In recent years, this celebration of the Blue Mass has fallen on or near the anniversary of that fateful September 11, 2001 when police, firefighters and emergency personnel died in the line of duty in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of our fellow citizens. We, of course, continue to remember these heroes and their families.
Our thoughts and our prayers today are especially the family of UCF officer, Mario Jenkins, as they and the entire community mourn his tragic death and prepare to lay him to rest on Saturday. We also pray for Officer Dennis Smith and his family and co-workers.
Today’s Blue Mass honors all our public servants, living and dead, who daily place themselves in harm’s way in the performance of their duty, a duty whose burden we in civilian life often fail to sufficiently appreciate and acknowledge. And today, we honor all our public servants, living and dead, who daily place themselves in harm’s way in the performance of their duty. In celebrating this Holy Mass for you and all our police, firefighters and emergency personnel, we thank you, for your commitment to the common good. We thank God for you, and we thank you for your sacrifice.
This year’s observance falls on what used to be called “Michael Mass Day” – the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Michael the Archangel in today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation is described as the head of the angelic armies. For centuries, Christians have sought his intercession: St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. St. Michael is the patron of police officers. As first responders, police, firefighters and emergency personnel also defend us “against the wickedness and snares of the devil”.
Too often, we can become complacent and forget how fragile the world we live in is. That we can become complacent is perhaps a tribute to you and your effectiveness as public service. Most days you do your jobs so well we take you for granted: thanks to you, “the wickedness and snares of the devil” seem far removed from us. But, tragedies – whether they originate in evil minds or in come about because of the fury of Mother Nature or they happen because the limitations of our humanity in avoiding mistakes and accidents – these tragedies bring home to us the fragility of our lives.
In recent days, we have learned once again how impressive human accomplishments can be blown away or submerged in waters. And the reports of violence, looting and the breakdown of law and order in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, while exaggerated tremendously in the media, still reveal how thin the veneer of civility and civilization can be. Because of your work, you see too often the dark side of our fallen human nature. It is a thin blue line that protects us from barbarity; it is a thin blue line that defends our communities so that they remain just that, communities and not moral jungles.
The liturgy today honors the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. These biblical messengers, God’s emissaries as it were, signify God’s transcendence and loving care: Michael’s name means, “Who is like God”, Gabriel’s means “God’s strength” and Raphael’ “God’s remedy”.
“Who is like God?” indeed. The response to human weakness, the response to human fear, and human sinfulness is simply dependence on the grace and strength of the Lord. At the celebration of every Mass, we acknowledge God’s greatness and we ask him for the strength to “let go, and let God” less we become overwhelmed by stress of our jobs and the challenges of our daily lives. Here, at the table of his Body and Blood, we seek God’s remedy, the remedy of forgiveness and reconciliation.
We have here today at the Mass some of our young children from St. James School. As we recall the sacrifice of the hundreds of public servants who gave their lives trying to save people whom they didn’t even know, it is good for us to remind these young people and ourselves about the difference between celebrity and heroism. Too often, our society values people for what they have and not for who they are, and when “getting” rather than “giving” is prized celebrities are taken as role models. Starlets with bare midriffs are deemed worthy of emulation; and sports personalities whose records unfortunately also include rap sheets are idolized.
Today, we honor law enforcement officers, firefighters, and rescue personnel – not because you’re celebrities. The good work you do is not often mentioned in the papers or on the evening news. We honor you because you are heroes. You are heroes – not because you did not ever feel fear, but because you did not let fear overwhelm you so as to keep you from helping your neighbor. You are heroes –because in the face of evil, you respond firmly and resolutely to the forces of hate to protect and serve the common good.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle and be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.