September 10, 2021

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Father Mychal Judge’s last homily continues to inspire 20 years later

Sean GallagherThe date for this issue of The Criterion is Sept. 10, 2021. Twenty years ago on that day, Franciscan Father Mychal Judge preached his last homily.

A chaplain for the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) since 1992, Father Mychal celebrated a Mass on Sept. 10, 2001, on the occasion of the dedication of a new firehouse in the city.

In his homily during the Mass, Father Mychal reflected on the sacred nature of the work of the firefighters to whom he ministered.

“Good days. And bad days. Up days. Down days. Sad days. Happy days. But never a boring day on this job.

“You do what God has called you to do. You show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job. Which is a mystery. And a surprise.

“You have no idea what you get on that rig, No matter how big the call. No matter how small. You have no idea what God is calling you to.”

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Father Mychal didn’t hesitate to go to the World Trade Center after terrorists flew two airliners into its twin 110-story towers. He knew God called him to be at the side of the hundreds of FDNY firefighters who rushed to ground zero while thousands fled in the opposite direction.

The danger Father Mychal faced in going there didn’t ultimately matter to him. Following God’s call, ministering to the firefighters, did.

He ended up dying there at ground zero, along with 343 FDNY firefighters, all giving their lives while trying to help others and not giving a second thought about it. When Father Mychal’s body was discovered soon after his death, five ash-covered firefighters and civilians placed it in a chair and took it to a nearby Catholic church, laying it before the altar and covering it with a sheet.

The stories of self-sacrifice from 9/11 inspire just as much, if not more, than the stories of evil from that day horrify.

They inspire because they lead us to awe in learning of just how much ordinary people can give of themselves in extraordinary situations. They lead us perhaps to ponder, “How would I have responded in the same situation?”

May it please God that none of us will ever be faced with such evil as gripped so many ordinary people on 9/11.

But each of us is called to self-sacrifice of some kind every day of our lives. It’s at the heart of our who we are as Catholics. We’re disciples of Christ who are called to follow in his footsteps. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me,” Jesus said (Mt 10:38).

So, what Father Mychal said to firefighters in his final homily applies just as much to all of us in our lives as spouses, parents, children, workers, parishioners, neighbors, friends and even strangers.

Seen from God’s perspective, none of our days are boring. He calls us in the little ins and outs of each day to do his will.

With the help of his grace, we can follow his call. We can show up and put one foot in front of another.

When we awake each morning, we don’t know what God has in store for us. We might have big calls, small ones or a combination of the two. But, no matter what, God calls us in each moment to give of ourselves and, by doing so, to allow his life and love to fill our hearts all the more.

The phrase “Never forget” has become closely connected to 9/11. Let’s as Catholics never forget the many stories of self-sacrifice of that day 20 years ago. May they continue to inspire us to answer God’s call to give of ourselves in similar Christ-like love to others in our daily lives.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter of The Criterion.)

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