Not a happy camper when, as an acquisitions editor, the publisher did some academic product list swapping and I lost a list I had begun, a list filled with authors and teachers with whom I had grown especially close. The list transfer was particularly disconcerting since it took place just a few weeks prior to the list-related conference I was looking forward to attending. I mumbled and grumbled to God about the unfairness of it all, particularly on the day when my colleague was heading off to perform a convention role that I thought should have been mine.
Needless to say, God knew what He allowed was for my own good–even if it took me a couple of years to figure that out. (I’m a slow learner, I suppose.) It wasn’t until one of the early anniversaries of the 9/11 tragedy that I “saw” what had been there all along. God’s Hand guiding me along the way He would have me…and on the day when America was attacked, I was not on the road at the conference as were my colleagues, whom I had envied. No. I had the privilege of spending that fatal day in the privileged position of being able to pray in the Eucharistic presence of the Lord.
Released from work when the second plane struck, I left the office that had a vantage of the heavy smoke emanating from miles away where the Towers turned to rubble. Instead of going home, I went to the place that so many times in the past had enclosed me in a feeling of safety–like another womb. I headed to a local monastery, resting on a hill, overlooking the devastation going on in New York.
And from that womb I prayed, unceasingly it seemed, Rosary after Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet after Chaplet, accompanied by the painful sounds of ambulances racing to New York. Every time I heard another siren, I prayed in thanksgiving, thinking it meant more and more people had been rescued. As much as I hated hearing those sirens, whose sound seemed to pierce into the depths of my soul, at the same time, I found the sound hopefully comforting. Aid and rescue were coming to the victims, my brothers and sisters in humanity and nationality. My brothers and sisters in God.
At a certain point, by popular request, a missionary priest who had himself come to pray quietly alongside so many laypersons, who had come for the same purpose, offered an unscheduled Mass for all those afflicted and affected by the terror attacks. He followed Mass with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In a most moving gesture, the monks kept the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar for the rest of the day and night.
With the Monastery exterior doors to the Chapel (where the Lord was reposed in the monstrance on the altar), uncharacteristically left fully open, the Lord Himself, it seemed to me, was most assuredly presiding over the ministering that was happening in New York, the World Trade Center being nearly perfectly aligned with the view through the opened doors. Nothing was more comforting that day than the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in that strategic location, poised as His presence was in the direction of Ground Zero.
And inasmuch as the Lord uses our hands and feet and voices to minister to those in need, it was as if He were motivating, encouraging, overseeing, inspiring, blessing, and anointing all the good being done to overcome the evil that was an affront, not only to His beloved sons and daughters, but to the Lord Himself.
Among those who ministered that day, along with police, fire, medical, and other emergency personnel, were His Alter Christi, His priests. In accordance with the Lord’s own Merciful Heart, accounts were told of priests, prevented from being at Ground Zero, who nevertheless reached out to those injured and dying, as the priests stood in nearby buildings, looking out through windows, hands raised in blessing and reconciliation for all the victims.
No doubt the most well-known sacrificial priest that day was Father Mychal Judge, Franciscan friar and Fire chaplain, who died ministering to those trapped in the first collapsed building. Some name him as the first (at least known by name) victim of the terror attacks. How appropriate that the Lord’s Alter Christus would die first.
Likely less well-known are the anonymous priests from my home Archdiocese of Newark, sent out to meet all incoming trains from New York, all through the day, night, and into the next morning’s daylight, making themselves available to minister to grieving survivors. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I learned about this act of charity, which I’m sure our current Pope Francis would applaud as an act of the servant-shepherd-priests going out to minister to their injured and lost sheep, sharing their heartache; sharing their dust and grime and tears.
And it was outside one of the parishes of that archdiocese, a number of days later, that I found a special consolation after a memorial Mass for the 9/11 victims. It was dark when I exited the main steps after the Mass, still singing bits and pieces of refrains (not necessarily in the correct order) from comforting hymns that had been part of the very moving liturgy. “I know that my Redeemer lives… I shall rise again.. In my flesh, I shall see God…” and.. .“do not fear to hope…”
I had cleared the last steps when I noticed a very low-flying, slow-flying plane overhead. Being in the Metropolitan area, relatively close to three major airports, having a plane overhead should not have been of particular notice, but after 9/11, I found myself noticing every plane overhead. Regardless, in all the years I had entered and exited the Church, I had never before noticed a plane overhead, much less a plane flying so low I felt I could reach to touch it, peer into its rows of seats. So slowly was it going, it seemed for a moment to be in slow motion, nearing suspended animation.
And that was not all. That plane was all lit. Red, white, and blue lights from the plane beaming into the night.
And I cried. You all are safe. You are with God. You are heaven-bound. And I prayed in gratitude for the sign of their safety, their affirming presence. Their thankfulness, perhaps, for the liturgy that had just concluded in their honor.
And there were other signs of God’s healing presence. One of the most powerful was the witness during another Memorial Mass at another local parish of a relatively recent convert who had become active as a catechist. Both of her only two children, her two adult sons, who worked on different floors, died in the World Trade Center that fateful day. And she stood and spoke of her grief, tempered by faith that her sons were with God and that while she didn’t understand why they were among those who died, she was not going to blame God. She was going to continue to serve Him, knowing that it was evil, sinful choices that took her sons’ lives. She took strength and was strengthened in her faith, she said, by the overwhelming outpouring of love from her parish family. Needless to say, there were no dry eyes when she ended her witness, thanking us all.
Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good. God bless the peacemakers. They shall see God. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend.
9/11; 911: a call for help. Let us call out to the Lord who is our only surety in the face of all that is evil. Our only hope to overcome evil inclinations, in and around us, so that, with the help of His Grace, we might always choose goodness, life, and love.
What good came out of 9/11 for you or your family? In an ongoing effort to overcome evil with good, what good can you facilitate or initiate in honor of those who lost their lives, and so that others might live?