This is the text of my homily to the Seminary community on September 11th.
Sixteen years ago this morning I was sitting in my office at the Bishop’s Conference when Sr. Clelia came in with Gus (now Archbishop) Dinoia. You see, I had a T.V. hidden in the closet and they, soon joined by a dozen other USCCB staffers, wanted to see whether a small plane had really flown into one of the towers. And then Clelia saw the American Airlines plane flying low and disappearing behind the trees over near the Pentagon and then…. And then began days of great suffering of uncertainty and naked fear.
God used that suffering in those days to bring us all a lot closer to him, just as he used the Cross to redeem me. I went to confession a lot more frequently, I missed the Office of Readings a lot less frequently and I was so much more fervent in my prayers for everyone I loved. And people started going back to Church in significant numbers. Sure, it didn’t last forever for everybody, but it did make a huge difference for some.
For they and we and I knew we could have very easily died on 9/11. And blind fear of death has a way of focusing the mind on the things that really matter.
God is not the author of suffering. He did not cause the people in the towers to die that day; evil came into this world through the selfishness of men like me, not a God who is love. But God writes straight even with crooked lines, and uses even suffering to his glory and our good.
That’s why Saint Paul rejoices in his sufferings for the Colossians, because he knows that his little sacrifices are somehow a participation in the one perfect sacrifice offered on the altar of the Cross, and that through all those little sacrifices God will lead the Colossians to God.
So, too, your sacrifices today, your very real sufferings in casting away everything that keeps you from reaching full manhood in Christ, in staying awake during that awful class, in putting up with your brother, in fighting that temptation and in just being a seminarian…those sufferings are a participation in the perfect sacrifice offered on the altar of the Cross, and through them God will lead people yet unborn, people whose names and faces you do not yet know, to know him and love him and serve him in this life to be happy with him in the next.