I flew from London to Boston on September 9, just a couple of days before the attack. Something rather unusual happened at the U.S. Customs desk. The clerk briefly checked my only piece of luggage and zipping it closed he said, “Welcome home.” I am sure many of you would not remember the gesture, but I did. It was important. That was my twentieth summer living in America. The casual phrase reminded me that this country was my home now. I have traveled a long way from my tiny hometown almost lost in the tail of the Andes at the southern end of the planet.
I am old enough to remember how I viewed America from that far. The mental image I had of the country was a collage where Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins (my favs then) met John Glenn and the “Freedom Seven” orbiting around the world in their space capsules. The evils of WWII were not as far distant in 1961. Back then I had a Jewish friend, Saul, whose mother and father were survivors of the Shoah.
Against the backdrop of the war and more real menace of Soviet Communism, the United States seemed to me like a distant shiny country filled with people who were able to achieve anything. We all wanted to be Americans; we were all cheering for the USA.
In those days it would have been hard to believe that decade would see the beginning of the “hate America” wave. The summer of 1968 brought anti-American revolts that extended from Paris to the rest of the world. Paris, the city that Hitler wanted destroyed! The city were French girls received the American GI’s with kisses and champagne just a couple of decades earlier!
There are many explanations for the “hate America” phenomenon. Not being an expert in geopolitical issues I prefer to look at it from a spiritual point of view. There is nothing new under the sun and one of the oldest bad things we have to live with is envy. Let’s talk about one particular kind of envy: acedia. It can be defined as a feeling of sadness in contemplating other person’s happiness. It is the first sin. Satan felt sad when contemplating the happiness of God and His creatures. In his madness Lucifer desired for himself that glorious joy. Somehow he never understood that God’s joy is tied to service. Deus caritas est. God is the love that gives. It is impossible to have that joy by appropriating what is not ours or by denying our love to others.
“Nothing can be built on hate” (St John Paul II)
You know how envy entered the world, how it committed the first murder, how it sold Joseph into slavery. In time the very joy of God came to visit us. Having nothing better to give us God gave Himself to us. Envy had Him crucified.
As God works in History to redeem mankind the lesson of envy repeats itself over and over. On September 11, 2001, love was not moving those who destroyed the World Trade Center towers and damaged the Pentagon. What moved them was the same feeling that moved Cain to slay his brother Abel: envy. The name Cain (a cane or spear) shares its root with the Hebrew world for envy: kina. It seems to me that someone at a very early time noticed that canes are naturally empty and dry. Their lightness makes them ideal to make spears but not much else. Likewise envy throws itself against its target in a rage seeking to destroy what it cannot create nor rightfully possess.
September 11, 2001 will be one day remembered as one of the greatest American triumphs, arguably the most similar to the glorious triumph of the Cross. Why is envy always against the Cross? Why wanting to remove the Cross from everywhere? Because the Cross is the symbol of envy’s final defeat. Because under the Cross everyone can be somebody. Only at the foot of the Cross we can leave our sins behind and begin to pursue real happiness. It is the Cross and its mystery of love that moved our Founding Fathers to create a country like no other, dedicated to the idea that the common man was someone worth living and dying for. Our enemies do not understand that. There are many in the world that enjoy the fruits of the American order and yet they are not happy with that gift. Somehow they desire that very center where the gift comes from. They do not realize that the secret of the American dream lies in a generous spirit.
One day we will remember September 11, 2001 as the day when the civilization of hate and envy was defeated and the civilization of love began its ascent. That day will be remembered as our finest hour.