I need to share something. It is about a man. I man I never knew, but a man that I love more than I could say. He is a special man, and even though you might not think so…you know him. Later on, we’ll get to the picture where you would recognize him, but for now, I want to tell you a little bit about this man I love.
Isn’t he a handsome man? Such a neat looking guy, right?! His name is Mychal Judge. Father Mychal Judge. I want to tell you about Father Mychal if I may.
Robert Emmet Judge was born in 1933 Brooklyn to Irish parents. He, his parents, his twin sister, and their older sister lived through the Great Depression. His father passed away when he was six years old from a debilitating illness. To help the family, six-year-old Judge shined shoes at Penn Station and would often walk across the street to Saint Francis of Assisi Church. It was then that he decided he wanted to be a friar.
At the age of 15, Judge began the process of becoming a friar and by 1961 he was an ordained priest. He served at a number of locations in the north east before arriving at, you guessed it, Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Brooklyn in 1986.
Struggling with his own alcoholism from 1971-1978 and his personal secret of identifying as homosexual, Judge was a champion of the underdog. He spent much of his time loving on the homeless, hungry, sick, injured, grieving, immigrants, gays, lesbians, recovering alcoholics, people alienated by the Church, and especially people suffering from AIDS.
Once, when extending last rites to a man dying of AIDS, Judge was heart broken when the man asked him if he thought God hated him. He picked the man up, kissed him on the cheek, and rocked him until he had breathed his last.
In writing this, I discovered something new about Mychal Judge. There is a passionate movement to have him declared a Saint. It is gaining both momentum and supporters (include me among them). As you can see, this man is deserving of such an honor.
But there is still more you need to know about this man. He was a friar, a priest, a humanitarian…and a firefighter. He was appointed as a chaplain of the NYFD in 1992. As always, Judge’s ministry revolved around love. He served at emergencies through prayer and any other way he could help. He was loved by the firefighters and he also, obviously, deeply loved them.
Now, if you are an astute observer of context clues, you might have figured out where I am going with this. Considering it is September 12th. Considering Judge was a chaplain for the fire department. Considering it was the New York Fire Department. Father Judge dedicated his life to serving those less fortunate and those who serve others. This was always his focus, to the ignoring of other facts and the detriment of his own health.
Have you ever stopped to think about the confusion the emergency responders must’ve felt on that morning in September of 2001? This isn’t something they should be responding to, this isn’t something that should be happening in our country. But they shoved off their confusion and they rushed in because that is their job. Police, firefighters…chaplains. Judge suited up in his NYFD uniform and ran into the North Tower command post. He prayed for people on the street, prayed over bodies in the street, and at this point in his story, Father Mychal Judge becomes an icon.
He becomes an icon, because the South Tower collapsed and sent debris flying into the North Tower. He becomes an icon, because he was killed by the debris on September 11, 2001 at approximately 10:00 in the morning. He becomes an icon, because in this tragedy, his death certificate bears the number “one”. He becomes an icon, because an NYPD Lieutenant found his body and got some men to help him carry the Father’s body out of the building. He becomes an icon, because someone took a picture.
I told you that you knew Father Mychal.
This is one of the most iconic pictures taken on one of the most horrifying days in American history of one of the men of faith I look up to most.
As I thought about yesterday, its significance and what the wonderful city of New York has come to mean to me, I thought of my soul-friend Mychal Judge. And I wanted to share his story with you.
As a close to this, I would like to share a prayer of Father Mychal’s. He was speaking at memorial service for a large group of people who were killed in a plane crash (many years before the travesty of 9/11). He prayed this prayer over the words he spoke that day. I pray this prayer over all of us as we remember the pain and turmoil from this country’s past and as we continue to work to grow from and away from it.
“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.”
-Father Mychal Judge, 1933-2001
Love each other.