9/11 Day of Service Talk
John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America
Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center
Sept. 10, 2011
Let me say, first, that we are glad to see you. Like Jeanne and I, you gave up some Saturday morning sleep to be here. That says something about our University. You are joined today by many people across the country who have also made a sacrifice to participate in a day of service. That says something about our nation. Today’s activities combine two things: remembering those who died in the tragic events of 9/11, and serving. These might seem like an odd pairing. Remembering is about thinking and feeling. When we remember, we look to the past. Serving, on the other hand, is about doing. When we serve, we try to make a better future.
But there is a link, and it’s crucial. John Donne, one of the 17th century poets that Samuel Johnson called Metaphysical, wrote a poem that begins “Death be not proud, though some have called thee/ Mighty and dreadful . . . .” The poem ends:
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
The terrible events of 9/11 might tempt us to think that death wins. So many people suffered. Dads, moms, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, and sisters were lost. Our University lost a professor. People were left in mourning and afraid.
A few days after the attacks Catholic University held a Vigil of Hope. At the vigil Fr. O’Connell, my predecessor, said:
The motto of Catholic University is . . . ‘God is my light.’ He is, indeed, the light that pierces the darkness with hope . . . [N]o power on earth, no grief, no fear, no person can ever extinguish our hope.
Death is not the end. Those who were killed in September 11 did not end their lives in the past. They live on where “death shall be no more.” They have a future that is everlasting. This is what it means to hope: to believe that there is life beyond the here and now.
Hope also reminds us that this life is precious. At the vigil I mentioned, Fr. O’Connell urged the members of the University community to “return to [their] lives with an even greater resolve to live each moment in God’s light and love.” This is where service comes in. We honor those who died on 9/11 by our efforts to make this world better. We know that the same God who gives eternal life created this world to be good. We hope for better things in this world as well as the next, and we work for that better world. May God bless our efforts.