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.

  • Dee

    Allison- I am moved by your post. Thank you for sharing such personal feelings about your family's experiences and your faith filled life. Dee

  • newguy40

    Thank you for sharing your moving story. And, may God Bless you and your family.

  • Allison Salerno

    @Dee: Thank you! And your journey has inspired me so much, too. I hope you continue to visit this blog; it is a real treasure.@newguy40. You're welcome. And blessings to you and yours as well.

  • Bender

    “Well then why didn’t God protect the other people?” came his response.Kids often have a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter, don't they?I heard an interesting rejoinder to that type of question at a funeral I went to for a mother who had beat cancer, only to have it come back. After mentioning her service to the poor and to the Church, and how she had expressly sought to join her sufferings with those of Christ on the Cross, the priest (her cousin?) mentioned how the family had prayed for a miracle . . . and they received one. No, her life in this world was not spared, but she was saved in the next.“Well then why didn’t God protect the other people?” He did, just not in the way we in this world think of it.*********How the children of today will be affected by 9-11 is still to be seen. For some of us (but obviously not all), 9-11 was a life-changing event. The world changed that day, never to be the same again. Since that day, we have known that there is evil in this world. We also know that it has always existed, but that we had made ourselves blind to it. On 9-11, those blinders were removed.

  • trebert

    This is not intended so much as an answer to your question regarding God's mercy but rather as an other insight, yes evil is alive and well, but it may surprise where it resides:

  • Webster Bull

    Allison, Your posts have been a great addition to YIM Catholic over the past couple of weeks. Many thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Allison,I think your priest was very wise, as were you to take his advice. Driving your husband to work was a sacrifice on your part, but a powerful response to the terrorists. I enjoyed (if that's an appropriate word, given the topic) reading your husband's account of his experience. Thank you for the link. It's important for those of us who didn't lose a loved one that day to remember the impact on those who did. Sheila

  • Allison Salerno

    "Well then why didn’t God protect the other people?” He did, just not in the way we in this world think of it.@Flexo: Just wow. I never thought of it this way and this is so very true. Thank you.

  • Ruth Murray

    Allison,Thanks for your beautiful story, beautifully told. Makes me appreciate the Church even more, for how God uses it to communicate His love for us — and our love for one another.

  • Barbara

    Yuck Trebert – she's not talking about religion at all. Not a lot of sensitivity shown to Allison. A better title for your blog would be whenfaithfails. Poor you – you're in my prayers. Angel of God, Trebert's guardian dear, to whom God's love commits him here…. Protestants have religions, we don't. The Holy Eucharist is not a ritual – we follow Christ's command to eat his body and drink his blood and in doing so we are present at the Cenacle and at the foot of the Cross. Thanks, Allison – kiss your boys for me. No, wait, they're too old! It's the thought that counts.

  • Maria

    Dear Allison:"the Devil is not “out there” but can settle into our own hearts if we let him".Amd just as night follows day, the Prince of Darkness has not, and will not, find a home in your heart. You are an inspirattion, and a reflection of the light that shines in the darkness!

  • Robin

    Really though God is more powerful than Satan so if He wanted to stop the attack He would have. Why would a loving God allow this to happen? What is amazing is that He knew who would die that day-many people like your husband Allison were not to die that day. God is sovereign and He is faithful to us. By God's grace and mercy, the rest of us who deserve to die due to our sin, were spared.

  • Fr. Neil Buchlein

    Dear Allison,Thank you for "risking" and being transparent in letting us into your world. Yes, Satan is definitely real and is "pulling out all the stops" as fast as he can. The toymaker Hasbro is now marketing pink Ouija boards for eight year old girls. He can only be stopped by prayer and the Rosary is the greatest weapon since he despises Our Blessed Mother.