By Karen Schwaner Sheehy
Last month, I joined my mother, sisters-in-law, and niece for a three-day trip to New York. Our “girl time” included a trip to the Met, Rockefeller Center, and the Broadway musical, Anastasia. My high point, however, was our trip to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, commemorating the loss and slow recovery process following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Encompassing the Twin Tower footprints are two outdoor memorial pools, each 1-acre in size. Called Reflecting Absence, their disappearing waterfalls are meant to symbolize the physical, spiritual and emotional void left by these attacks. As I walked around the pool edges, I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of names engraved on their bronze parapets. Included were the 2,977 Sept. 11th victims and the 6 individuals killed during the 1993 bombing.
“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” (NM 11:29).
Within the museum itself, visitors encounter personal testimonies, pictures and information about each of the victims. As I looked at the face of each victim, I said a prayer on their behalf and begged for the spirit of the Lord to rest upon the hearts of those left behind. Men, women, children, people from various walks of life, nations, and religious groups, all were represented in the faces of the fallen. Yes, tragedy strikes all, but so does the unexplainable love, courage, and hope of those filled with the spirit of the Lord.
The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever (PS 19:8)
Located just steps away from Ground Zero, is St. Paul’s Chapel, a small Episcopal church where George Washington once prayed. This popular, historical landmark has its own miraculous 9/11 story to tell, a story about a 100-year-old fallen sycamore tree and the undeniable power of God. This tree, uprooted by a huge falling steel beam, covered up and saved this small house of God, its beautiful stained glass windows, and surrounding grave sites. Many will recall the palpable hope and healing found within its hallowed walls, as it became a center and sacred refuge for multitudes of rescue workers, survivors, and loved ones in search of missing family members.
This little chapel has a miraculous history, indeed. Not only did it survive the Sept. 11th attacks but also the Great Fire of 1776. Today, St. Paul’s remains a beacon of light, love and compassion for individuals impacted by Sept. 11th, the less fortunate, and neighborhood homeless.
Also surviving the 9/11 attack was a small pear tree planted in the vicinity of Church Street during the 1970s. Pulled out of the rubble in October of 2001, it was badly burned and not expected to live. After years of rehabilitation, it was returned to the site of the World Trade Center. Today, it too, has become a visible symbol of hope and rebirth.
How could this house of God survive, not only one, but two disasters, especially when the world around seemed to crumble down? Have these outward signs and miracles made a lasting impression on the people of New York and the world? Has the unity, love and compassion found amidst this unspeakable tragedy endured? Perhaps these questions, and similar ones impacting your own life story, are appropriate to ask when pondering today’s readings.
About the author:
Karen Sheehy is a devout Catholic, wife and mother, motivational speaker, blogger, president of a non-for-profit, and developer of spiritualsafariguide.com, your passport to a world of spiritual inspiration and understanding. To learn more about Karen Sheehy and her newly released book entitled, The Healing Eyes of Mercy. A Trinity of Love, please visit http://www.spiritualsafariguide.com
St. Paul’s Chapel and One World Trade Center. Picture taken by Karen Schwaner Sheehy, July 28, 2018. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Karen, my last trip to NYC was before the memorial was built, but I visited St.. Paul’s twice in three visits. I, like you, was amazed not just how the church survived and its history, but I was also struck by how appropriate it was that a house of God became a place of refuge for worn out rescue workers! I was also deeply moved by the stories of the volunteers who came to help the rescue workers and the dedication of the rescuers themselves. Those visits were filled with so many reminders of how faith, hope, and charity revealed themselves in the dark aftermath of 9/11.
Yes Janice. Thank you for sharing your own recognition and awe of God’s hand in all of our life circumstances, even the darkest of moments!
Hi Karen, I enjoyed reading about your visit, your commentaries and especially about the miracle of St. Paul’s church. Very well done!
Hi Juliana. St. Paul’s and God’s presence in the dark times, along with the hope He offers, are so powerful. Thank you for your comments. I am glad you enjoyed the post. The readings at Mass have been hard hitting lately, along with the challenges we have been facing as a people of God. Jesus I trust in You.
I enjoyed your story and as usual your words are enlightening always showing your great faith
Thanks Linda. We need faith at times such as this. He provides light in our darkness. Thank you for your comments and beautiful faith as well.
I was born and raised in New York City and still live there, and I remember September 11, 2001 as if it happened yesterday. I’ve visited St. Paul’s Chapel; it is a peaceful oasis in the city. On one visit, the security guards told me that they believe it’s haunted because they hear strange noises late at night when the people are gone. I think they are probably hearing either outside noises or recurring natural sounds such as the wood settling. I don’t believe in church hauntings.
