Over the past week we have been doing much as a nation to commemorate the terrible events of September 11, 2001. Part of the ritual has been to share with each other our own experiences of that horrible day, which set so many things in motion and changed our world in so many ways. I was living in Spain at the time, which is 6 hours ahead of us here on the east coast, so it was mid-afternoon when my friend called me into the room where he was watching television. When I saw the first tower on fire, I thought it must have been a tragic accident. But then we watched as a plane flew into the second tower and realized that we were witnessing something else entirely.
A long-time parishioner of St. Cecilia told me that Fr. Dave Riley, who was pastor at the time, decided that there needed to be a Mass for people that evening. Even though it was a Tuesday night and the Mass was unscheduled, I’m told that the church was packed. And for months following the attacks, the churches were full. The shocking scene of the collapsing towers; the vision of ordinary people covered in ash and soot trying to make their way home – it was an irruption of violence and destruction and chaos into an otherwise ordinary Tuesday morning. People felt a need to find a place where they could try to comprehend what had happened. And, for a while, a great many people sought refuge in church.
Psalm 91 states: Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. When the reality of our fragility and the fragility of the order we create for ourselves is made plain to our eyes, it overwhelms us with terror. That’s what the events of 9/11 did to us. 9/11 revealed something to us that we had overlooked; it took away from us something we had taken for granted. Foundations shaken, we craved safety and protection. But, sadly, the churches did not stay full for very long. I think that happened in part because of scandals in the Church, but also because I think we kind of got used to the new reality.
The truth of our fragility and the fragility of the order we create for ourselves remains, however. It’s part of what we need to remember when we reflect on the horror of 9/11 and all that has occurred since. We are in God’s hands always. It is there that we find comfort in the midst of distress, for He is the One who assures the listener as He speaks to us in that same Psalm: Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation. 20 years after the terrorist attacks, we entrust our nation and all who have experienced the horrors of the post-9/11 world to the care of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. May those who seek refuge find it there.