At a loss

When I arrived back to my apartment late on Tuesday night, the eleventh anniversary of September 11, 2001, I opened my laptop to find a burning, bright orange image of a man stoking fire and a New York Times headline reading, “Anger Over a Film Fuels Anti-American Attacks in Libya and Egypt.”

As I read on about the violent demonstrations in Cairo and in Benghazi, and as I watched the offensive, bigoted video that apparently sparked these riots, my stomach began to drop.

I was at a loss for words, didn’t know what to say or even think.

How could this be happening? And why the hell was it happening on September 11th?  And what can I do that will ever, in some way, pull us out of this cycle of bigotry and violence?

Over the past week, as I’ve thought about how to comment on these unraveling events and answer these questions, no clear explanation or response has been easy to find.  Instead, I keep coming back to the place I was just before I opened my laptop to discover this terrible news—in Copley Crypt Chapel at Georgetown.

“I wish you didn’t…” said the Jesuit priest who was giving the homily at the nightly 10pm Mass.  About thirty of us, mostly students, were seated in a semi-circle in the small, arched space, where faint gold light rests on the curved walls.  The stained glass windows, depicting the martyrdoms of North American Jesuits like Jean de Brebeuf, let in only darkness from outside.

“I wish you didn’t live in this time, this era, where things are so hard and unclear. I wish you were graduating at a time like the one when I did—when walls were falling down and a man was released from jail to lead his country.” Our priest graduated from Georgetown in the nineties, optimistic that the Cold War had ended and that Nelson Mandela was free.  Things seemed to be looking up—and then 9/11 happened.

“But you are living in this new, troubled world.  And our world needs you.”  He was crying, and I began to cry, too.  On the anniversary of 9/11, I’m always reminded how much my life, my passions, and my career have been shaped by that event and what’s happened after.

Our priest then spoke of the group of us gathered there for Mass, about the difference we must make.

And it was then that I became completely overwhelmed by the good that will be done (and is already being done) by the thirty-some people sitting with me.  To my right and left sat two of my closest friends, who have dedicated their lives to address two of our generation’s most pressing issues: migration and climate change.  I thought of others in the room, and my friends who weren’t there, who are going into education and business, medicine and healthcare, just to name a few.  My eyes welled over not just with amazement at my friends’ love and self-sacrifice, but also with a heavy sadness at the challenges we face and the suffering experienced by those with whom we walk in solidarity.

The priest concluded his homily, explaining why we come to Mass.  He said that it’s not inside the academic buildings on campus where we can be transformed to make the difference our world needs.

“It’s right here, with Jesus,” he said.

The crucifix in Copley Crypt Chapel at Georgetown.

I’ve come to learn that becoming closer to God doesn’t mean becoming happier or even more at peace.  It means coming face-to-face with, and even entering, suffering.  Jesus was at his best on the cross, and in order for me to be a better, more loving human, I have to meet him there, both in nightly Mass and in the work I do during the other 23 hours of my day.

The loving Catholic community and the time of prayer that helps orient me toward a more Cross-centered life are the reasons I continue going to nightly Mass at Georgetown.  But I wouldn’t even be there in the first place were it not for the group of believers on the other side of the chapel wall—the Georgetown Muslim community.  While the Catholics are participating in the nightly 10pm Mass, the Muslim students are completing their nightly 10pm isha prayer in the musallah next door. Over the past three years, I’ve witnessed my Muslim friends’ devotion to prayer, and it’s made me want to have the same commitment to my own prayer life. That’s why I decided to become more active in my own Catholic community, and to make nightly Mass a regular part of my day during my senior year.

As I sort through and begin writing about these confusing, troubling “eleventh anniversary” events, which mark a new low in the downward spiral of Muslim-Christian tensions, I remember the good that will be done by those on both sides of the chapel wall, and the support we will provide one another as we take up our crosses.

When it seems that violence and bigotry will win out, the passionate commitment of these Catholic and Muslim communities remind me of the quiet, Arabic words that echo from the musallah into the chapel every evening: God is greater.

8 Replies to “At a loss”

  1. Really good, Jordan. Thank you.

    From: Jordan Denari <> Reply-To: Jordan Denari <> Date: Monday, September 17, 2012 11:40 PM To: Paul Knapp <> Subject: [New post] At a loss

    jdenari posted: “When I arrived back to my apartment late on Tuesday night, the eleventh anniversary of September 11, 2001, I opened my laptop to find a burning, bright orange image of a man stoking fire and a New York Times headline reading, Anger Over a Film Fuels An”

    1. Usama,

      This is a Christian phrase that I should have clarified more. When Jesus carried his cross to the hill before his crucifixion, he had to carry/”take up” his cross. Christians normally call this journey (from his sentencing to death to his death) “Jesus’ Passion”, not only because of the suffering involved but because Jesus’ was fulfilling his mission in life, his passion: loving people even when it would result in his own destruction. We as Christians (and people of all faith, really) are called to “take up our crosses,” to take the struggles/challenges that God has given us and bear them for his greater glory. Embracing our true passions are not easy tasks and should require us to surrender our will to the will of God. Actually sounds kind of Islamic, I think. 🙂

  2. A couple of years ago a priest, during a homily, said that one reason why God allows bad things to happen in the world and\or the devil/ demons to run amok is to cause people to become more religious. The priest said that right after the events of 9/11 2001 their was a dramatic increase of people calling the church to go to confession and asking for more masses during the day at this church.
    For consolation one can also refer to the book of Job in the old testament. In the book of Job God has allowed the devil to destroy Jobs (a faithful holy Jew) house, flocks, kill his servants and children to see if Job will remain as holy and faithful to God as he did during the good times. When Job complains God than asks him if he knows Gods designs. God who “laid the foundations of the earth… Do you know how its dimensions were determined and who did the surveying…who laid the cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” God who shaped the abysses at the bottom of seas shaped mountains etc. God goes on about different animals and how they act( I recommend reading it especially the last part from chapter 38 onwards). We young humans have no clue as to Gods designs here on earth. Why things happen the way they do. Job in the end gets more flocks and wealthier than before as well as children.

    1. Do you really think that God makes bad things happen to make people more religious? I think a lot of people, including myself, would take issue with that? Personally, I don’t think God MAKES bad things happen.

      1. He would at least allow it. In the diaries of Saint Maria Faustina God said he would punish the country of Poland because of its sins. He said this to her around 1938 and 1939. In 1939 WW2 occurred and Poland suffered a lot from the Nazis and the commies thereafter. Of course not everyone in Poland was harmed in some way during WW2 or after the communist takeover. For instance Pope John Paul 2nd survived the Nazi regime and the communists allowed seminaries and churches to continue in Poland after 1945.

        Saint Josemaria Escriva said to revere priests. In kindness I would say to you to take what priests say seriously. That is not to say some priests have some faults. But 99.9% of the time historically, what they say during homilies they say in the spirit of God, in the spirit of Jesus. What they say in the confessional and as spiritual direction should be taken as if from the words from Jesus himself Saint Maria Faustina said this last sentence.
        On another note I enjoy and admire your blog. I myself believe that the Arabs are misrepresented in the US. And that the Palestinians have been persecuted by the Israelis. -Peace Alex Gaetan

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