the 99th floor of Tower 2). My husband and I, however, watched the horrifying drama unfold from our apartment windows–the same windows from which we looked over to the towers each evening sitting down to dinner, each night as we lay in bed, and each morning as we arose. We could often see flashbulbs going off from the observation deck on a clear evening, and the view of the towers was the first indicator of the day's weather. In fact, I was looking outside assessing the day when I saw the terrible hole that had just perforated Tower 1. As we watched, a fireball mushroomed from the second tower and fear joined with horror, as we understood that this was deliberate. Our hearts simply broke as the towers collapsed–all those people, all the rescue workers we had seen speeding to the scene–it was just impossible to process even though it was occurring in clear view and real time out our window some 15-20 blocks away. Then as fires raged, droves of people covered in white dust began to file up the streets of our neighborhood, their faces blank. In the days that followed, the entire area (including the university) was held in an eerie silence as the public and all vehicles were kept out. At night, the work lights of the rescuers illuminated rising smoke from “Ground Zero”–a smoldering shrine where buildings once stood. I felt, as many do, that more than lives and buildings were destroyed. For me personally, the impact on the city, the nation, the countless lives lost and the survivors who struggle, was compounded by my frayed nerves and the sense that my very home, though undamaged, had been marred by the experience of that morning, lingering on in its rooms. I knew that many of my friends and colleagues felt this way too.

Hence, the event. It was necessary (and the reasons were made more clear to me during our discussion of the flyer last week) to “find ourselves once again”–but how? Since, for me, music is a most powerful form of “beauty” and “truth,” we hastily put together our “new piano” event–inviting a few CL friends, music friends, and science colleagues. To begin the evening, I read the following quote from the flyer we had discussed, beginning with the quote from the Pope: “‘Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Strong in the faith that has guided our fathers, we turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the salvation of His people, and as trusting children, we beseech Him to come to our aid in these days of mourning and innocent suffering.’
We must find ourselves once again, that is, find Him who has made us know goodness, the taste for life, for our own ‘I’ as an indispensable factor in the world, to be communicated not only by the flickering of lights, but also by the testimony of devotion to the truth. It is a long, hard road, but probably the only way.”

Even for those present that night who do not share our faith, these words were laden with meaning in sight of the still-smoldering view from our windows. The darkness that evil wrought was palpably dispelled by music and by a living testimony to the truth. As one colleague said to me yesterday, referring to the event, “it was food for the soul.” I am so very grateful that through this charism, I have understood more about this road and about He “who has made us know goodness.”
Dr Jane Hubbard, Professor and Researcher, Biology Department, New York University

I am very grateful to Fr Giussani and the responsibles of the Movement for educating me in these past few years to love the US as never before. As we have been working to understand what he meant by saying, “In the US there is a new beginning,” I have become more aware that at the origin of our country there is a desire for a true ideal, freedom. This is a real human desire and in truth it is non-ideological. Fr Giussani has taught us two things: that all human desires originate from the fact that we are made to belong to God and that they are ultimately fulfilled in recognizing, loving, and adhering to Him. Secondly, at some level all ideologies hate this Fact, this Presence, because there is no way for them to fight a Fact; He overcomes them. For these reasons, I look to Fr Giussani and those near him to help me judge these circumstances. I am certain that the more I am educated by them the more I will love my country.
John Steichen, furniture agent and responsible of the Community of St Cloud, Minnesota

The situation demands a response. The human heart cries out for one. But what kind, and how? The paradigm of “war” seems particularly awkward and inadequate to all the factors, but this is such a part of our nation’s history and human history all over the world. Personally, I think this is not a time for words, it is a time for prayer. Still, I know that something will happen, and am fearful of how our government (and other governments in alliance or in consequence) might respond. This is a great Mystery. We are beggars in front of this Mystery. We beg for mercy. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Rob Jones, Diocesan Consultant for Adult Faith Formation, Raleigh, North Carolina

Dear Friends: Once again I have found myself in the midst of human despair trying to bring the comfort of Christ as a glimmer of light into this dark experience.
My role as Chaplain of the U.S. Department of State has caused me to officially respond, but my own experience of Christ’s healing gesture of friendship would have brought me there nonetheless. The grief of families still hoping to hear from missing relatives who worked there coupled with the sorrow of those who know that loved ones have been lost cries out to everyone for prayers that their faith will be their consolation. Hundreds of rescue workers, government agents and other officials have all died because their own human instinct of solidarity caused them to respond without fear of consequences. Heroism abounds here in a city which many feel has lost its soul. This is not true! Inside the hearts of many New Yorkers beats the soul of Christ. They may not all be churchgoers, but they love Him enough to offer their lives for one another. Greater love than this, no man has... Pray for them and their families.

As Immigration Director I also have spoken to groups of Muslims–Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, etc.–who are afraid of a backlash of anger directed to them. They came to me, as one said, “because we know we are safe in the Catholic Church.” Make sure that in your own heart there is no such anger or cries for vengeance so that they can remain safe in the Catholic Church.

Lastly, pray for me and the countless other clergymen who are working at hospitals, morgues, firehouses, police stations, etc., trying to give comfort.

We carry the Cross of Christ but we were ordained staring at His empty tomb.
Thanks and God Bless you.
Msgr Ronald Marino

Last night we gave a concert that was a really wonderful experience. They allowed us to use the whole church, and there were lots of people there. We started the event by saying that in a moment like this one, of grief and fear, we wanted to come together to sing, not in order to forget what had happened, but to affirm a Presence among us, within this circumstance. We have reaffirmed with Fr Giussani that reality is ultimately positive, that evil does not have the last word, and that our task as a people is to rediscover humanity.

We started by singing some traditional American spirituals (such as All my Trials) that evoked all the pain of an oppressed people, then our own songs about the encounter with Jesus, the road of life, and the new man who looks at reality with the awareness of being accompanied. One of the things that struck people is that we rediscovered their songs (some said they had never really listened to the words before), and then that we gave a new accent, a new hope, singing in so many languages (we sang in English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese). People were moved. At the end, when we sang Ave Maria splendore del mattino, everyone stood up, precisely to implore Our Lady.

You cannot imagine the gratitude for Fr Giussani, for his passion for man, for how he has taught us how to judge things, to recognize beauty! At the end, people didn’t want to leave. Little groups of people stood together outside the church until late. We told them about us and invited everybody to Opening Day.
Teresa, Washington, DC