Sunday, September 7, 2014



The morning of September 11, 2001 dawned brilliantly in New York City. The air was unseasonably crisp and clear. The sky was cloudless. But the brilliance of that late summer day was shattered by terrorists who hijacked two passenger jets and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The emergency response to the attacks at the World Trade Center was almost immediate. Police, paramedic, port authority, and fire fighting units arrived quickly. They raced courageously into the burning towers. Among these first responders was Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar and priest, who served as senior chaplain to the New York City Fire Department.

Father Mike was known universally as a compassionate, outgoing, and relentlessly busy priest. In addition to Father Mike's active ministry as chaplain for the city's fire fighters and their families, he worked tirelessly with alcoholics, drug addicts, the homeless, and those suffering with AIDS and other chronic illnesses. Throughout his decades of ministry in New York City and other places, Father Mike was a bright and cheerful presence, always ready with a joke, a sympathetic word, or a humorous anecdote. On the morning of 9/11, however, Father Mike paced in the lobby of Tower One. Dressed in his firefighter's helmet and jacket, he stood clear of the first responders, fingered the beads of a rosary, and prayed. We know this because two documentary filmmakers were there, on the scene, and they provided us with the last living images of this kind man and priest.

Suddenly, an unspeakable roar shook the earth. Tower Two was collapsing, turning one of the world's great skyscrapers into a twisted wreck of dust and debris. After the tower fell, those in the lobby of the other tower began a slow and steady evacuation. Amidst the dust and darkness, a flashlight illuminated the face of Father Mike who lay still and buried under some rubble. In an essay entitled "The Fireman's Friar" (New York Magazine), Jennifer Senior writes: "Everyone stopped. One of the firefighters aimed his flashlight low across the ground. A halo of light framed a man's face. Everyone saw it. 'Oh, my God,' they began to shout. 'It's Father Mike.'" No pulse. Father Mike was dead. The firefighters carried his body into a nearby church and rested his body near the altar. He was designated as the first official casualty, "Victim 0001" of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

In the years since Father Mike's death, some have petitioned for his canonization as a saint.  Those who knew him best, however, seem more concerned with ccontinuing his ministry than with the possibility of sainthood. Some have founded charitable organizations in his memory. One of these charities is "Mychal's Message" which provides food, clothing, and everyday necessities for homeless people in New York City. Another is the "Mychal Judge Recovery Center" at Saint Anthony's Shrine in Boston which provides counseling and other services for recovering addicts and their families.

Those of us who did not know Father Mike personally can still honor his memory and ministry by remembering and perhaps imitating his deep spirituality and his abiding faith in the Franciscan way of life. Like Saint Francis, Father Mike seemed always busy. On a daily basis, he rushed from the bedside of an injured firefighter to the side of a recovering addict in crisis. Like Saint Francis, he reached out to those often shunned by modern society: drug addicts, AIDS patients, and the homeless. Like Saint Francis, most often because of his energy and zeal, he irritated those with power and authority. And like Saint Francis, he declined the comforts of ownership and property. Because Father Mike's wardrobe often seemed so worn and threadbare, he often received gifts of clothing. And more often than not, he gave those gifts away!

When we read about Father Mike's busy life and ministry, we're prone to ask: how did he do it? How did he keep up such a pace? How did he accomplish so much? The life and example of Saint Francis answers these questions. More than 800 years ago, Francis traveled widely, always on foot, and often barefoot, in his ministry to live and preach the gospel. He embarrassed his followers by his energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to imitating the life and ministry of Jesus. But like Jesus, Francis retreated from the world for prolonged periods of prayer and retreat.

Father Mike, a truly modern man, but still a Franciscan, did the same. When Father Mike needed to re-fuel his spiritual engines, he retreated into the city he loved. He often took long, solitary walks from his friary in lower Manhattan into the outer boroughs across the Brooklyn Bridge. From that historic bridge, he could step back from the gritty and suffering streets of the city and wonder at the grandeur of the skyline. In an urban sense, he could see the whole of the forest, not just the trees. Here, he could pray for himself and for the city he so loved.