Just down the block is St. Peter’s Church, which is the oldest Catholic Parish in New York City. When Father Mychal Judge was killed on 9/11, the firefighters carried his body to St. Peter’s and placed it on the altar there. He was the Chaplin to the Fire Department and the very first first-responder to be killed that day. I wonder if you had a chance to visit St. Peter’s.
I have my own story connected with St. Peter’s. In the late 1990s, I was unemployed but was able to get a temp job at a prestigious and large investment company with offices located in the South Tower. I was told that the job could become permanent. After a few weeks, without warning I was told that I was no longer needed and my assignment had ended. Very upset, I went into St. Peter’s, knelt down, the demanded that God tell me why this had happened. I liked that job and the location, would have gotten paid well and now felt rejected. So I sat back in the pew and waited for God to explain everything to me. Of course, that did not happen, so after about fifteen or twenty minutes, I got up, told God in prayer that it was obvious He wasn’t going to explain anything to me, so I was going home. Once home, I called some friends and told them all about how upset I was and how God didn’t explain why it happened to me.
Years passed and I had forgotten that entire incident. I had taken a few more jobs but on the morning of September 11th, I had an interview downtown in the Wall Street area. I never made it to that interview because I had overslept; what woke me up was the never-ending sound of fire engines going along Union Turnpike which is the highway in Queens that I lived next to. I didn’t have cable back then and the television was out because the antenna was on top of the World Trade Center and had been destroyed, so I walked down Union Turnpike to Queens Boulevard to find people coming out of the subway. The office building at the end of Union Turnpike had Federal and state offices in it, so that was also on lock-down as a precaution. Finally, I asked a woman what was going on, and she told me that two planes flew into each of the Twin Towers and the buildings were on fire. I listened and thought “She must have watched a horror movie last night; this doesn’t sound real.” I walked along Queens Blvd. and went into a store to get some breakfast rolls, and when I started back, the police had Union Turnpike roped off and I couldn’t get home. So, I walked around a bit, then went back and said “I have to get home, my two cats are there and I have to feed them.” But I still had to wait. Finally, they let us through.
When I got home, a friend in Florida that I’d known for years from the Charismatic Renewal called me and said “Didn’t you have a job in one of those buildings a few years ago?” That was the first time I remembered that. She then said “Now do you understand why the Lord took you out of there? He has more work for you to do.” I in no way believe that God loves me more and that’s why I was spared the horrors of that day, God loves everyone equally, but He has His reasons for everything that He does. I don’t understand all of His reasons nor should I. I also know that if God had somehow explained to me why I didn’t get that permanent job, I wouldn’t have believed it anyway. God has a plan for all of us and we don’t always know what his plan is until it comes to us. Sometimes, we are fulfilling his plan by touching other people’s lives without ever knowing it. God is perfect and His plan never fails.
Regina, thank you for sharing this story with me. It means so much to me at this time in my spiritual journey, especially the last two lines about how God’s plans are perfect and that we never really know how our actions will impact others. Next week, my son’s 1/2 birth sibling will be moving in with us. This requires a huge leap of faith on our end, both in opening up our hearts and homes to Alyssa (from Florida) and in trusting our vulnerability as adoptive parents- how will this decision impact our 18 year old adoptive son? Our trust is in the Lord and His amazing ability to heal and connect what seems to be random and often unrelated events in several people’s lives. On a side note: I will be taking Alyssa to a LA Catholic Charismatic Renewal Women’s Retreat this upcoming February-all so interesting to watch how the Holy Spirit moves. I wish you well and hope the blessings in your life this Christmas Season have been abundant. Thank you again for sharing your inspirational and faith filled story.
Luke 9:11 When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
I’m so happy that you were touched by my story; as I was writing I just felt that I needed to tell it. Also, I pray that all goes well with your adoptive child. It is a huge leap of faith to become parents to a new family member, but God is always there with you to guide you. I also pray that the retreat you are taking your daughter on will be a spirit-filled and powerful experience for both of you. Is this retreat in California? I only ask because you wrote LA. God bless and keep you.
Hi Regina, the young lady going with me on the retreat is my 18 year old adoptive son’s 1/2 birth sister-she is moving in with us-which is very strange as we have not seen her for about 7 years. The retreat is in Louisiana-the other LA 🙂 Karen
It sounds like a wonderful retreat.