Father Michael Murray, OSFS, assistant provincial of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales and chaplain of the Wilmington Fire Department, offered the homily at the Diocese of Wilmington “Blue Mass” Oct. 2.
Thomas Dade was a Catholic priest from Baltimore, Maryland. While stationed at a parish in Washington, D.C., he established the Catholic Police and Firemen’s Society. Through Father Dade’s efforts, more than 1,100 police and firefighters attended the first “Blue Mass” on Sept. 29, 1934 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in the District of Columbia to honor and pray for public safety employees. In the eighty-six years since, the practice of publicly praying for those engaged in policing, firefighting, providing emergency medical services, other first-responders and those serving in the military has grown nationwide and in many places around the globe.
In the Catholic tradition, the “Blue Mass” is often celebrated as close as possible to both the Feast of the Archangels (Sept. 29) and of the Guardian Angels (Oct. 2). As described in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, angels were endowed with the power to speak on God’s behalf, to protect and defend those in danger and to heal and console those in distress. Angels were God’s de facto ambassadors who also assumed the roles of “warrior” and “guardian” when situations and circumstances required it.
As first responders, you continue God’s work through your daily efforts to protect and defend those in danger and to heal and console those in distress. Among other things, your vocations challenge you to be both warriors and guardians, frequently enough at the same time.
Jesus Christ himself has been described by some as a model for first responders. Like you, Jesus was dedicated to a specific purpose; like you, Jesus committed himself to working for the good of others without counting the cost; like you, Jesus met people as he found them; like You, Jesus experienced many long days and some sleepless nights; like you, Jesus knew that each situation had the potential for putting him in harm’s way; like you, Jesus spent much of his time and energy interacting with some of society’s most vulnerable, desperate and disenfranchised individuals; like you, Jesus continued to be faithful to his purpose in the face of frustrating loss, setback and opposition; like you, the qualities and characteristics that attracted many people to Jesus were the same things that some used to attack Jesus; like you, Jesus recognized the need for teamwork to fulfill his purpose, surrounding himself with a colorful cohort of ordinary people whom he would train and empower with best practices to continue his extraordinary mission; like you, Jesus was one who frequently made the difference between life and death.
And, as is the case of a number of first responders, Jesus – the Lamb and Lion of God – made the ultimate sacrifice by laying his life down in the service of all that is right, good and just.
Many of the people you help as first responders may experience you as something akin to guardian angels, but you know that being an angel is not a job requirement! What does it take to be an effective first responder? As it turns out, the same qualities required for us to be competent and effective in any vocation.
Over 400 years ago, Francis de Sales – who is patron the Diocese of Wilmington, of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and of the press – observed:
“All we must try for is to make ourselves good men and women, devout men and women, dedicated men and women. We must try hard to achieve this goal. If it should please God to actually elevate us to angelic perfection, then perhaps one day we shall become good angels. In the meantime, let us try sincerely, humbly and passionately to acquire those down-to-earth virtues whose acquisition our Savior has identified as the purpose of our care and labor: namely, patience, civility, self-discipline, humility, diligence and compassion toward our neighbors … Let us march on as a band of brothers and sisters, companions united in truth, peace and love.”
Every time you climb on an engine or ladder, every time you respond to reports of “shots fired”, every time you arrive on scene with an injured or sick person; every time you investigate a gas leak, every time you make a traffic stop, every time you reverse an overdose; every time you extract someone at an accident scene, every time you serve a warrant, every time you transport someone to the hospital; every time you do your level best on land, sea and air – at home, or abroad – to defend the principles on which our Constitutional, representative democracy is founded, you are doing God’s work, because you are serving God’s people.
Meister Eckhart was a Dominican, a theologian, philosopher and mystic who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries in what is now Germany. Perhaps Eckhart’s most well-known quotes is one of his most concise:
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough.”
Today, to all our first responders, whether in plainclothes or uniform, our prayer for you – our prayer with you – is simply, “Thank you!”
May God be blessed.