Sometimes great feasts, such as the Nativity of Our Blessed Mother, which is today as I write, are easy to, as it were, enter into.
Other times it can be difficult what with the vagaries of daily life to stay focused on the wonder placed before us.
Praying before writing this afternoon I was focused on Our Blessed Mother and the stark reality of 9/11, the 10th remembering of which approaches, and for the first time was able to recall that day, and the day some months later when I was at Ground Zero with a Firefighter friend from New York who asked my company so he could return there and truly grieve – having been there on the day and lost so many brothers – yes thinking of Our Blessed Mother my heart suddenly understood she was/is the mother of everyone on that day, each day, this day – finally now I can remember: without anger or fear.
One who throughout his life had immense trust in her maternal love, intercession and protection was the Venerable Pope Pius XII and in my own way of preparing to remember on Sunday the reality of 9/11 decided to reflect upon his encyclicals.
I have been surprised that in the end I made notes from only two: Summi Pontificatus, his first written in the early days of WWII, October 20th, 1939 to be exact and what I believe was his last, Meminisse Iuvat, written July 14th in 1958 a couple of months before he died.
To this day most people recall where we were, what we were doing on that horrific morning and day.
Perhaps, as someone mentioned to me, undoubtedly the time has come to focus more on 9/12 – the wisdom being that eventually the sun did set and the sun did rise again the next morning and we have had ten years of new days since.
The secular philosopher George Santayana is usually credited with the fatalistic statement: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.”
There is however, even within basic Christian common sense, a grain of truth in the statement, to wit: if we forget who we are and whose children we are, that is we are beloved children of God called to love as He loves, then likely we will forget the past, the lessons of the past, and may well make choices which, in the end, appear an inevitable fulfillment, or rather re-enacting of the past.
Usually not the better aspects of the past either.
Between his birth in 1876 and his death in 1958 Pope Pius witnessed civil disturbances throughout his homeland, wars among the European and other powers, and the unrelenting tensions of the Cold War.
As regards the two bloodiest of global conflicts, the First and Second World Wars, his priestly duties, culminating in pontifical responsibilities, had him thrust into the darkness and anguish, the immense human suffering of both.
During the same period of history he witnessed the rapid advances from cavalry charges to aerial bombardment of cities culminating in the devastation of atom bombs; likewise rapid changes in social structure, the sciences, politics, etc., etc., and the crushing anti-person power of states over whole populations from Fascism, Communism, Nazism and a post war world which gradually became enslaved to unbridled materialism, nihilism and countless other philosophies, movements, ideas which diminish the sacred dignity and freedom of the human person.
In the shadow of 9/11, ten years on, some of the Pope’s words, cries from the heart really, pleading prayers, bear re-discovering in light of the prayer request posed to me by my Firefighter friend at Ground Zero: “Pray Father we, the whole world, will be converted!”
From Pope Pius:
What age has been, for all its technical and purely civic progress, more tormented than ours by spiritual emptiness and deep-felt interior poverty?
What heart is not inflamed is not swept forward to help at the sight of so many brothers and sisters who, misled by error, passion, temptation and prejudice, have strayed away from faith in the true God and have lost contact with the joyful and life-giving message of Christ?
At the head of the road which leads to the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of the present day stand the nefarious efforts of not a few to dethrone Christ; the abandonment of the law of truth which He proclaimed and of the law of love which is the life breath of His Kingdom.
…..one must not forget the essential insufficiency and weakness of every principle of social life which rests upon a purely human foundation, is inspired by merely earthly motives and relies for its force on the sanction of a purely external authority. [ Summi Pontificatus]………….a just peace does not yet prevail, nor do men live in concord founded on brotherly understanding. For the seeds of war either lurk in hiding or - from time to time - erupt threateningly and hold the hearts of men in frightened suspense, especially since human ingenuity has devised weapons so powerful that they can ravage and sink into general destruction, not only the vanquished, but the victors with them, and all mankind.
If we weigh carefully the causes of today's crises and those that are ahead, we shall soon find that human plans, human resources, and human endeavors are futile and will fail when Almighty God - He who enlightens, commands, and forbids; He who is the source and guarantor of justice, the fountainhead of truth, the basis of all laws - is esteemed but little, denied His proper place, or even completely disregarded. If a house is not built on a solid and sure foundation, it tumbles down; if a mind is not enlightened by the divine light, it strays more or less from the whole truth; if citizens, peoples, and nations are not animated by brotherly love, strife is born, waxes strong, and reaches full growth. [Meminisse Iuvat]