Father Mychal Judge has been on my heart a lot lately.Â He was the chaplain for the New York City fire department, the first registered death of 9/11.Â He had gone into the World Trade Center towers to offer last rites to the dying firefighters, and he himself was struck and killed. You have probably seen this photograph of his body being carried away from the towers.Â It is one of those photos that is hard to forget. I’ve seen it referred to as a modern Pieta.
Though it’s been nearly nine years since his death, it’s only in the last year that I’ve started really reading up on his life.Â And everything I read just makes me convinced that he was the kind of man I’d be privileged to know.Â Those who knew him spoke of a generosity of spirit, and kindness, and a personality that was larger than life.Â He seemed particularly able to connect with people on the fringes of society. He would spontaneously give his clothes to homeless people on the streets of New York.Â Â In the 1980s, he went into the hospital rooms of AIDS patients and listened to them, prayed with them, touched them at a time when most people were terrified to get near them.Â He was a recovered alcoholic, one who felt that AA saved his life.Â The fact that he himself had known hopelessness meant that he was, by all accounts,Â remarkably compassionate to others in pain.Â And it’s this quality that makes him most compelling to me.
In Michael Ford’s book Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero, he quotes a priest who knew Mychal well.Â Father William Hart McNichols talks about Mychal Judge’s unique ability to minister to those around him.Â I was particularly struck by this passage:
[Mychal] was always warm and friendly.Â He never came across as someone completely together, but he projected a wounded warmth without being wounding.Â A lot of ministers, who are not self-aware or self-conscious in the good sense of that word, can really hurt people because their wounds are not absorbed or faced.Â They can really damage others.Â When Mychal Judge came toward you, you knew he was wounded.Â But you also knew you were safe with him. (Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero,Â 118)
I get the feeling I’m not done writing about Father Mychal.Â There is a lot more I want to learn about him.
And before I go I want to share this, his personal prayer, which I often pray myself in the morning.Â Â It is a reminder that the day will present us with lots of little moments where we have to make a choice: Are we going to bring God’s love into the world, or not?Â Mychal chose the better part,Â both in life and at the moment of his death.Â I have much to learn from him.