Friday, February 5, 2010

Because the Devil Is Real

Guest post by Allison Salerno
Have you ever felt the presence of raw evil? Just as I regularly feel to my bones the presence of God, I felt the presence of evil trailing me in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks. My husband narrowly survived the attack on Tower One of the World Trade Center, escaping from his office on the 68th floor 11 minutes before the building collapsed.
He was a senior information officer in the media relations office at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bi-state agency that owned the towers and runs the bridges and tunnels running from New Jersey into Manhattan as well as the region’s major airports.

When I told one neighbor in the days following that I was craving the sanctuary of Mass for an hour of peace against my feelings of sadness, anger and bewilderment, she replied. “I would think you would be happy he survived.”

What she could not understand was that surviving an attempt on one’s life when others do not is its own kind of ordeal. Greg lost 84 friends and colleagues that day, people who were no better or worse a person than he was. Because of Greg’s position as a media relations specialist, after the attacks, for almost three years, he chronicled for the media every life lost at his agency, as well as the recovery efforts. This was not only his job, but also his way to fulfill his deep sense of obligation as a survivor to give voice to those who had been killed.

So, why did Greg survive? Because God protected him? That I what I told our then five-year-old son when he asked me. “Well then why didn’t God protect the other people?” came his response. I had no answer. I know the attacks were not “of God,” but rather of God permitting us humans to have free will.

In the days following the attacks, Greg worked almost around the clock; he was gone when our sons woke up in the morning. Every night, after I had put our boys to bed, I would sit on the couch in our family room, waiting for him to return home. At 9 o’clock in the first few weeks, I would listen as fighter jets roared overhead.

A few weeks after the attacks, I sought out a priest at the church we attended, telling him I was haunted day and night by the feeling that the terrorists stole time – the time of their victims and the time of those who had survived the attacks. I didn’t understand how they could have such power.

“Take the time back,” he told me, suggesting I drive my husband into work daily to Jersey City, where he now was working at the Port Authority police headquarters.

And so I would drop our kindergartner off at the corner bus stop, bundle our not-quite-two-year-old into our sedan and drive up the New Jersey Turnpike each weekday morning to take Greg to work. This hour-long drive helped us both, stealing back moments of time we had lost.

The evil attack on humanity that happened on Sept. 11 had the potential to foster still more evil in my little family’s life. The terrorists offered us the opportunity to fall into rage or cynicism, disbelief in God, or even indifference. I could see that.

I am Catholic because the Church recognizes evil is real, even among those of us who try our best to follow Christ’s example. I am Catholic because I understand that following Christ is a day-by-day proposition.

I am Catholic because my Church recognizes we all wage a spiritual battle – every day – with the forces of evil.

I am Catholic because I believe in the seen and the unseen.

Nothing separates us “good guys” from “bad guys,” criminals, terrorists, politicians, bankers, whomever, except what we do with how we feel. We all are sinners. One of the many spiritual lessons I learned from my husband’s trauma is that just as God is not “out there” floating someplace in the cosmos, the Devil is not “out there” but can settle into our own hearts if we let him.

And there will be hell to pay if we do.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
Defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
And do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host—
By the Divine Power of God—
Cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
Who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.