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9/11 in the Land of the Free Falling

Every act of terrorism seeks to wrest power by violence, but the power of Catholic peace must never be surrendered, despite the forces of despondency, despair, and descent.

This stained-glass window located in New Jersey's Carlstadt Memorial Municipal Building was dedicated Sept. 11, 2017, in honor of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Nearly 3,000 people died in the 2001 attacks on New York City, Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” – Matthew 4:6

One of the most harrowing images from the September 11 attacks is a photograph of an unknown man plummeting to his death from one of the World Trade Center towers (graphic content). The image of this desperate victim of hate was a harbinger of desperate years to come, even now seeming to descend towards doom, growing more chaotic with cultural implosion and the loss of American unity. It is a time of free fall.

At the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer, two polarizing candidates accepted their party’s presidential nomination: Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The melee of distaste and distress over these nominees alone signals a type of national vote of no-confidence as Americans buckle under the burdens of untruth, uneasiness, unrest, and unhappiness. Without confidence, there is only tumbling confusion. The falling man stands even now as a warning. The crisis of confidence that Jimmy Carter famously spoke of in the 1970s is long gone. The collapse has come.

In some ways, the terrorists have achieved their purpose. Nineteen years after 9/11, America is a terrified nation.

As captured by the WTC falling man, calamity and fear bring out the mystery of life, making it suddenly poignant and precious. One of the deepest of those mysteries is the reality of evil. When smoke still hangs in the air and victims recover, the attempts to solve the problem of evil are futile and frustrating to hearts in pain. When humanity has been lashed sorely, it is hard to find assuagement in philosophy. That evil is a privation is no comfort to those who have been deprived. Dualism is a poor excuse for death.

Even the theological truth that God does not directly cause evil does not stop people from finding fault with God. That He permits evil is often enough to exacerbate the excruciation. The necessary fact of the falling man prevails over rationalizations together with the near-constant news of new attacks, new terrors, new falling men.

The violent, political, and viral turmoil tearing at our society today may seem beyond explanation, but there is one. No matter how shattered and shaken Catholics might feel in the face of evils and troubles that tread on the heels of another, human perplexity cannot overthrow the truth that God is a loving God Whose Providence is guided by Divine love. This can never be gainsaid by the staggering horrors of rage, death, or sin. Though they may seem to argue against the Providence of God, nothing can disprove the existence of the infinite Good, the infinite God.

The fact that mankind cannot prevent or abolish all evils does not dismantle this tenet of faith. Though evils like those that incite riotous violence in our neighborhoods abound, and threaten with a hatred that is inscrutable, equally inscrutable is the Providence of God. It remains as constant as the sun in a sky of clouds. It is always there, even if obscured. It can never be diminished or destroyed. And in that presence is peace. Every act of terrorism seeks to wrest power by violence, but the power of Catholic peace must never be surrendered, despite the forces of despondency, despair, and descent.

In the end, it will take more than building a wall to pluck up a plunging people. It will take more than a vaccine to restore a sick country. It will take more than racial awareness to eradicate racial bias. It will take more than a liberal president to lift the spirits of a nosediving nation. There can be no courage in comatose lethargy, contentious communities, concentrated materialism, or collective atheism. Only faith in Christ and His Church can reverse the fate of man from falling to flying.

Americans should never forget the falling man and gain from that terrifying symbol the determination to never yield to the terminal velocity of determinism as the battle for Western culture rages on nineteen years after September 11. In the ever-widening wake of fear, the prayer of every Catholic American should be that America not collapse as those towers did; but rather bear up under the threat of fiery evil with that conviction that has made the West famous in song and story and emblazoned the Cross of Christ over the pages of history.

In days like these, when Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick has been whittled down into a rainbow-striped cheerleader baton, the only hope lies in clinging to the bulwark that will never fail. The destiny of America, like any great civilization, is decline and fall—and its rumblings are still in the air as they were on that black September day nineteen years ago.

But there is one institution on earth whose destiny is eternity because it is not earthly: the Catholic Church. In Her is the first and last source of support and strength. Faith has the greatest potential to thrive when there is little else to believe in. Hope can never be as strong as in a hopeless situation. Peter was permitted to walk on troubled water to safety. Perhaps America will be permitted to walk on thin air.

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About Sean Fitzpatrick 21 Articles
Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and serves on the faculty of Gregory the Great Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. He teaches Literature, Mythology, and Humanities. Mr. Fitzpatrick’s writings on education, literature, and culture have appeared in a number of journals including Crisis Magazine, Catholic Exchange, the Cardinal Newman Society’s Journal for Educators, and the Imaginative Conservative. He lives in Scranton with his wife, Sophie, and their seven children.


