'The Happiest Man on Earth,' the Eulogy for Father Mychal Judge
On 9/11, the beloved New York priest was one of the first to die. At his funeral, his friend offered these inspiring words.
Delivered at Funeral, September 15, 2001, St. Francis of Assisi Church, New York City
After all that has been written about Father Mychal Judge in the newspapers, after all that has been spoken about him on television, the compliments, the accolades, the great tribute that was given to him last night at the Wake Service, I stand in front of you and honestly feel that the homilist at Mother Teresa’s funeral had it easier than I do.
We Franciscans have very many traditions. You, who know us, know that some are odd, some are good. I don't know what category this one fills.
One of our traditions is that we’re all given a sheet of paper. The title on the top says, "On the Occasion of Your Death." Notice, it doesn’t say, in case you die. We all know that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. But on that sheet of paper lists categories that each one of us is to fill out, where we want our funeral celebrated, what readings we’d like, what music we’d like, where we’d like to be buried.
Mychal Judge filled out, next to the word homilist, my name, Mike Duffy. I didn’t know this until Wednesday morning. I was shaken and shocked … for one thing, as you know from this gathering, Mychal Judge knew thousands of people. He seemed to know everybody in the world. And if he didn’t then, they know him now, I’m sure. Certainly he had friends that were more intellectual than I, certainly more holy than I, people more well known. And so I sat with that thought, why me … and I came down to the conclusion that I was simply and solely his friend … and I’m honored to be called that.
I always tell my volunteers in Philadelphia that through life, you’re lucky if you have four or five people whom you can truly call a friend. And you can share any thought you have, enjoy their company, be parted and separated, come back together again and pick up right where you left off. They’ll forgive your faults and affirm your virtues. Mychal Judge was one of those people for me. And I believe and hope I was for him.
We as a nation have been through a terrible four days and it doesn’t look like it’s ending. Pope John Paul called Tuesday a dark day in the history of humanity. He said it was a terrible affront to human dignity. In our collective emotions, in our collective consciousness, all went through the same thing on Tuesday morning.
I was driving a van in Philadelphia picking up food for our soup kitchen, when I began to hear the news, one after another after another. You all share that with me. We all felt the same. It was at 2 o’clock in the afternoon that I came back to the soup kitchen, feeling very heavy with the day’s events. At 4:30, I received a call from Father Ron Pecci. We were serving the meal to the homeless. And he said, "It’s happened." I said, "What?" And he said, "Mychal Judge is dead."
At that moment, my already strained emotions did spiritually what the World Trade towers had done physically just hours before. And I felt my whole spirit crumble to the ground and turn into a pile of rubble at the bottom of my heart. I sat down on the stairs to the cellar, with the phone still to my ear and we cried for 15 minutes.
Later, in my room, a very holy friar whom I have the privilege to live with gently slipped a piece of paper in front of me and whispered, "This was written thousands of years ago in the midst of a national tragedy. It’s a quote from the Book of Lamentations. "The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies are not spent. Every morning, they are renewed. Great is his faithfulness. I will always trust in him."
I read that quote and I pondered and listened. I thought of other passages in the Gospel that said evil will not triumph, that in the darkest hour when Jesus lay dying on the cross, that suffering led to the resurrection.