“How are they down, how have they fallen down Those great strong towers of ice and steel”?

There are times when being a priest has its perks.  Today was one of them.  I had an early call from the oldest friend of my life who needed a prayer intention covered.  I was able to say Mass for his intention.

And because today is 11 September, I added the orations “Pro defensione ab hostibus… for defense against enemies“.  I included, as I prayed these orations, enemies within the Church, especially those who are intent on creating in reality a “schism” which was at first born only in their minds.

The Collect:

Hostium nostrorum, quaesumus, Domine, elide superbiam: et eorum contumaciam dexterae tuae virtute prosterne.  Amen.

Shatter to pieces, we beseech Thee O Lord, our enemies’ pride and humble their insolence by the might of Thy hand.

Contumacia, by the way, can mean not only “insolence”, but “rigidity”, a word much in the news right now.   Ironically, there’s none more rigid, in the worst sense, than a committed liberal, or contumacious.

I’ll be adding these orations often for the near future.

Meanwhile, …

… on this day I can’t shake the images of 9-11, the debris scattered field, the burning Pentagon, the collapse of the towers.  I have in mind especially the people who were close up and survived, a good friend in particular, and the many LEOs and FFs and others who went toward the danger, with long term consequences.

And while the context is a little different, the seemingly prophetic words of a poem by Thomas Merton come back to my mind.  I’ve posted them before.  I’m not at all a fan of Merton, especially his later stuff, but his poetry is thoughtful and at times gracious.  US HERE – UK HERE

In the late 1940’s Merton published his complicated poem Figures For An Apocalypse.  One of the sections of the poem is entitled “In the Ruins of New York“.

While the whole section concerns a great downfall, a city and way of life overturned in materialism, there are some striking lines which – when isolated – call to mind the horror of 11 September 2001.

Oh how quiet it is after the black night
When flames out of the clouds burned down your cariated teeth,
And when those lightnings,
Lancing the black boils of Harlem and the Bronx,
Spilled the remaining prisoners,
(The tens and twenties of the living)
Into the trees of Jersey,
To the green farms, to find their liberty.

How are they down, how have they fallen down
Those great strong towers of ice and steel,
And melted by what terror and what miracle?
What fires and lights tore down,
With the white anger of their sudden accusation,
Those towers of silver and of steel?

From Figures For An Apocalypse, VI – In the Ruins of New York (1947) by Thomas Merton

The poem does not line up perfectly with the events of 9/11, but the imagery is, for me at least, evocative.

The whole poem, even just the section of “In the Ruins of New York” is worth your time.  Merton paints the ugly with beautiful images.  Other moments of his poem are now striking. Consider this:

“This was a city
That dressed herself in paper money.
She lived four hundred years
With nickels running in her veins.
She loved the waters of the seven purple seas,
And burned on her own green harbor
Higher and whiter than ever any Tyre.
She was as callous as a taxi;
Her high-heeled eyes were sometimes blue as gin,
And she nailed them, all the days of her life,
Through the hearts of her six million poor.
Now she has died in the terrors of a sudden contemplation
– Drowned in the waters of her own, her poisoned well.”

But now the moon is paler than a statue.
She reaches out and hangs her lamp
In the iron trees of this destroyed Hesperides.
And by that light, under the caves that once were banks and theaters,
The hairy ones come out to play….

The hairy ones come out to play…

The hairy ones are romping, in the Church as well.

Sts. Nunilo and Alodia, pray for us.

Sts. of the Roman Canon, pray for us.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us.

Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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5 Responses to “How are they down, how have they fallen down Those great strong towers of ice and steel”?

  1. Kathleen10 says:

    Amen to your prayer, Fr. Z. When 9/11 happened, I kept some meaningful things I saw, and this was written at that time but anonymously as far as I knew. I hope you don’t mind my sharing it, I still think it’s very poignant.

    To The Towers Themselves

    They were never the favorites,
    Not the Carmen Miranda Chrysler,
    Nor Rockefeller’s magic boxes,
    Nor the Empire, which I think,
    would have killed us all if she fell.

    They were the two young, dumb guys,
    Beer drinking
    Downtown MBA’s
    Swaggering across the skyline,
    Not too bright.

    Now they are gone,
    They are like young men
    Lost at war,
    Not having had their life yet,
    Not having grown wise and softened with
    air and time.

    They are lost like cannon fodder,
    Like farm boys throughout time,
    stunned into death,
    not knowing what hit them
    And beloved
    By the weeping mothers left behind.

  2. RLseven says:

    I don’t think I can ever look at those photos again without hearing the pain in the voice of the wife of a man who died that day. He was in NY for a business meeting, being held on one of the floors that the first plane hit. She said, “I cannot look at this picture anymore because all I see is the exact spot and moment when my husband was murdered. Every time I see these pictures, I see his murder over and over again.” So much pain felt today by those re-living the horror, grief wounds ripped open again. Praying for all who lost loved ones– citizens, first responders, and others.

  3. JamesA says:

    And let’s not forget Fr. Mychal Judge, designated as ‘Victim 0001’, effectively recognising him as the first official casualty of the attack.
    A conflicted man, but, we hope, in heaven now.

  4. Kate says:

    We watched these gut-wrenching scenes as a family again tonight. It always brings me back to that morning when I hauled a 19 month old and 2 month old to Mass at 7:30 only to find the priest to be a no-show once again. I decided that I’d drown my sorrows over breakfast but found they’d be deepened as the story was on the lips of all who were there.

    I ask you, would you like to be known as the priest who played hooky on 9/11?

  5. kurtmasur says:

    “on this day I can’t shake the images of 9-11, the debris scattered field, the burning Pentagon, the collapse of the towers.“

    And may I add, Father, the collapse of WTC 7….