9/11 Ten Years After

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

August 17, 2011


Fr. Peter Daly reflects on how things have and haven’t changed, ten years after 9/11/2001.


            I was wrong. Things did not change very much. I thought they would.

Ten years ago I wrote that my plans had changed as a result of the terrible crimes of September 11. But ten years on things are pretty much the same.  Life continues on as before.

            For a little while, things did change.

The country was united in grief and common purpose. The world was filled with sympathy for the USA. There was an outpouring of patriotism and piety. Congress stood together and sang “God Bless America.” Public meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance. People flew the flag everywhere.

On Capitol Hill, partisan divisions disappeared. The government passed one piece of anti-terrorism legislation after another almost without reflection.  Airport security became much more rigorous. Access to public buildings was limited. Whole areas of Washington, DC, were cordoned off. I got searched driving to celebrate a wedding at St. Joseph’s church on Capitol Hill. So did the guests.  

            For a little after September 11 the churches were full. People were untied in their sorrow and prayer. Every candle was lit. Daily mass was overflowing. Everyone had a story of grief. For weeks we watched the sorrowful funerals of fire fighters, police, and EMT workers. People talked openly of faith.

Our little Maryland community held a common prayer service at the local high school. It included Christians, Moslems, and Jews. Nearly everyone participated, except the Evangelicals. They would not pray with non-Christians.

Support for the military was overwhelming ten years ago.  As the U.S. took action in Afghanistan nine years ago, there was a sense that it just and necessary. We began praying for the safety of our troops at every mass.

            Ten years after September 11, 2001, the memory remains but the shock is gone.

            It does not seem that things are fundamentally changed.

            The fervor of piety evident in the weeks after September, 2001, has disappeared. Church attendance returned to normal levels.  Our church was rocked by the scandals of 2002.

            The national unity of purpose is gone. We seem divided over even ordinary things. The sympathy our nation once enjoyed around the world after 9/11 has evaporated. It was burned away by the war in Iraq.

            Today support for the military remains very high, but our veterans are suffering greatly. We still pray for them every Sunday. But now we pray that they will return to us. Many come back traumatized by war. Many are unemployed. Some are homeless and even suicidal.

            Some things have changed. We have surrendered our privacy and even our civil liberties.  Metal detectors are at every public building. We even go through metal detectors to enter our local DMV. My 90 year old mother was subjected to a pat down search when she got on a plane last summer.

People have gotten used to bad news. The fact that our government was torturing people in secret CIA prisons and incarcerating even American citizens without trial was greeted with a shrug by most Americans. Thousands of lives have been lost and a trillion dollars spent in Iraq. There still is no peace there.

            One hundred years ago the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton observed that the one doctrine of the Church that you could prove by picking up the morning newspaper was original sin. The human condition is the human condition. Sin and grace will always be part of our lives. 

            Ten years on after September 11, we still remember the events with horror and grief. But the struggle between good and evil goes on. The more things change, the more they stay the same.