One story from that terrible day points the way forward for our nation and reminds us of the infinite source of our hope. As black smoke was billowing from across the Potomac at the Pentagon and the skies of New York were full of ash and flame; a lone figure stood at a window near the base of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.:
Father Michael Judge was the chaplain of a New York city fire station. When the first plane struck the World Trade Center he raced inside knowing the danger. Video testimony shows him standing still at the large window looking at people falling to their deaths. A friend and fellow priest later recounted that if you watch carefully you can see the father’s lips moving. For those of us who know him, the friend said he wasn’t one that talked to himself – he was praying! Moments later the South Tower collapsed and the implosion shattered that last window and killed Father Mike.
The day before he died, Father Mike spoke at the dedication of a New York city fire station. Before a group of firefighters he shared a message that echoes across all time :
“You do what God called you to do,” he told them. “You show up, you put one foot in front of the other, you get on the rig and you go out and you do the job – which is a mystery. You have no idea what God has calling for you – you have no idea where you’re going – and in some cases you don’t know why – but he needs you, he needs me, he needs all of us.”
Tonight, Father Mike’s words remind us that in the end there is only one true answer to the depth and the evil that we saw on September 11th: it is God that is the answer.
That stood tall over the records at ground zero where rescuers forged the mighty steel cross from the fallen towers broken beams. It is the same sight that was seen hundreds of miles away in Shanksville where the first spontaneous memorial to the heroes of flight 93 was a simple but beautiful wooden cross. And it is the same turning to God – the ultimate answer to evil – that we see here today as thousands of Americans gather on the Mall to pray for our beloved nation and to pray for one another.