Every year we come together here at St. James Cathedral to honor and pray for our first responders on the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron of first responders. On the morning of this day last year, a Florida Highway Patrol officer, Tracy Vickers, was killed on SR 408. It is only right and just as the Scripture says to pray for all who serve and protect us. Over the many years, I have met families of fallen first responders, wives, husbands, children and parents. I remember Orange County Deputy Norman Lewis’ mother, coming from the west coast to this service. She thanked us for remembering her son, Norman, in our prayers. Today we pray for all our fallen first responders and their families.
We are also here today to pray for the safety and welfare of all of you who serve as first responders. Our world today is difficult and challenging. You must make split moment decisions on life or death situations that can endanger, not only your lives but the lives of others. In the book of Revelation, we hear that evil was confronted by St. Michael the Archangel and conquered by God. You as first responders confront evil in the world daily, but you must not let evil overcome you. It can happen when we lose respect for ourselves or others and we become callous and disconnected facing so much violence and suffering with no easy answers to all the problems within our communities. Sadly, these are the effects of evil surrounding us in our daily lives.
Scripture reminds of trials and tribulations. We must never give up. There is faith, there is hope and there is love. Faith sustains us, hope helps us to endure and love gives us strength to endure.
Through the ages, the Church also faces evil, such as the act of sexual abuse. Information like this is always painful, for the victims and their families, for the faith community, for our religious, for our priests. Yet, God calls us to face the truth for the sake of those harmed and disarm evil by removing the perpetrators, who were sadly our brothers and sisters. We had to come to the truth and make good, but tough decisions.
The Church found the law enforcement community as a source of help in eradicating the evils of sexual abuse. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York did a national study of all our dioceses and advised and formulated procedures that help the Church today. Law enforcement processes and procedures helped to set up policies to combat the evil of sexual abuse. Their counsel regarding fingerprinting and background checks were foundational to offering the Church as a safe environment for God’s people. I am grateful to our Diocesan review board on which a representative of law enforcement sits whose own counsel assists me in keeping safe those we serve.
Each year, we trust our first responders to assist us during hurricane season, not only in assuring our safety before the storms, but also selflessly responding to recovery. How many First Responders have sacrificed and gone to the aid of hurricane and earthquake victims in other states and other countries at a moment’s notice?
A few years ago, we called upon our first responders to review our buildings and classrooms to assure that they were safe from any intruder and we initiated additional safety protocols for this purpose. Many of our parishes utilize first responders to assist with traffic control and safety measures on Sunday.
Even more recently, we relied upon our first responders when an intruder threw a bomb into one of our churches, Queen of Peace, in Ocala. Fire, rescue, and many levels of law enforcement investigators all came together to assist this parish community and reminded us of God’s mercy as no one was injured.
During the pandemic, we name the work of our first responders heroic as you minister to those who require transport or become ill, without thought of your own safety. You readily respond to calls made by people in distress and hear their cry for help. You are the image of our merciful God when human trafficked teens are rescued by your intervention. Working alongside you to minister to these forsaken has been our honor.
Your simple response is, I am “just doing my job.” Your humility shows that you are dedicated and committed to serve to protect with pride and courage.
You are dedicated and committed. Perhaps you have lost count, but we praise God for those adults and children who have been rescued from a burning home or car or the drug overdosed victims you encountered and saved by your actions. We remember the babies you deliver and bring into the world safely and the young people whom you inspire and mentor through community programs.
The spirit of Lt. Debra Clayton’s work with children lives on as they remember her goodness to them. We remember her here today in our prayers.
How proud we are for all of you who serve as first responders!
Thomas Paine, in 1776, during a very painful and difficult time in the history of our country wrote these famous words, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He went on to encourage the colonies to stay together and to fight on and eventually to achieve their goal of freedom, justice, and peace.
On this feast day of your patron, St. Michael the Archangel, we pray that the Good Lord and Our Savior Jesus Christ will look after and safeguard all our first responders, protect and guide you, give you strength and courage, wisdom and knowledge, and bring you safely home. We pray and remember especially all first responders injured in the line of duty for their healing and recovery. Lord, we pray for our departed first responders, that they may rest in the peace of Christ forever. Amen.
Please pray the prayer that is found on page 2 in your worship aid, entitled Psalm 107:
we are a struggling people
gathered before You
lain barren by our divide
we thirst for Your healing
we long for Your hope
̶ first responders ̶
selfless and courageous
carry us over our oppression
and lay us gently
within the swaddle of comfort
they join us and
cry out in anguish
against our wounds of difference
and bind our spirit
with the dignity
of Your creation
Your gift of life
cradling the sorrowful
and the lonely
as a prayer
a holy offering to You
O Lord may we
see the goodness of each one
taste the fragrance of words spoken
clear our heart to hear Your meaning
offer our hand to hold
smell the freshness of Your peace
Grant these first responders
they who settle the hungry
and bring us out of peril
̶ usher them Your blessing ̶
for Your increase upon the earth
Homily by Bishop John Noonan
St. James Cathedral, Orlando