Today, we gather for our annual Blue Mass in which we honor those, who in our community serve and protect us, the first responders in times of crisis: our police officers, fire fighters and emergency workers. We honor them – and grateful for their service, we ask God to watch over and keep them in his care.
And you do need his providential care. All of you, whether you are a police officer, a fire fighter or an emergency worker, all of you can testify to the violence and to the disruptive forces of evil present in our world. You fight against them every day as you carry out your duties to defend the weak, to protect the honest, to foster peace in our communities. You need God’s protection, if only because you see the unseemly side of our fallen human nature far too often.
To witness the cowardice of a hit and run driver, the cold heartlessness of a contract killer, the corpse of an abused child, the debasement of a crack whore, the despair of a family left homeless by a fire, to witness and experience such things can leave one jaded, cynical and angry unless we are well grounded in faith, hope and love.
Too often the stress and pain that comes with the job can leave your spirits’ withered, just like the man’s hand in the gospel today. And as we see Jesus cure that man in today’s reading from St. Luke, in those difficult and dramatic situations the gospel comforts us. For Jesus triumphs over evil, his presence dispels the darkness of despair. As Pope Benedict said yesterday in Munich, the God we believe in “counters violence with his own suffering; who in the face of the power of evil exalts his mercy, in order that evil may be limited and overcome”.
However complex and difficult situations may be, the seed of hope must never be allowed to die in the human heart because the Lord remains with us and shares with us the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. “Stretch out your hand”, Jesus tells the man with the withered arm and he cures him. Would he refuse us, if we were to stretch our own hands to him?
St. Ambrose, who lived about 1700 years ago, gleaned a very perceptive insight into human psychology and spirituality from this gospel passage. He understood that underneath the manifestations of a withered spirit – the unfocused or misdirected anger, the self-medication with drugs or booze – lies pain and hurt that is only cured by “stretching out one’s hands”. In commenting on the phrase “Stretch out your hand”, he says “This form of medicine is common and general. Offer it often, in benefit of your neighbor; defend from injury anyone who seems to be suffering as a result of calumny; stretch your hand out also to the poor man who asks for your help; stretch it our also to the Lord asking him to forgive your sins; that is how you should stretch your hand out and that is the way to be cured”
Today, of course, marks five years since that fateful day when our nation came under attack by men corrupted by what St. Paul calls in today’s first reading the old yeast of “malice and wickedness”.
And certainly, we remember all those who died on that September 11th – in New York, in Washington, and in rural Pennsylvania. And among those who died that day, were people who found themselves without intending to in harm’s way by boarding an airplane, or going to their office to work. But there were also those who, in response to the call of duty, placed themselves in harm’s way and perished as they tried to save others. Where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the ideals of their professions?
Many of those who died five years ago also believed in Christ, and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice. They made the Gospel their code of conduct. May the example of your colleagues, who in faithfully doing their duty reached the heights of heroism and, perhaps, of holiness, be an example to you. These ideals – duty, honor, integrity, honesty – also guide you as you “serve and protect” the people of Central Florida.
Like them, you also look to Christ who also calls you “to stretch out your hands” “to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity”. He calls you to be holy. And to be able to achieve your vocation, according to the Apostle Paul’s well-known expression from Ephesians chapter 6, “Take the whole armor of God…. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace above all taking the shield of faith … take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6: 13-17). Above all, “pray at all times” (Eph 6: 18).
Bishop Thomas Wenski
Diocese of Orlando