People would sometimes ask me, and I would sometimes ask myself, if all of the suffering and darkness I endured after my 9/11 relief work was worth it. Like so many who lived through that day and the following weeks, I spent about three years in the abyss of PTSD. I do believe that I would have navigated it a bit better had my faith been stronger at the time, but I know that God used this agony for good and to strengthen me for all of the other sufferings He will ask of me along the way to my eternal home.
The strongest presence in that darkness was Our Heavenly Mother. She was there when I found myself alone in England in the middle of the night tormented by nightmares, night terrors (awful awful!), and sleep paralysis. Our Lady understands the Cross since she endured it united in an interior sacrifice with Her Son. Given my path now, I completely understand why Our Lord sent Her to me in one of my darkest hours.
She was with me when I finally had to concede that I was in rough shape and needed to check myself into a private mental health clinic in London for treatment that lasted about a month. I will still never understand how the U.S. military got a contract with this amazing center, but I am thankful to God for it.
I went running towards the Cross following the initial attack at the Pentagon. I began my relief work on Friday, September 14, 2001 which is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (my NAM citation dates are wrong…leave it to the Navy..LOL). But, as is always the case with the Cross, I didn’t fully grasp what would be asked of me and what it would cost me. The same is true for all of the firefighters, EMTs, police officers, military, and civilians who ran into burning towers never to return.
The Cross is what saves, however. It leads us to the depths of God’s love and mercy. It is what ultimately transfigures us. My suffering has shaped me in ways I never could have been shaped without it. Funnily enough, in God’s divine plan, I would hold three holy relics of the True Cross 13 years later when I had just turned 33. It is the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena that we celebrate in the Church every September 14. Not to mention I was born in Helena, MT.
It was only this morning that I was able to grasp what my own suffering was meant for besides to help those who were in the throes of unbelievable grief and agony. God is eternal, so our sacrifices and sufferings are not offered in a linear fashion in my view. They don’t have to be given to God at the exact time when they are happening. He already knows we will offer them to Him when the Holy Spirit prompts us to do so.
I told my husband this morning that Christ knew while I was dealing with the difficult task of serving the bereaved as a relief worker, followed by the throes of my own darkness of PTSD, that 19 years later I would offer it all up to him on the Cross for his priests. It is from his perspective that suffering becomes a gift to be offer to Christ for others.
Suffering often makes little sense at the time, but our participation in redemptive suffering transforms our suffering into something radiant and beautiful united to Christ Crucified. Oftentimes we don’t see until years later, even decades later, what He is asking of us, but we can trust that regardless of how dark the night gets, He is bringing about His good and shedding light in the abyss. We only have to unite our agony to His in love for the salvation of others.
Please remember to pray for the dead, the loved ones of those killed, relief workers, our nation, and our enemies. Pray for the hijackers’ souls as well. it took me over a decade to be able do that latter, but it changes everything.
2 Replies to “9/11, the Cross, and Redemptive Suffering”
I want to thank you for the many memories you’ve shared over the years and for your descriptions of your path to healing through grace. Thank you also for your service as a sailor, as a volunteer, as a wife, mother, and catechist, and most of all as one who prays.
Your sharing of your suffering does bring God’s light to the darkness of suffering. He is using your gift of writing to remind us of His love/mercy and the blessing that redemptive suffering can bring.
What a blessing. Thank you for your service to our country, our faith and our God.