As we strive to become "Franciscans in Spirit" and to become more dedicated to the gospel life, we can imagine Father Mike during one his long and rejuvenating walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. Let us pray with him as he prayed for himself. Let us pray his favorite prayer:

Lord, take me where you want me to go.
Let me meet who you want me to meet.
Tell me what you want me to say.
And keep me out of your way.

This week, we remember in prayer the victims of the tragedies on September 11, 2001. We pray for all who lost their lives and for those they left behind. We pray for the soul of Father Mychal Judge and for all who were touched by his good works. We pray for all who serve our communities as first responders. We pray for all who serve our country in uniform. We pray for peace. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of Angels, pray for us!

Our Daily Prayers

For our families & friends, we pray: Hail Mary...
For our parish communities, we pray: Hail Mary...
For our Holy Father, Pope Francis, we pray: Hail Mary...
For our departed brothers & sisters, we pray: Hail Mary...
For the Catholic Church throughout the world, we pray: Hail Mary...
For peace & justice throughout the world, we pray: Hail Mary...
Our Father...

make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek 
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand, 
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

If you would like to learn more about the Assisi Project and opportunities for faith formation, prayer, pilgrimage, retreat, and spiritual direction in the Franciscan spiritual tradition, please contact Cliff Garvey at Pax et bonum! May the Lord give you peace!


Rome | Assisi | Greccio | October 31-November 8, 2014

For the seventh consecutive year, the Assisi Project is sponsoring a week-long, small-group pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, Italy from October 31st through November 8th. Last year, a nearly sold-out group of sixteen pilgrims (ranging in age from 14 to 88 years) from the United States and Canada literally walked in the footsteps of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

This year, we will journey back to these holy pilgrimage sites. Each morning, we will begin with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass. Masses will be celebrated at the Church of San Damiano, the Carceri, the Porziuncola, and the Basilica of Saint Francis. Each afternoon, all pilgrims will be afforded the free time and guidance to explore the medieval city of Assisi at their own pace and to visit the countless churches, cafes, museums, and shops. Each evening, we will gather for Evening Prayer, followed by a conference and faith sharing.

As a fellowship of pilgrims, we will visit the historic Basilicas of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. Each of the these great basilicas contains the tombs of the saints, holy relics, and priceless works of art. But these baslicas are also pilgrimage sites for prayer, silent meditation, and worship. We will visit the Basilica of Saint Rufino, where Saint Francis and Saint Clare were baptized. We will visit the Church of Saint Damian, where the famous crucifix spoke to Francis and hastened his conversion. And we will visit the little chapel known as the Porziuncola, which is considered the home church of the worldwide Franciscan community.

In addition, we will spend leisurely afternoons in and around the Piazza de Commune, Assisi's city center, with its ancient Roman temple (now a Catholic church), sidewalk cafes, restaurants, and shops. The more adventurous will also have an opportunity to hike to the Rocca Maggiore, the great medieval fortress with its stunning views of Assisis, the Spoleto Valley, and Mount Subasio.

Finally, we will travel to Rome for visits to Vatican City and Saint Peter's Basilica, where we will celebrate Mass and hopefully see and hear Pope Francis deliver the Sunday Angelus Address. We will also visit the Carceri (or hermitage) on Mount Subasio, where Saint Francis and his first followers retreated for prayer and contemplation. And we will offer an optional excursion to Greccio, the little village near Assisi, where Saint Francis introduced the first Christmas creche.

The cost of this extraordinary pilgrimage and retreat is just $3,299 and includes all air and ground transportation (from Boston's Logan Airport only), guest house accommodations (single room) at the Convent of Saint Bridget of Sweden in Assisi, and hotel accommodations (double room; single room option) at the historic Columbus Hotel (near Vatican City) in Rome. All meals are included. This price does not include recommended travel insurance (approximately $250) or transportation to Greccio (optional excursion). For more information about this pilgrimage or about any of our upcoming events, please contact Cliff Garvey at May the Lord give you peace!