A group of passengers stood bravely in the face of evil on September 11, 2001. These passengers took it upon themselves to try to regain control of United Flight 93 after terrorists took the plane hostage. The actions of these passengers were acts of valor, heroism, patriotism, and dare I say faith. The story of Thomas Burnett, Jr., particularly reveals how one man’s faith encouraged him to take action against evil.
Thomas was a devoted husband, father of three girls, and a very successful businessman. He was the Chief Operating Officer for his company, Thoratec Corporation. During his college years he had fallen away from practicing his faith, but as he searched for the truth he began to turn to the Church to find answers. Having done so, he grew closer and closer to God. He knew that God would use him to impact many lives, but he was not sure how. A few years before the tragic events of 9/11, Tom began attending daily mass. He told his wife Deena that he was doing this in order to be closer to God. In interviews after his death, Deena remarked how her husband had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother and that he desired to make a pilgrimage to one of the major Marian shrines in Europe.
Deena reveals her strong faith as she recounts her experiences during 9/11 and after. She converted to Catholicism after marrying Tom, and she notes that her Catholic faith has helped her through the grief and struggles after her husband’s death. She says that it was the understanding that God is a God of love and not a God of vengeance that helped her.
When the terrorists took over United Flight 93, Tom and many other passengers were taken captive and herded to the back of the plane. It was from this location that Tom called his wife a total of four times. During these calls he told Deena to contact the authorities and to inform them of the situation. At the same time she disseminated the news that there were other planes that had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.
When Tom received this horrific news, he and a few other passengers realized that it was up to them to take action and try to save the flight. In his final call to his wife Tom tells Deena of their resolution. He said, “We’re going to take back the plane. We can’t wait for the authorities. I don’t know what they could do anyway. It’s up to us. I think we can do it.” Deena responded, “What do you want me to do?”
“Pray, Deena,” said Tom. “Just pray.”
Moments later Tom and his fellow passengers attacked the terrorists, and as a result of this attack the plane crashed into the rural fields of Pennsylvania, never reaching the targeted destination of Washington, DC.
The final conversation between Tom and Deena helps us to understand how we can strengthen each other in prayer. Tom recognized that something needed to be done about the evil unfolding before him. He knew that he could not do it alone. He employed the help of those immediately around him as well as the help of someone many miles away, his wife Deena. She united herself to Tom’s actions through her prayerful support. Tom understood the importance of the task in front of him and desired spiritual assistance. His faith gave him the courage to stand and attack the evil that was in his presence. He did not act alone, but was strengthened by those around him and by Deena’s prayers.
The example of Tom and Deena is something to keep with us as we move forward from the Fortnight for Freedom. Our bishops have asked the faithful to unite in prayer. Sometimes it is hard simply to pray and only pray. But through prayer we are in contact with the living God, the only One who is almighty. If the work is His, it will succeed. If it is not His, it will fail. He hears our prayers and gives strength to those who have the opportunity and ability to make a change.
Some of us, like Tom, have the abilities and the opportunity to act on behalf of others. While these act, it is up to the rest of us, like Deena, to strengthen them with our prayers. We place our trust in God by uniting with each other through prayer and action. We trust in the mercy of God to hear our prayers and to send His Holy Spirit to guide those acting on behalf of the entire Church. Our prayers and actions do not end with the passage of a certain calendar date, but must continue as long as Truth is attacked.
“They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you” (Jer 1:19).
Image: Andrew Wyeth, Soaring