Archive for June 5th, 2009

American Pieta…

Fr Mychal Judge WTC

I have taken to my prayers this morning a meditation on what has become for me an icon of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. It has become known as The American Pieta.

It seems hard to believe that it was more than seven years ago that photographer Shannon Stapleton snapped one of the most famous images of the attack on the Twin Towers, of a police officer, two firefighters and an OEM responder carrying out their fallen spiritual leader, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM.

It seems most appropriate, in these strange-salad-days of hope and anxiety, that we remember his prayer.

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

Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM
Chaplain, NYFD
First official recorded victim 9/11 attack

I had also recently watched a documentary on Fr. Judge.  Fr. Judge was killed by falling debris on 9/11 while after administering Last Rights to a fallen fireman (Daniel Suhr) at “Ground Zero”. The documentary is entitled Saint of 9/11 – The True Story of Father Mychal Judge. (Corrections provided by first commenter: John M. Kelley)

The documentary essentially covered his whole life, but its main focus is the battle between his calling as a priest and the hidden darkness residing deep within his spirit – and most importantly, how he overcame that dark side to become a true messenger of Christ. Fr. Judge was a untiring herald of the neglected and forgotten. He donated a large part, if not all, of his income to the poor. Every year he would take money from his own pocket and purchase coats for the homeless people he encountered during his ministry. In contrast (and opposition) to the conservative core of the Church, Fr. Judge was a champion of those shunned by the Church.

In the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, most people, including doctors, nurses and clergymen shunned infected people. Fr. Judge did not. He comforted them, embraced them, and brought God into their lives before they died. This was the epitome of living out the verses:

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’  ~ Matthew 25:35-40

What makes his story all the more fascinating is the human element that underlies it. Like all of us, Fr. Judge had his share of demons that were wrestling for control of his soul. Throughout his life, he struggled with his humanity and all the issues attendant to that state. But he did not let those demons interfere with his mission. Fr. Judge was sober for the last 23 years of his life, and he was celibate. The sexuality issue was the one thing in the documentary I found unsettling. It seemed that the producers were emphasizing that aspect as a means to tear down the image of a man doing his Christian duty without regard to his personal demons, or danger that he found himself in. That portion of the documentary was uncessessary and gratuitious to the hope and love that Fr. Judge provided by being a conduit for the Hope and Love that Jesus Christ provides all of mankind.

I was reminded of this man’s sacrifice on that infamous day because I read a passage in Joshua that instructed us to not be terrorized.

“Have I not commanded  you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terriffied; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you will go.” Joshua 1:9

Fr. Judge provided us with an example to follow – Do what is right in God’s eyes, do not be afraid, even to the point of death.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Thomas Merton


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