In the years since 9/11 became a shorthand notation for A Bright Line Event That Changed Life Into Before and After along the lines of the Kennedy assassination and man's walk on the moon, the eleventh of September has taken on great weight and meaning for Americans. A sort of calendar gravitas, if you will.
It has long been said that disasters bring out both the very best and the very worst in people and I imagine there's truth in that statement, for scared people are as apt to do extremely stupid things as they are to look beyond their own fright to offer assistance to others.
But there are those who do just that.
It is exactly for this reason that I take great comfort in the story of Fr. Mychal Judge, one of the fallen heroes of that awful, hellish day nine years ago. I never had the privilege of meeting Father Mike, but his story resonates with me - to the point that every 9/11 I re-read his story and I'll freely admit I still cry a little.
Black 47 sang his story - you can find the lyrics here - and they did it well, for he was a regular at the band's gigs, but there was far too much to fit into any song, no matter how powerful and moving. Fr. Judge (funny how that sounds, isn't it?) was Irish and Irish stories are at their best when they're funny and sad and wondrous and, most of all, epic. He was all of this.
He was - among other things - a twin born two days before his sister, a dedicated priest, an alcoholic who found redemption in the Twelve Steps as much as he ever did in the church he so devoted himself to, quite possibly gay, although he took his vows of celibacy seriously, so who's to know for sure. He loved New York and he loved the firefighters who protected the city. He was a chaplain for the NYFD and he accompanied his boys to the Twin Towers that clear September morn when death and damnation rained from the impossibly blue sky.
And he was the first official victim of the tragedy of the Twin Towers.
He died ministering to his boys and was, in turn, ministered to by them. His broken body was carried in a chair from the lobby of Tower One and was then reverently taken from the ongoing disaster scene to nearby St. Peter's Church and laid on the altar, his helmet on his chest. The picture at the top of the post was taken at the scene.
The firefighters paused to remember their priest and went back to work.
It's what Father Mike would have expected, they say.
You can read his story here. I do, once a year.
There's a movement to have Father Mychal Judge canonized as a saint, but to me that seems wholly unnecessary. The lessons of Father Mike's life are found in his life, not in his death. He took time for people. For all people. He practiced unconditional acceptance and love of people as manifestations of God, no matter how screwed up they may have been. He loved drunks and addicts and the diseased and the beaten-down. He loved the frightened and the brave. He loved the struggling and the recovering. He loved when it was hard to do so. He felt called to love and he didn't scold God for who he sent Father Mike to love. "They're all My children," God seemed to say to Father Mike. "How can I choose which ones to love? So how can you choose which ones are worthy to love and care for?"
So Father Mike loved 'em all.
There is a prayer attributed to Father Mike that I think sums up the man's life both succinctly and well. It simply states: "Lord, take me where You want me to go, let me meet who You want me to meet, tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of Your way."
I spend so much of my time worrying - being a scared person on the verge of doing stupid things. Father Mike reminds me that we're all called and we're not called to worry. We're called to love and minister to the hurt and bruised and downtrodden. With a smirk and a joke, if at all possible.
Requiescat in pace, Father Mike.