By David Lenehan
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Father Mychal Judge was on duty. A Franciscan friar and Catholic priest, Judge served as Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). According to reports, when Judge heard that the first tower of the World Trade Center was hit by a plane that fateful morning, he rushed to the site. He joined then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who asked him to pray for the city and its victims. Father Judge also stopped and prayed over the bodies of victims that were lying in the streets below the burning tower.
He then entered the lobby of the North Tower, where NYC first responders had set up a command post to direct their actions amid the chaos. Both towers were now on fire. The air was filled with flaming debris and choking smoke. As Father Judge continued to pray, to fulfill the call God had given him to be light and hope to those with whom he served, the South Tower collapsed. As it fell, debris went flying through the North Tower lobby. Father Judge was struck in the head by that debris and killed, along with many others. His memory is etched into our minds by the photo that soon followed of three firefighters and two other men carrying Father Judge’s body out of the debris on a chair. Later, Father Judge was deemed “Victim 0001,” recognizing him as the first official victim of the 9-11 attacks. Though scores of others had been killed before him in the towers and in the field in Somerset County, PA, his was the first body recovered and brought to a medical examiner.
Father Judge did not hide in the lobby of a church parish when the attacks unfolded. He followed his call and ran to the heart of where the people that needed him the most would be. He didn’t think about it, he didn’t hesitate.
That same passion that Father Judge had for the firefighters he served is how God cares for us. His compassion for us is immeasurable. His love is unfathomable. His strength, protection, hope, grace, mercy, and forgiveness are beyond our comprehension.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1, NIV).
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Prov. 18:10, ESV).
“And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt 14:28-33, ESV).
God hears us when we call out to Him. He was there when people cried out to Him in the Twin Towers, in the plane over PA, on the ground in NYC. No, God doesn’t always answer us immediately or give us what we want instantly. But He does care, He does love us, He does seek a lasting relationship with us. And there are often times where we can envision God running to us to rescue us when we need Him the most.
As we remember those who died on 9-11 and those who since then have died since then on the battlefield or due to injuries or illnesses suffered on that tragic day, remember also that God is with us. Yes, Father Judge was just a man. But, he was a man carrying out the call of Christ on his heart and seeking to be Jesus, to bring Jesus’ love and care to the suffering, to those in fear on 9-11.
I pray that I am bold enough to answer God’s call as quickly, whenever and wherever I am.