Delivered during the Blue Mass, September 30, 2011.

I wonder how many of you gathered here can tell stories from your childhood of how you had imagined yourself becoming a police officer, a firefighter, or a medical technician? Did any of you ever dress up in the uniforms and act out various make-believe adventures. (I know I played priest at age 5, complete with a sheet for vestments and a shoebox for a tabernacle!) There is something so wonderful about the dreams and hopes we have when we are young.

Do you ever think about why you or other young children oftentimes imagine themselves as being “bigger-than-life” heroes? It could very well be due to the uniforms, the prestige, or the danger associated with becoming a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician. These are certainly likely explanations, yet, at the same time, they seem to reflect the more superficial elements of those professions.

On the other hand, I think that little children imagine themselves to be these ‘heroes of the city’ because they sense there is something that seems much deeper than these elements, something perhaps intangible, yet very real. So it is not surprising that in today’ gospel we hear Jesus challenge his disciples to become childlike if they wish to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Those deeper, real elements are what make your respective professions so noble and so enduring. They reflect the human qualities demanded of you day in and day out. Such qualities have been respected and admired for centuries. This great outpouring of self in total surrender for the good of others is reflected in all of you gathered here today. For you exemplify these qualities in your public duties. And this is why, I believe, little children look up to you; it is because beneath the uniform they see in you the awesome responsibilities to protect, to give of your selves in public service, and to comfort the afflicted who you encounter in your work.

In similarly blessing your work, God gives you Divine Grace in order that you might bear witness to God’s love and mercy through protecting the weak, giving of yourself in service, and comforting the afflicted. You have been given a mission, and although at times it may involve you in facing the broken and sinful sides of humanity, you are, nevertheless, called to protect, to give of yourselves, and to offer care and comfort.

This great mission of service with which you have been entrusted has been recognized by the Catholic Church in the yearly ‘Blue Mass’, the first of which was held in 1934 in Washington D.C. Father Thomas Dade had the idea of acknowledging police and firemen in a celebration of the Holy Eucharist because he recognized that beneath the authority of the uniform lay a person who accepted a vocation to serve the public. To appreciate this particular calling in the celebration of the Mass is, therefore, most appropriate because by your presence and participation in this Mass, you unite your giving and your service to something bigger than yourself and your job becomes truly a vocation.

To give of yourself for others is central to Jesus’ message. Today’s reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians, underlines this very teaching. Here we listen to Jesus as he tells us the ways in which we can imitate him by the total emptying of ourselves. This great outpouring of self is reflected in those who imitate Jesus in their striving for justice in society, and that is certainly what you are called to do. Justice is more than merely restoring order, it is contributing to something better, to the building up of the kingdom of God here on earth by serving as a protector, as a generous giver of self, and as a comforting presence.

As we come together today, we commend you as peacemakers, as ambassadors of justice, and as brothers and sisters in Christ. We ask God to bless all of you who wear the uniform in service to your city and community. I also want to ask a special blessing upon your families today, because it’s your spouses, children, and parents who daily pray for your safety while you are at work, and who love and support you at the end of the day when your duty is done.

Finally, let us re-member all those who have fallen in the line of duty, who never failed in their generous service, even when it meant the giving of their very lives. Let us give thanks to God for the witness they left us, a witness of sacrifice, and a witness to the dignity and honor of their vocation of service.

May the angels of God surround you, protect you.

May they remind of your great call to become angels for those you serve.

Rev. Salvatore J. Ragusa SDS
Assistant Director for Liturgy and Prayer

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