Franciscans wear floor length brown robes with wide sleeves and well defined hoods (which double as handy storage containers). These are usually belted with a knotted rope that dangles to knee length. While there is a similarity in garb, there is a remarkable diversity in personality, gifts and activities of the individuals. And that diversity promotes an energy that empowers and enriches the whole, an animation that goes beyond Franciscanism into the wider church and the world.
The first known victim of Sept. 11th was a Franciscan. He wore the simple robes. He was a unique individual who found a home in Catholicism, shared his convictions and values and took action where he could. He was, after all, the FDNY chaplain and resided at 31st St. , Franciscan shorthand for the church and center that served the community.
Mychal Judge was gregarious and white-haired, hospitable and quick to laugh. We met a few times, and each time, I was impressed by his strong handshake, the attentiveness of his gaze and the gracious way he quietly embraced small and not-so-small challenges. Most importantly, in my experience, his was a humble and modest approach to life rooted in integrity.
There are so many Francsicans, so many Catholics, whose names will not live on as Mychal’s does. But that sense, the importance of doing the right thing, of grappling hand-to-hand with issues of integrity, of addressing the needs of the poor and broken with a deep sense that poverty and brokenness are something we all share, that lives on in each of us. Every act of kindness matters.
Catholicism helps me realize that there are moments when, as Mychal did, it is my turn to offer kindness, a gentle word, a stronger hand. And too, there are other moments, when relying on the kindness of others, trusting the gentle word, and clinging to the stronger hand is all that is needed.