Today is the 15th anniversary of September 11. For many of us, this day will live on in our memories in different ways. I consider 9/11 to be one of the big turning points in my life. I was still buzzing with the excitement of having recently moved into New York City to begin my freshman year at the Cooper Union School of Art in downtown Manhattan. I remember the cloudless blue sky that September morning as I headed to my first class of the day at the Engineering Building on East 8th Street. Soon after, someone ran into our classroom to tell us news of a plane crash at the World Trade Center.
I can still recall particular details from that day with vivid clarity, although as time passes, the overall sequence of events has blurred more and more into a hazy, nebulous feeling of shock, disbelief, and on-going grief. After the towers fell, I remember running to the Catholic Center chapel at NYU on Washington Square South. Even though my relationship with the Church had grown cold throughout high school (and remained so for some years after college), I turned to prayer almost instinctively.
I recall that the chapel was full that day. People were sobbing. I was crying because I realized the immensity of lives lost that morning. I pleaded and I begged God to undo everything that just happened. I prayed for a miracle, though by that time I had stopped believing in them. In that moment of prayer, my instinctive, internal response was of anger and sorrow. I could not get the image of the burning buildings out of my head. And the images I saw on the news that morning were even worse. People holding hands jumping out of buildings, shocked, bloodied faces emerging from a cloud of dust, thuds, and thuds, as bodies fell. I thought, this is not right! None of this is right! How could You, God, let this happen?
The grief and anger I felt after 9/11 was due to the massive, instantaneous loss of so much life, as well as from a profound empathy, a shared collective consciousness, with everyone going through that same tragedy. However, I also recognized that the outrage and protest I levied on God that day perhaps stemmed from a realization that what happened that morning was not congruent with the God I knew, who reveals the Divine Self as good, all good, and every good. What happened that day, the violence that what we as a species can do, did do, and would continue to do to each other in a post 9/11 world, was an affront to God’s will and the Divine plan. It would take me many years to realize that that moment was a turning point in my relationship with God.
Today, in addition to remembering all of the lives that returned to our Creator 15 years ago, I also remember and commemorate the entrance into eternal life of our brother Mychal Judge, OFM (May 11, 1933 – September 11, 2001). Even before I began to discern a vocation with the Franciscan friars, the image of Br. Mychal being pulled out of the rubble by his fellow fire fighters was one of the most enduring images of 9/11. Covered in dust and debris, Mychal’s peaceful face stood in sharp contrast to the pained grimaces of the five burly men carrying his lifeless body.
I never met Mychal – I didn’t return to Church until quite some time after 9/11 and wouldn’t find Saint Francis of Assisi on 31st Street (where Mychal lived) until many years later. However, since joining the friars, I have been blessed to hear many stories about him from many of the brothers who knew him personally. They paint a complex portrait of a man, but it is a beautiful one nonetheless. Through the friars who have so generously shared their memories of Mychal, I have come to know our brother as someone who saw God as good, all good, and every good. His journey, his charity and activism, and his daily struggles continue to serve as an inspiration to me.
Most of all, Mychal was a reminder on 9/11. He reminds me of what we are supposed to do for each other. In a Church and in a society that discriminates against people for who they are, Mychal offered love and acceptance. In a time of great tragedy, of massive loss, Mychal gave even more of himself. On the last day of his life, Mychal lived the Gospel. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). He gives us hope that love exists and that we are capable of profound, truly selfless love, despite whatever limitations we or others may place on us.
And so on this day, his feast day, I share these beautiful prayers that reveal his unbounded love and gratitude to God.
Saint Mychal Judge, pray for us.
Thank You, Lord, for Life
Last Homily, September 10, 2001
Thank You, Lord, for life.
Thank You for love.
Thank You for goodness.
Thank You for work.
Thank You for family.
Thank You for friends.
Thank You for every gift because we know that every gift comes from You, and without You, we have and are nothing.
As we celebrate this day in thanksgiving to You, keep our hearts and minds open. Let us enjoy each other’s company, and most of all, let us be conscious of Your presence in our lives, and in a special way, in the lives of those who have gone before us. Father, we make our prayer in Jesus’ name, who lives with You forever.
Prayer in time of loss of loved ones
Memorial Service for TWA Flight #800, July 21, 1996
God is present, loving, smiling, having received our loved ones. They are in His presence, illumined by His smile and warmed by His love. His kingdom is enriched this day, so enriched by so many beautiful souls. So much beauty.
Our world is empty without them. Our hearts are broken, our sadness immense, our tears so abundant. We live our sorrow together.
We need You, Lord. Please come and touch us. Fill us with courage. Calm our discomfort. Give us signs of Your presence. We ask You, we beg You: Come.