Pray God that we have personally never had to hear "911, what is your emergency?" But if we have, or if we have heard it on tv, we know that the numerical identification "911" stands for an emergency situation, and warrants immediate action. Today is September 11, or 9/11. Ever since this date in 2001, 9/11 has come to mean what the designation 911 means, a crisis situation that touches our lives. As we all know, on a beautiful, clear blue sky late summer/early fall day in the Eastern United States, our nation was attacked by terrorists, and we were caught up in an emergency that has touched our lives in a tragic way. The twin towers in the city of New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field near Shanksville in Somerset County in Pennsylvania were the site of terrible loss of life and the origin of a fear and emptiness that touched the human condition. On that 9/11 when so many 911 calls were made, we were changed. Lives were lost, but so was so much more. We were all affected.
That day has become a "Where were you?" kind of memory. For me it was very much like today, a clear, beautiful but warmer day. I was on the September Priests' Retreat at Saint Joseph Hall Retreat Center in Greensburg. The retreat had begun Monday evening and would run through Friday lunch, with Archbishop John Quinn, retired Archbishop of San Francisco as our retreat master. On that morning we had prayed morning prayer, attended a retreat conference, and were preparing ourselves for a late morning Mass. Someone had heard the news and we found and gathered around a tv. We were saddened by the plane hitting the World Trade Center, praying for the victims of that horrible accident. We were shocked when the second plane hit, and began to realize what so many were realizing, that this was no accident. When the Pentagon was hit we were quiet with fear of the unknown. And when the towers fell, we were speechless and I know that I was brought to tears.
Saint Joseph Hall was also the site of the Pennsylvania State Police Regional Training Center, as well as the site of offices of the Attorney General's Office. I mention this because when flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, but before it was announced, we knew something was up - all the the State Police vehicles took off like a bat out of h..., and soon after, the AG's offices closed and they left. Then we heard about Shanksville. The closeness of the tragedy hit home when we realized that we were very near the flight path that flight 93 took, for we are very close to that Somerset County community. I can assure you that our liturgy that morning was somber and intense, and our prayers filled with the uncertainty and fear of those circumstances. I went home that afternoon to check on the plans of the local community, and to prepare something for the bulletin. It was a quiet ride home for me. Even passing the local State prison in Greensburg and seeing the driveway blocked off gave me pause. What was next was the question of the hour.
Eleven years has past. Every time I watch those towers fall on tv, or hear of the trauma of those involved, or reflect on the tremendous courage of the first responders, I am brought to tears. It was a tragic day for the United States. It was a time of great courage in the United States. It is a day to be remembered and it must be a day of prayer to God.