Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! – Psalm 130:1 (NRSV)
Members of the New York City Fire Department will gather today at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a memorial mass remembering the 343 members of the department who died 20 years ago. I serve as one of FDNY’s chaplains; today is a very sacred day among the people I serve.
Preparations for today’s memorial mass began over a year ago. I was assigned the “Prayer for the Fallen” in the service, and as I prepared, words suddenly failed me. It was as if I didn’t know how to talk to God on behalf of the people gathered.
How can I pray when the moment is so holy?
In desperation, I posted a request for help on social media. I needed words—original words, borrowed words, inspirational words, you-can-do-it words.
Almost immediately, I started receiving prayers and songs and poems. They came as comments, direct messages, texts, and emails. And not just from my minister friends, but a rabbi, several firefighters, and multiple 9/11 widows. I needed help, and help came.
A friend from college wrote to me: “Often, we ask the Person Upstairs, but we’re actually answered by the people next door or down the street, or even (gasp) on the internet. And that’s maybe what the prayer could be about—we haven’t stopped needing help, and we shouldn’t stop asking for it. Because we know if we ask for strength to call out for help, help will come.”
Today we remember that when we ask for help, God sends people. And on that Tuesday twenty years ago, people cried out for help. Many of the people who responded made the ultimate sacrifice and died that day. Others who responded become sick and died in the years that have followed. We honor their memory with our prayers—when we ask for help, accept help from others, and give help freely to others.
Lord, take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way. (prayer by FDNY Chaplain Father Mychal Judge, OFM, who died 20 years ago today while ministering at the World Trade Center)
Ann is co-pastor of the Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn (UCC/RCA) and Chaplain for the Fire Department of the City of New York.