Why did God allow 9/11?

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was a freshman at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Walking down the stairs of my dorm at around 9:00, I noticed about a dozen people glued to the television, watching Fox News. I noticed a building with smoke pouring out of it. It looked like the World Trade Center, but it seemed so surreal that I doubted that was actually the case. I sat down briefly and watched for a few minutes as the news came across the television.

So many thoughts were going through my head as I tried to comprehend what had happened. My mind began racing. I thought that it must have been a terrible accident. Was the pilot asleep or intoxicated? Distracted? How could a plane be flying that low over New York? How many people were killed or injured? We should say a prayer. I hope they can get everyone out before the fire spreads. It seemed like I was there for an hour, such is the way the mind works in situations like these. It turned out that I was only there for about 3 or 4 minutes until it happened.

I saw the second plane hit the other tower at about 9:03. I was in shock and disbelief set in. I remember thinking: How could this be possible? This must have been on purpose. Who did this? They are going to pay. Whatever my responsibilities were that morning – classes, most likely, I decided that they were not important. I was going to watch this scene as it unfolded. I prayed as I watched the smoke pouring from the buildings.

After a while, the reports started coming in that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Bad move, I remember thinking. By this time, there was a pretty good indication or at least a suspicion that Islamic terrorists were behind this. I got angry. I knew we would be at war.

After United flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, things began to hit a little more. That was only about 100 miles from Steubenville in a straight line. I remember feeling vulnerable. Could they possibly attack here? I mean Catholic and Muslims are not exactly best of friends. If you were going to attack a Catholic institution in the United States, Franciscan University would have to be at the top of the list.

I went to the Portiuncula (the adoration chapel on campus) to pray. I don’t remember what I said to God during those moments, but I do remember the fervor with which I was praying. Rarely did I ever pray that hard before. The chapel was relatively empty – maybe three people were there with me. There must be some people who still don’t know I thought. After a short time, people started to slowly enter the chapel. It began to fill up, so I decided to leave, since I had basically said everything I wanted to say to God and others could use the space.

Returning to the dorm, I called my parents. They were worried. They had been trying to call me, but communication lines were clogged that day. I guess they had trouble getting through. They didn’t know how far Shanksville, PA was from Steubenville, but they knew it was close. I told them I was OK, discussed the events a bit with them and then said goodbye. I didn’t feel like talking about it. It was too raw for me.

Word spread that classes were cancelled for the day. That was a good decision I thought. No one will go to class today anyway. Even if they did, they will not focus on the lecture. Their minds will be elsewhere. I remember thinking “Why would God allow this”?

That question still bothers me to this day. It seems contrary to human reason that a God that is all-good would allow evil. The problem with that line of thinking is that it assumes God created or condones evil. That is not the case. God gives us free will. Rather than force us to love Him, He allows us to choose to love Him. Love not freely given is not love at all. Evil is the absence of good. Where God has left the hearts of men, the void is filled with selfishness, pride, and most importantly, sin.

Evil is the manifestation of the choice we all make: that is, whether to love God or to love sin. Clearly the terrorists on that day made a choice for sin, for hatred, revenge, murder, war, however you describe it, it is the same thing: evil.

The best way we can honor those who lost their lives that day is to live our lives with an urgent dedication to God. We don’t know who from that terrible scene gained the eternal reward of Heaven. That is not in our control. It is God’s mercy that will determine their eternal reward. Our destiny is in our hands however. We can gain Heaven by loving God with fervent dedication, vigilance against evil, and the frequent reception of the sacraments, particularly confession. Let us honor the fallen by our lives, lived in virtue.