September 11, 2011
Ten years ago: a personal remembrance
I was sitting at my desk in the old Catholic Center on West Peachtree, in downtown Atlanta. I had been at work for several hours. One of the secretaries on the third floor came and spread the word… something’s happened at the World Trade Center…it’s on TV. The Vicar General in 2001 was Msgr. Peter Dora, and he had a small television set in his office. So several of us went in and turned on the set….
That Tuesday in September was a blur. On that Tuesday, television cameras allowed us an up-close experience…of the horror, the confusion and panic, the human suffering and death that New Yorkers saw and felt and smelled on 9-11. Television allowed us to see the shadow of evil, the horror of evil. We felt it and shuddered.
That work week was lost. The whole nation was numb and depressed and angry. I don’t remember anything of that week except for the sense of foreboding, the sense of darkness, of a looming darkness that clouded my heart much like the clouds of smoke from those twin towers blocked out the beauty of that September morning. If you remember that day, that week, you will remember how difficult it was to turn away from the television and get back to business.
I was scheduled to preside at several Masses that Sunday at St. Catherine’s in Kennesaw. I tried to prepare a homily for the Masses, but could not find a word. I was still in that foreboding, still under that dark cloud that had blocked out the sunshine in New York City on Tuesday. As a priest, I’ve always asked the Lord to guide me as I prepared to serve the people with a homily; but during that week, I was begging for help…I had no idea what to say. I was lost, like so many of us were lost.
The Lord answered my prayer, and this is what the Lord gave me to say, five days after 9-11, on Sunday, the Lord’s Day:
I want all of us to remember those two airplanes crashing into the twin towers. I want each of us to focus on the reality of what happened… that two airplanes were intentionally crashed into the twin towers, that the intended result was horror and confusion and panic…and death.
And I want you to remember this madness in this way: the twin towers are man and woman standing together, standing in the garden given to them by the all-loving Creator. The twin towers are man and woman standing together, tall and strong; and the airplanes that brought man and woman down were used that day as instruments of evil. This is what evil seeks to do, to destroy man and woman, standing together, standing in the garden of the good earth.
But the rubble of Ground Zero is not the end of the story. Man and woman can again stand together, tall and strong…just as we were created to be. For the Light of God shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
After I had offered these few words, something happened that I never experienced before or sense. I began shouting praised be Jesus Christ…praised be Jesus Christ…and the congregation took up that powerful cry, and for a minute or two, we shook the Nave of St. Catherine with this foundational prayer of the Church…praised be Jesus Christ.
Whether it was articulated or not, what we were doing at that Sunday Mass was responding to evil in the only way human beings can respond to evil: we were longing for the holiness and Presence of God, longing to renounce the darkness…longing to stand up again, man and woman together, as God intended us to be…as The Lord Jesus invites us to be. This is what the ongoing renewal of our beloved parish community calls us to be…standing together as man and woman, girl and boy…to be happily, joyfully…holy…by God’s grace, by Christ’s invitation.
Today, though we remember that face of evil, we also remember the men and women that ran into the burning towers, in hopes of saving lives. They did not run away from the challenge. They ran toward it!
When you hear a word of invitation at the end of Mass today, an invitation to pray for the continuing renewal of our parish by joining a Christ Renews His Parish retreat…please God…shout out your “yes”…for to praise Him is to follow Him… to intentionally renounce the darkness and to believe and live in the Light (Mark 1.15).