Father Mychal Judge, OFM, died on September 11, 2001.
Many people died that day - victims of the terrible tragedy of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon in Washington.
As we come up on this decade's remembrance of that horrible day, I have mixed emotions. I lament, like everyone, the loss of life on our shores that blue September Tuesday. I still shake my head at the subsequent loss of life in Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not feel like anything is substantially different in the so-called "post-9-11 world." To that, I add the realization that the root issues that led those young terrorists to attack America in the first place have not been resolved, and Palestinians and Arabs alike suffer.
I want peace, and I don't see it.
However, this tenth anniversary also has been a moment of grace for me. As I pray, and worry that I am not as "into" this memorial as my civic duty seems to demand, God touches me in an important way.
I was preparing to become a deacon in 2001 and 2002, being ordained on May 11, 2002. The iconic image of the priest being carried away from the scene of destruction - having rushed there to assist his friends and charges, anointing at (probably) a thumb-numbing pace - stood out. Resting in the arms of the firemen who carried him, Fr. Mychal seemed to have found peace, even in the midst of the worst tragedy our nation had faced in my lifetime.
And today, as I pray, that is the message - that is the grace - that God gives to me. Peace is not the absence of war, as John XXIII noted, as well as Gaudium et Spes (cfr. n. 78). Rather, peace comes from right relationships - what the Hebrews call zadekh, the Greeks call dikaiousine, and we call "justice." There is no note of revenge or getting even. Rather, it is about relationship, first and foremost.
Fr. Mychal had that relationship with the firefighters for whom he was a chaplain and for whom he died. More importantly, he had that relationship with Jesus Christ, whose priest he was - and still is. The grace that God sends me in the midst of this difficult memorial is this - I am His priest, and in the midst of my service to His people is that peace that I want. If I don't see it, it's because I am looking in the wrong place.
That's not a bad lesson for all of us.
That day, Fr. Mychal Judge died. His was the first death certificate issued in relation to those terrible attacks.
Many people died that day.
Father Mychal was number one.