Saturday, September 10, 2011

A 9/11 Remembrance: NPR Pays Tribute to Father Mychal Judge

On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, I want to take note of NPR's tribute to Father Mychal Judge earlier this week.  A number of readers have drawn my attention to this NPR piece, and Kerry Weber has a moving posting about it on the America "In All Things" blog right now.

Since I just read (and listened to) the NPR segment right after I had read Ashley Baxstrom's interview with Jeff Sharlet--about which I just posted--I'm struck by how Sharlet's understanding of narrative worth reading fits the emerging hagiography of Mychal Judge.

It's easy--and entirely appropriate--to find appealing hagiographical strands in his life story.  NPR cites Father Michael Duffy, the fellow Franciscan whom Judge chose to preach his funeral homily.  Duffy says, "Everyone thought Mychal Judge was their best friend," and with reason, since Judge carried around a large black satchel full of letters from people he'd met, who would write to him, and to whom he'd then always write in return, with a line or two remembering something of significance in their lives.

And, "He loved to bless people--and I mean physically--even if they didn't ask," Duffy's funeral homily notes.  Mychal Judge imposed a blessing on those he met (in the literal, etymological sense of the word "impose"), regardless of whether they asked for it.  He loved to reach out and to touch.  

And so it's not difficult to imagine this man who died trying to impose blessings on others in danger of imminent death, this man whom everyone saw as their best friend, as an alter Christus akin to the saint who founded his order, Francis of Assisi.  Since Francis, like Jesus before him, sought out loving connection to anyone and everyone he met, and sought to impose blessing on all those he encountered.

And yet, as a corrective to a hagiographical narrative that can too easily end up in the sicky-sweet netherlands of pious adulation, Duffy also reminds us of all that we don't know, when we talk about the will of God and the sanctity of any given human being.  He states, 

Of the thousands of people who perished in that terrible holocaust, why was Mychal Judge number one? And I think I know the reason.

In other words, like every other human life, Judge's was lived in the tension between enchantment and disenchantment, or, to use specifically Christian theological terminology, between the already-here of realized eschatology and the not-yet of future eschatology.  He was a saint of heroic virtue.  And he also was an eminently human being, with the foibles and incompleteness of all other eminently human beings.

As the cult of Mychal Judge develops, as I hope it will continue to do, it will be important for those of us remembering him as a saint to balance the lavishly embroidered hagiographical narratives with remembrances of the real human being inhabiting them.  Because it's that human being, after all, with all of his complexity and incompleteness, who is the center from which the hagiographical attraction emanates.

No comments: