I was in my hometown of New York City the last two weeks -- of course, for St. Patrick's Day! -- and as always it was wonderful to see so many of my Irish and Irish-American friends and fellow Jesuit priests and brothers. I had the chance to concelebrate Mass at my alma mater with two dear friends who had been my teachers while in Formation for the Society of Jesus. My joy at seeing them after so many years was great indeed, and many such happy memories seemed to come alive while I was there, one spilling out after the other.
But one very powerful memory, of a dear but departed friend, also "came alive" to me at the time. I read that the businessmen who were to build the "Freedom Tower" at the site of the World Trade Center tragedy had decided that memory and emotion, and perhaps even patriotism, had run their course. They announced the building-to-be will simply be "One World Trader Center."
To say the least, their decision has stirred great controversy among the friends and families of those whose earthly lives ended on or after that terrible day, both the innocent lives in the Twin Towers and the heroic first-responders -- so many of them of Irish descent -- who came to their aid at the cost of their own mortal lives. Their families and friends cannot but feel another slap in the face at this "address change."
I was also in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 -- a quirk of fate, really, as I should have returned to the missions a week earlier. It was not long after I heard the news of the terrible events unfolding at the Twin Towers that it became personal for me, too.
My wonderful friend, Fr. Mychal Judge, was the first of the first responders who was called to His Father that day -- fatally injured while giving the Last Rites of the Church to another victim. Moments before, Mayor Rudy Giuliani had spotted Fr. Judge, who was the beloved Chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, racing toward the devastation, and shouted out to him, "Fr. Mychal! Say a prayer for us!" Mychal turned and answered with his typical good heart and humor, even as his final seconds ticked away: "I always do!" he called back to the Mayor.
Mychal's friends, and certainly, the familes and friends of all lost on 9/11, cried rivers of tears in the days, weeks, and even years after the tragedy. As did I, for him, for all of them. I prayed that God would let me think as He did, let me see what good could possibly come from this, that I could share His Own Thoughts and see only His Love in all things -- even this.
I know that many turned to God in this time of agony. I know, too, that many turned away from Him because of it. They are all in the heart of the Church, they are all in our prayers, and they have never been forgotten by their Father and Creator in Heaven, whose Love for all His Children is changeless and unchangeable. The "lost" are not lost; they are with Him, surrounded by an unceasing joy that they are Home, where they wait in patience for those of us still doing the work that only we can do for God on Earth. When our unique and special purpose here has been accomplished, we too will join Heaven's symphony of Love and Peace.
I am happy to say, finally, that I have found great peace after Mychal's passing, and the crushing blows of 9/11 felt by so many. I know that it is only a personal peace, and that many still feel great pain. But I know it is God's Own Will that you will find your peace, too. His Will be done.
Our Father's Will for us is perfect peace, and freedom. Freedom from what? From fear -- even the ultimate fear of death that His Son Jesus proved meaningless in the promise of the Resurrection.
It was no secret to his many friends, perhaps even to the entire Fire Department, that Fr. Mychal was gay, and that he spent many years with a beloved partner. I believed his word that his relationship was chaste, and in any event, this is for God's judgment, not mine, nor any other mortal's. His ministry, like our Lord's, brought him close to those who were outcasts, and I believe Mychal's great gift -- truly feeling and living God's Love -- was unstoppable, as God's Love always is. I believe that it was God's Will that he found another -- or that another found him -- to share that great love, and to truly find freedom from fear.
Our earthly missions are not subject to "luck," chance meetings or accidental encounters. Those who are to meet, will meet. Those who are to be together, will be together.
Where love is, God is. Where God is, freedom is.
There are no towers of freedom, and none are needed. They are only of use for those who seek idols instead of God. But there is sore need for freedom, real freedom, for us. Fr. Mychal lived God's Love and found God's Freedom. In turn, Mychal's words gave me the peace I sought.
And, since he would have insisted on having the last word, I willingly give it to him. This passage is from his journal:
"I thought of my gay self and how the people I meet never get to know me fully … (yet) I feel no guilt, none whatsoever today -- I feel on the train Home. I am at peace finally. This is what You want me to do, Lord ... You, You alone, brought me here. I have nothing to fear today. Thank You, thank You, Lord!"
Until next time and for all time, God bless all of you.