Exploring more stories in Christian history, I’d like to share a little about one of my personal heroes: Father Mychal Judge.
Born Robert Emmett Judge in Brooklyn, New York, Fr. Mychal Judge served as a Franciscan priest from his ordination in 1961 until his death as the first recorded victim of the September 11 attacks of 2001.
A recovering alcoholic, Judge spoke openly of his struggles with addiction and shared the story with others engaged in the same battle. Over five decades, he became known throughout New York City for his willingness to minister to the marginalized. In the documentary film Saint of 9/11, friends recall occasions when Judge literally gave the coat off of his back to those in need. Judge, a gay man who maintained his priestly vows of celibacy, also ministered extensively to New York’s gay community, ministering to AIDS patients during the height of public panic regarding the illness. Stories of Judge giving tender touch to patients bring to mind the stories of St. Francis kissing lepers. Another account in Saint of 9/11 relates that an AIDS victim once asked Judge, “Do you think God hates me?” Judge responded by holding the man in his arms and giving him a loving kiss.
In 1992, Judge became chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Judge went to the World Trade Center towers in support of his “boys”, members of the department actively working to save lives at the scene of the terrorist attack. As he ran to the scene, Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked judge to pray for them, to which Judge responded, “I always do! I always pray for you!” Judge then entered the North Tower and when told to leave reportedly stated, “My work here is not finished!” According to reports, Judge later attempted to climb the stairs in an effort to minister to injured firefighters when he debris struck and killed him.
When we follow Christ, we are continually called from safety into the heart of the fire. Jesus tells his disciples repeatedly that they are not promised safety, that they will suffer and even die for His sake. We are called to follow him into the margins, to love those the world forgets or refuses to love. We are called to lay down our lives in love.
May we live by Mychal’s 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.”