Those words of Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M., characterize the simplicity of the New York City Fire Department chaplain killed during a rescue mission immediately following the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack. Chaplain to the department since 1992, the 68-year-old died in a hail of steel and concrete as he anointed a firefighter and a fallen office worker. Father Judge became the first officially recorded fatality following the attack.It was said in the days and weeks after 9/11 that Father Judge was the first victim so that he could comfort and aid all those many others who were murdered on that day - to guide them to Heaven.
I don't know if you believe in heaven or not, but the sentiment was truly deserving of Father Judge. Everything you might have read about the Father's compassion and guidance for his fellow travellers is true. And the love that the Father gave to his flock - the firefighters - was returned in every way:
There were conflicting early reports of the exact circumstances of Judge's death. Cassian Miles, O.F.M., communications director for the Holy Name Province, confirmed with the fire department battalion leader on-site at the World Trade Center that Mychal indeed was anointing a firefighter and the woman who had fallen on the firefighter. Father Judge had removed his helmet in prayer and was struck in the back of the head by falling debris. Judge's body, according to Father Miles, revealed severe injury to the back of the head.
Duffy, in his homily, told what happened next:"The firemen took his body and because they respected and loved him so much, they didn't want to leave it in the street. So they quickly carried it into a church and not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the center aisle. They covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they placed his stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they thanked God. And then they rushed back to continue their work.
"I picture Mychal Judge's body there in that church in the sanctuary, realizing that the firefighters brought him back to the Father in the Father's house. The words come to me, 'I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Greater love than this no man hath than to lay down his life for his friends.'"