A Cautious Man
September 11, 2004
Into the Fire
May your strength give us strengthOn September 11, I think of the morning of September 12. In my New Jersey community, about a dozen miles from, and within view of, lower Manhattan, we had spent the 11th not only viewing those terrible images, but worried about the fate of friends and neighbors who worked in the towers. Some eventually made it home, and some did not.
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
But on the 12th, as I woke to the radio, I heard a report that a New York City Fire Department chaplain was among the dead. Somehow, I knew immediately that it was Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest who had served in my parish in the town where I grew up. Although that was when I was just a kid, Father Mychal kept in contact with many, many families from the places he had served. He had baptized one of my brother's children, just a few years before. On the morning of September 11, my parents' home had two small photos of him on the side of the refrigerator, which they had received just a few months earlier. In each photo, he was wearing one of his "uniforms" – in one, his Franciscan habit, and in the other his Fire Department dress uniform. In both, he had the same wide grin and bright, excited look in his eyes.
On the 12th, there was another photo of Father Mychal, in the New York Times. In my edition, he wasn't even identified yet, he was just a man, a body slumped over being carried away from the destruction. But you could see his face, the mouth turned down and the eyes closed. He had rushed to the scene from his residence, the Franciscan friary on Thirty-First Street. He was killed as he stood ministering to the dead, the injured and the frightened, as the South Tower collapsed. Symbolically, the medical examiner designated Father Mychal as the first registered victim of the attacks, with death certificate number 1.
Less than 24 hours before his death, Father Mychal participated in the rededication of a fire house in the Bronx. As recounted in the book, Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic Ameican Hero by Michael Ford, as he addressed his fellow members of the FDNY, "Those who were present felt, in retrospect, that his words were valedictory":
We come to this house this morning to celebrate renewal, rejuvenation, new life. We come to thank God for the blessings of all the years that the good work has been done here and especially the last few days. … Keep supporting each other. Be kind to each other. Love each other. Work together … and from this house, God's blessings go forth to this community. It's fantastic but very painful. We love the job, and God calls you to it and indeed he gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done. Isn't he a wonderful guy? Isn't he good to you, to each one of you, and to me? Turn to him each day, put your faith and your trust and your hope and your life into his hands. And he'll take care of you.That picture I mentioned, of Father Mychal smiling in his Franciscan habit, can be seen on the memorial page located at this link, along with a short biography.
And that's what I think of on September 11.