  1. The government’s explanation that the September 11 attacks were terrorist attacks long ago collapsed. There is little evidence that those attacks were planned by Osama bin Laden.

  2. “Only faith in Christ and His Church can reverse the fate of man from falling to flying,” I say that is a bridge too far. I don’t think the Bible mixes the expectations of society with the individual mandate of the gospel. Romans 1 and 2 make it clear that the universal SOCIETAL path intended for mankind is the acknowledgment that there is a Creator-God whose divine attributes are embodied in the laws of nature and written on mens hearts. Our job as the church is to START THERE. Anation who is on that trajectory will have individuals who can be approached with the PERSONAL implications of the gospel. WE SHOULDN’T get the cart before the horse. NO SOCIETAL EMBRACE OF MANDATED FAITH OR CHUCH INVOLVEMENT is appropriate…IMO

  3. “Two polarizing candidates, the melee of distaste and distress over these two candidates”. I have distaste and distress over the moral equivelence of this statement. The one a nominee and spokesman for the party of death, and the other a nominee and spokesman for the party of life. I see that one of the subjects the author teaches is Mythology. I can believe it.

    • The author’s remark is far more about the reaction to each candidate than about the specific stances of the candidates. It’s impossible to deny that Trump and Biden are polarizing candidate who elicit strong, negative responses.

  4. I agree that Bernie Sanders would have been a polarizing candidate, but Joe Biden?

    He’s actually pretty middle-of-the-road, if you pay attention to what he’s actually saying rather than political ads and statements from the Republicans, who, yes, are trying to paint him as extreme.

    The more extreme wing of the Democratic Party is actually extremely disappointed in the selection of Joe Biden, and rightly so, from their perspective.

    • Middle of the road?
      Maybe as far as democrats are concerned.
      But it’s like saying that Khrushchev was middle of the road in comparison to Stalin whom he replaced…
      From the point of view of Catholic doctrine, no democrat candidate, and only a handful of republican ones would qualify as middle of the road.
      Trump is middle of the road. Strongly pro-life, but lukewarm on marriage, for example.
      At this juncture, though, he seems to be the best one we can hope for.

      • Mr Trump at least practices marriage(s) and children himself unlike most of the EU leaders.
        But yes, on the traditional definition of marriage he’s not terribly firm. But that applies to many other folks with ties to the entertainment industry.

  5. I almost made it through catechism. I still study Catherine Catholic Doctrine and listen to some Catholic radio and read Catholic news. Deep down I have faith in the Church because I see it as a force of divine good for two millennia.. But I do get discouraged in Christianity itself because it doesn’t speak out against the greatest power on Earth and that is criminal international banking. The international banking Empire is so wealthy and Powerful that it controls media, politicians, entertainment, watchdog groups, publishing houses and key corporations that essentially control the nation and I claimed have hijacked our Republic.

    I will believe until Jesus tells me otherwise that Tower 7 was controlled demolition during 9/11.
    I’ve considered the evidence particularly that of Richard Gage and I concur with him. Do you understand the implications a controlled demolition of a 47 story skyscraper? It is almost like a great work of Satan himself be able to fool the world with great deception in the midst of terrific horror. Why the Catholic Church does not speak out against these evils or the evil and criminal international banking system that is for the most part fraudulent usury? The power of international banking that has essentially hijacked the American Republican has also helped to cripple Christianity in the United States. The Pope’s of yesterday spoke out against usury but obviously are not doing so now.

  6. Polarizing may be a good thing. We may acquiesce to Fitzpatick’s known observation that both candidates are polarizing personalities, and we can agree with Carl Olson that Fitzpatrick’s point is not their agendas. After Fitzpatrick details how bad all the turmoil is now and historically he wraps up his article with a nice attractive call to Catholicism bow. Acquiesce and agree, although unintentionally gloss over why polarization may be good. Evil for example is infinitely distant from good, as in God’s infinite goodness. Which is why the horror of eternal hell. America is at a threshold between good and evil, and making nice with persons determined to increase the slaughter of the innocents, the infant in the womb as well as the ancient in the long term care unit. Abortion and Euthanasia are declared ‘sacred ground’ for those who oppose an inherent natural law right to life for both prenatal and often cognitively impaired elderly. And it goes even further. Netflix decided to pull “Cuties” after complaint. The French sexually explicit pre teen girls film awarded by Sundance is a prelude to normalization of child sexual exploitation symptomatic of the collapse of morality in America [and elsewhere Europe perhaps ahead] within a culture that has politicized and emblazoned the standard of free choice. A strong, healthy degree of distancing and calling it for what it is absolutely necessary if reason has any chance to convince, and if the practice of Catholicism has any effectiveness rather than pietistic lip service.

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