Journey Through Lent: Day 9

Copyright: Story Corps, NPR

Copyright: Story Corps, NPR

I believe that saints continue to live amongst us, recognized or not. There are people of exceptional goodness and mercy and justice whose legacy we often do not understand until they are gone.

No one is asking me to nominate people to sainthood, but if they did, I think my first choice would be a man named Mychal Judge. Father Judge was a Roman Catholic priest, a Franciscan, and a chaplain for the Fire Department of New York. In death he became known to many as one of the first fatalities on 9/11. Father Judge had responded to the scene as a part of his fire chaplain duties. He was struck by falling debris while praying, and died on the scene.

If Father Judge had not died on 9/11, and had not been the focus of so many media reports and stories, the world may not have known much about this Franciscan priest. And that’s particularly sad because what is truly memorable about Father Judge is not the way he died. It’s how he lived. Throughout his life Father Judge was a friend to politicians and to the powerful. And he was also a friend to the poor and the down and out. He began ministering to people with AIDS in the earliest days of the epidemic, and he maintained an active ministry to those in recovery from addictions. He seemed to be a priest for all people; one who was able to see God in all he met.

There’s one story from his life that stays with me in particular during Lent. A fellow Franciscan says Father Judge used to ask him, “You know what I need?” And the other priest would say “no” and listen for a suggestion of what he could get for his friend. He’d ask again, “You know what I really need?” And then he’d say, “Absolutely nothing. I don’t need a thing in the world. Ia am the happiest man on the face of the earth.”

I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that you don’t get to a place where you need nothing of this world’s things without also coming to a place where you can see God in everyone. You can’t empty yourself of all desire for what is material and worldly, without having already been filled with Christ’s love and with compassion for all of God’s children. And you can’t find true happiness unless you seek not possessions, but evidence of God’s grace in the most unexpected places.

To me, that’s what Lent is about. It’s about emptying out the things that don’t matter, and filling them instead with Christ’s love for us and for others. And the saints among us are the ones who do that exceptionally well, and who teach us to do the same. Father Judge’s life is a Lenten lesson for those of us who would seek real, everlasting joy. And his story is one of many. This Lent, find the stories of those who truly exemplified God’s love in all that they did. Chances are, you’ll find Christ isn’t far away.

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