I don't know about you but it rips my heart out to see the clip from that new movie about United Flight 93. So many emotions for all of us are still raw from September 11th. You have to wonder if there will ever be a time when the memories will fade. I hope not. On that day a group of radical fundamentalists betrayed their God - our God - with a terrible act of violence. Muslims, Jews and Christians have all killed and been killed by those who think their actions are sanctioned by God. What fools God must think we all are. Even now our president - who seems to believe he is on a divine mission - wages war and justifies his actions by invoking God.
Will you see this movie about the United flight? I'm not sure I ever will. People keep asking if it is too soon to make a movie out of the events of 9/11. I'm not at all concerned about the timing of the film. The people on that flight really were heroes. All of them must have been terrified and known that their efforts would end in death. They knew, however, that if no one took action and many more people would die. Whenever I go to Washington, DC now and see the Capitol Building and the White House I remember what those citizens did for our nation - what they gave. A movie that reminds us of their heroism should be welcomed by us all. It just breaks my heart to think about watching it.
There is another 9/11 - related movie coming out: The Saint of 9/11. This is a documentary about one more hero from that day. Father Mychal Judge was a Roman Catholic priest and a chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He was killed after rushing into the World Trade Center with other fire fighters. Judge was listed as the first casualty of 9/11 and is regarded by many as a saint. Others, because of his unconventional style and because of his homosexuality, view(ed) him quite differently.
A profile in New York Magazine from November 12, 2001 reads in part:
"There's a very old postcard of a giant Jesus looking in the window of the Empire State Building in those long, long robes," says McCourt, in a brogue as thick as potatoes. "And that was Mike Judge in New York. He was everywhere. Over the city. And ooohhh, how good it was to know he was there."
Judge was gregarious, mischievous, a luminous presence; he thrived on movement and kept a preposterous schedule, as if he'd found a wormhole beneath the friary on West 31st Street that allowed him to be in six places at once. On any given evening, he might be baptizing a fireman's child, ministering to an aids patient, or listening to Black 47, a Celtic rock band that had a regular gig at Connolly's on West 47th Street. Judge got 30 to 40 messages a day on his answering machine. Every six months, he'd wear another machine out.
"He was the busiest person alive," says Joe Falco, a firefighter with Engine 1-Ladder 24, the company across the street from Judge's home. "He'd come back at all hours of the morning, blowing his siren so we could park his car. No one knew how he did it. No one understood how he maintained his energy."
The firemen loved him. He had an encyclopedic memory for their family members' names, birthdays, and passions; he frequently gave them whimsical presents. Once, after visiting President Clinton in Washington, he handed out cocktail napkins emblazoned with the presidential seal. He'd managed to stuff dozens of them into his habit before leaving the White House....
Obviously, Mychal Judge was not what one might call a conventional priest. But he was, arguably, a typical New York Franciscan -- earthy, streetwise, thoroughly engaged with the characters and chaos of the city. If times required it, Judge would hold Mass in the most unlikely places, including firehouses and Pennsylvania Station. This drove certain literalists in the clergy crazy, but no matter -- Judge pressed on. (To one of his antagonists, a certain monsignor in the chancellery who frequently phoned to admonish him, Judge once said: "If I've ever done anything to embarrass or hurt the church I love so much, you can burn me at the stake in front of St. Patrick's.")
The other pillar of Judge's spiritual philosophy was Alcoholics Anonymous. Once, at the White House, he told Bill Clinton that he believed the founders of AA had done more for humanity than Mother Teresa. "He was a great comfort to those with troubles with the drink," says McCourt, who usually saw Judge twice a month at AA. "He'd always say, 'You're not a bad person -- you have a disease that makes you think you're a bad person, and it's going to fuck you up.' " McCourt pauses a moment. "He had no compunction about language. Not with me, anyway."
Back in the early eighties, Judge was one of the first members of the clergy to minister to young gay men with aids, doing their funeral Masses and consoling their partners and family members. He opened the doors of St. Francis of Assisi Church when Dignity, a gay Catholic organization, needed a home for its aids ministry, and he later ran an aids program at St. Francis. Last year, he marched in the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick's Day parade, which his friend Brendan Fay, a gay activist, organized in Queens.
Cardinal O'Connor wasn't exactly a fan. "I heard that if Mike got any money from the right wing," says McCourt, "he'd give it to the gay organizations. I don't know if that's true, but that's his humor, for sure."
We lost all kinds of people on that day. Democrats, Republicans, the rich, the poor, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights.
All God's children.
What should be the overarching lesson from that dark day in 2001?
Don't let the fundamentalists - wherever they are - rule. They always seek to divide and God calls us to reconcile.
Movies are great and powerful tributes. Standing up - as Father Judge did - for God's peace is even better.
Photo credit: The St. of 9/11 - Reuters