This reflection on the 9-11 tragedy is presented to us by our own Deacon Gregg Osgood.
Seventeen years this past September 11th, around midnight, Lieutenant Thomas Colucci of the NYCFD sat down exhausted – collapsed really – on the massive pile of smoldering debris that once was the World Trade Center, muttering “I was there, right there in the middle of it all, and I still had a hard time believing what had happened.”
Five men from his firehouse were killed at Ground Zero. He would come to learn of many other firefighters, personal friends, who died there as well. “After the first couple of days we knew we weren’t going to find anyone else alive. Mostly we just helped each other as we cleaned that place. And I went to funerals, sometimes three a day. Grief, it was just grief.”
Many firefighters knew, and other workers came to know, the kind of man Tom Colucci is. As they worked, many approached to ask him, “Why did this happen? Where is God, Lieutenant?” “I would tell them, ‘Christ is here. He’s here… in the workers, in the volunteers. He’s here’.” Lieutenant Colucci became Captain Colucci. Then, in another fire in another place, flames ignited an explosion. He was badly hurt. He underwent two surgeries, one of which nearly killed him. Months later he was forced to retire. He went to a Benedictine monastery. That is where he told me his story. As I listened to him the one word that came to mind was: Serenity. He never thought (who could have?) that he would see anything like what happened that day and the days after at Ground Zero. Yet he was at peace. At the urging of the monks, Brother Colucci- once Lieutenant Colucci- entered the seminary, was eventually ordained and became Father Colucci. He had thought about the priesthood from time to time over the years. But there came a time, when he knew it was time- to respond to God’s call. He used to fight fires to help save lives; now he fights alongside God to help save souls.
Vincent Druding was one of the volunteers at Ground Zero. Vince had won an internship in New York, a long way from his home in Indiana. As he had practiced the night before, Vince took the subway downtown; and when he came up to street level he saw people coming toward him, trying to get away from the Towers. Then he saw a plane – the second plane- plunge into the second Tower. He saw people jumping to their deaths rather than stay in the burning building. He told me, “Deacon, once my head started to clear, all I could think was, ‘What can I do? What do I do to help’?” So, he began helping people get to safety. After the Towers collapsed, he joined the others digging in the rubble looking for anyone who might still be alive. He related, “Over the next days, I started to lose it. I was depressed, exhausted. I had nightmares when I tried to sleep. My hair began falling out. And then I saw a priest- in the middle of the night – blessing the remains of a firefighter. On Sunday morning another priest gave me the Eucharist.” After Vince received, he found a place to lay down. He fell asleep for a couple of hours. It was the first real sleep he’d had since the Tuesday before.
When he awoke he was surprised to find that he felt at peace. It was a deep, comfortable peace unlike anything he had experienced before. Though nothing had changed outside – Ground Zero was still as it was – he had changed inside. “It was the hand of God, Deacon,” he said. “I encountered Christ in a very real way two or three times in that hellhole.”
He said these words with intensity, but with placid conviction. His eyes were vibrant as he spoke. Vincent once was a promising young business man. Now he is a priest.
Both men decided to forgive and then they gave themselves to God and God’s people. Ground Zero is a term that means the point of maximum impact. In the case of 9/11, it usually refers to that place of massive destruction at a time when evil won. Yet both men encountered our living God in the middle of it all.
There is peace – meaning the lack of turmoil. There is a greater Peace, that is serenity, even in times of turmoil. This is God’s peace. This is being at peace with God, resting in the hands of God, not denying reality but rather accepting reality and responding as God would have us respond – Faithfully; giving and receiving forgiveness; trying as best we can to attain holiness; looking for ways to help others.
We’re not all called to Holy Orders; but we are all called to always, in every circumstance, do what God would have us do. We’re also called to help others attain eternal safety and perpetual joy with God in heaven. This is living a life of maximum impact; this is life at Ground Zero.
The Alleluia verse, “I chose you from the world, that you may go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord,” (Jn 15:16) comes to mind when helping people, whenever we can, to get to heaven. That is for all of us. And we can’t forget the last part – that is bearing fruit that will last. When our time here is done what we all want to hear is, “Well done good and faithful servant. Come share my happiness!” Please pray for the innocent souls that died on 9/11. Pray for those they left behind. Remember the ones who remain, wounded in body or spirit; and forgive those who need to be forgiven.