Thursday, September 8, 2011

'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.

BY: Father Michael Duffy
Excerpted from the book, "A Wonderful Life; 50 Euolgies to Lift the Spirit," edited by Cyrus M. Copeland; it's a collection of memorials for myriad cultural heroes.

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.

7 comments:

J said...

When my dearest friend was killed in a car wreck, I had to serve as his executor. Lying yet on the nightstand next to my bed is the diary he kept in his early 20's, and the excerpt I read at the memorial service conduced from the stern of one of five sport fishing vessels that huddled together off the North Carolina coast on a May morning, when we poured his ashes from the starboard side. The diary entry was his take on the funeral of another friend who had died in a freak accident. He had found the service useless, and the minister's remarks "perhaps the most flagrantly irrelevant collection of aphorisms ever issued by a representative of the church (Episcopal, of course)." There followed a description of a wake held in a rural cabin, with plenty to drink and a lot of blue grass music. I decided after my friend's death that if I had anything to do with it, a funeral would be relevant and appropriate, starting with his. We now have a family funeral service, which is a mixture of Methodist ritual devoid of references to a paradise, and quotations from that most elegant of Biblical books, Ecclesiastes. For us there will be no minister trying to summarize the life of someone he knew only a few months before his death. And above all, if there is music it will be of the highest order, even if we have to hire brass and strings. As for the meaning of it all, one can only guess, and hope that existence works out for the good of humanity in end.
Also from that diary are these words of astonishing insight: "The key, if there is one to this short life, is closeness. The closer, the more emotional, more loving, more feeling--what difference--a dog, a friend, a family, a community? It's all in the appreciation, the sensation--of closeness."
After 9/11 some of the survivors kept their religion. Others lost theirs, or at least the notion that God was beneficent or paid any attention to humanity. All, it seems, were confirmed in the belief that we have to make the best of what life gives us, and remain close to our own.

Coop said...

Mychal's life is an example to everyone. Christian... Catholic... or not.
He touched people and earned respect from those who came into contact with him. And he didn't let it go to his head. That's a saint.

Gary Kelly said...

Reminds me of what Kyle (Cody) said during his short life: "Friends should never be afraid to be close."

JustinO'Shea said...

This year, coming onto 9/11 and now being 12 years older than I was on the actual day, with the postings and comments about the Saint of 9/11 I saw this event more thru his eyes. . .a gay man, recovering alcoholic, Catholic priest, who had integrated these three Gifts with all the rest of his giftedness. . .a balanced human being. . .whole and therefore holy. . .passionately in love with the whole wide world. . ."I am the happiest man in the world.". . . .a man who received all that he needed by giving it away.

Listening to the people who knew and loved him, I actually knew too the man they were talking about. . this gay priest totally in love with Jesus Christ thru loving the people of his whole wide world.
What a stunning man!

"How blessed the poor. . .the whole wide world belongs to them." J.C.

JustinO'Shea said...

My funereal experiences are precious few . . .and that thing of dubious artitstic value called a eulogy. . .literally "saying good things" is a scarifying event.

I heard one of these things at the funeral of a fellow track-er. . If I didn't know that hideous box contained the remains of Benji I would not ever know the person being eulogized!

But the greatest example of poor taste was placing a can of Budweiser on his coffin as the service concluded.

And the irony of it all: Benji hated beer and didn't drink! Sheeeesssshhhh.

JustinO'Shea said...

My funereal experiences are precious few . . .and that thing of dubious artitstic value called a eulogy. . .literally "saying good things" is a scarifying event.

I heard one of these things at the funeral of a fellow track-er. . If I didn't know that hideous box contained the remains of Benji I would not ever know the person being eulogized!

But the greatest example of poor taste was placing a can of Budweiser on his coffin as the service concluded.

And the irony of it all: Benji hated beer and didn't drink! Sheeeesssshhhh.

Gary Kelly said...

Because the Dunes is undergoing a sort of hiatus at the mo, I took the time to read this whole article carefully rather than scan part one like I did initially. And I'm glad I did. Fr Mychal Judge was one helluva dude.