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March 8th, 2010

ladychapel: Blue Moon (Default)
Monday, March 8th, 2010 11:21 am
I just finished The Book of Mychal, a biography of Father Mychal Judge by Michael Daly. It's the best book I've read in a long time. It provides much insight into Father Judge's early life, his work with the New York City Fire Department, and his conflicts with Church hierarchy. Shining through is Father Judge's amazing pastoral ability and his love for NYC and its people. 

Although it begins and ends with the 9/11 attacks, it does not dwell on the horror. The reader, however, is reminded of it occasionally throughout the book. It's ultimately as unavoidable as the presence of the Twin Towers rising above the city before the attacks.

Father Judge had tremendous love and admiration for the firefighters he served. He was awed by their work and saw the hand of God at work in the heroism of these men who would risk their lives and horrendous injury to save the life of people they didn't even know. But the book doesn't over-romanticize the culture of firefighters and at one point, looks unflinchingly at the racism, sexism, and homophobia that exist alongside the heroism. In such a macho culture, Father Judge keeps his own sexuality secret rather than risk alienating the men and their families that he serves. The author comes to terms with it by explaining that, although these men were certainly not holy, the actions they took in the course of their work was holy.

The same could be said for the Church, of course. Unfortunately, in this book, the failings and pettiness of the hierarchy are well-detailed but there isn't much to counterbalance it. Cardinal O'Connor, then head of the New York diocese, didn't like Judge, and he comes off very negatively in the book. That's a bit too one-sided. You would think the cardinal didn't do one good thing in his entire life.

The same understanding given to the brave but flawed firefighters isn't given to the equally flawed members of the Church whose function it is to dispense the most readily available path to salvation in spiritual life, the sacraments. That's too bad but I still heartily recommend this book. I know the Catholics on my friends list would enjoy it as would anyone who is interested in the stories of 9/11. It's a wonderful, uplifting portrayal of one of the kindest, generous human beings you will ever read about.