Some 3,017 people died in New York, at the Pentagon and in a farm field in western Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and save for the hijackers all were heroes in their own way. But as the anniversary approaches each year I always recall the story Mychal Judge, a 68-year-old priest and New York Fire Department chaplain.
Father Mike, as everyone called the beloved Benedictine, was uptown at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, where he ministered to the wealthy and homeless alike, when the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on that gloriously beautiful morning. He donned his FDNY chaplain's uniform and rushed to the towers, where he briefly paused to pray with Mayor Giuliani before running over to a firefighter and a woman who had fallen on the firefighter after jumping from the North Tower.
Father Mike had removed his fireman's helmet to administer the last rites and was anointing Firefighter Danny Suhr and the woman with holy water when he was struck in the back of the head and mortally wounded by a chunk of falling debris.
You may not realize that you knew who Father Mike was until you reflect on the image above. Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton's photograph, one of the most gripping images to come out of that horrific day, is a modern day Pietá. Yes, that's Father Mike on the makeshift gurney.
You also probably didn't know that Father Mike was an acknowledged homosexual. And so beloved that his death certificate bears the number 00001 – the first official World Trade Center casualty.
The collision between religious orthodoxy and social reality can be ugly, but the mess the Roman Catholic Church has made of its two biggest 21st century controversies -- pedophile priests and homosexual priests -- is enough to make Job spin in his grave.
You see, as inspiring as Father Mike's life may have been, not to mention his bravery on 9/11, he would not have been welcome in today's church, which according to its policy believes that gays "have no social value" and, moreover, "no moral virtue." That truly is a sin.
May Father Mike rest in peace.