FOLLANSBEE, West Virginia — West Virginia’s Catholic bishop had a message Sept. 29 for members of police and fire departments, Emergency Medical Services personnel and those serving in the U.S. military: “Hold your heads high. You have noble professions.”
Bishop Mark E. Brennan, who heads the statewide Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, made the remarks during a Blue Mass he said at St. Anthony Church in Follansbee.
Concelebrants for the Mass — which draws its name from the traditional uniform colors associated with these professions — were Franciscan Father L. J. Asantha Jude Perera, administrator of St. Anthony, and Father Arul Anthony, administrator of St. John the Evangelist Parish in nearby Wellsburg.
The congregation included local dignitaries, as well as the family members and community members who support these men and women who risk their lives in public service.
Brennan began his homily noting that Jewish and Christian traditions have honored the angels and seen them as a true ministry of God toward mankind.
Most notably, he pointed to the Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel: Michael is the defender of God’s people; Raphael’s angelic mission on earth was to heal; and Gabriel was the messenger of divine comfort, most particularly when he reveals to Mary that she will be the mother of our Savior.
“God uses these archangels to serve his people, to serve his creation,” Brennan said. “And those who serve in and among the police and fire departments, first responders and in the military imitate, among human beings, what these archangels do.”
“All of these folks are agents of comfort and providers of security in our communities, and it is right to honor them for what they do,” the bishop said. “Sometimes they have to risk their health and their lives to do their jobs.”
Brennan also called to mind the many police and firefighters who have been killed doing their jobs.
“We also hear of the bad apples,” the bishop said. “It is true there are some bad apples. … And bad apples have to be dealt with.” He warned that there can be a culture of silence and circling the wagons mentality, which can prevent progress and reform that are needed.
“The bad apples, my friends, are not the whole story. They simply aren’t,” Brennan said. “In my experience over many years most police and fire, medical, first responders, and those serving in the military are dedicated to serving others. And they try to do it faithfully.”
Brennan said he believes the majority of people recognize this. “If you ask people in poor neighborhoods in some of our great cities, do they want the police to be defunded? Do you know what they say? No. They want police protection.”
At this Mass, the bishop said the community honors those who dedicate their lives and their energies to the people, to keeping all safe and responding when problems occur.
“I encourage you, who are in these wonderful public service professions, hold your heads high. As there are angels that serve and continue to serve God so you do by serving your fellow human beings,” the bishop said.
“You have noble professions,” he continued. “Never let anyone take that away from you. Honor God, trust him, and pray as we heard in the psalm, When I called, you answered me. You built up strength within me.”
God will not let down those who call upon him in their need, the bishop said to them.
“My friends who are in the police and fire departments, first responders, and those serving in the military,” Brennan said, “may the angels inspire you, may their prayers assist you.”
More than a week earlier in the statewide Diocese of Portland, Maine, Bishop Robert P. Deeley had offered a similar message to law enforcement officers, firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians and elected officials, such as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, gathered for an afternoon Mass Sept. 20 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, only 50 people were allowed inside for the diocese’s annual Blue Mass, which has traditionally drawn more 1,000 people. The Mass was livestreamed to a large audience online and on social media.
Deeley spoke about how first responders can be observed offering help, guidance and direction, around the clock, a heroic mission that can be forgotten in the aftermath of disaster or in daily life. It’s a calling that has faced serious challenges this year.
“Those challenges have even included violence and attacks on police officers,” Deeley told the assembly. “All the more does that make a gathering such as this more necessary. It is a reminder of the good that is done by those who help to keep order in our society. Our prayer, then, for the frayed corners of our society must be all the more fervent.
“We are all called to work to make our society a more just one, one in which all people receive equal treatment. That has to be a concern for all society,” he continued. “So, too, must be our advocacy for the training and health of those who protect us. We should want them to have the best resources possible to help them to carry out their work in a complicated and diverse society. Together, we will work on solutions to our problems which will benefit all of us.”
Service is at the heart of the work first responders do, and when they serve those in need, the bishop told them, they are serving Christ and bringing hope and joy to the world.
Rowan is executive editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Dave Guthro in Portland contributed to this story.