The Blue Mass of 2004

In today’s gospel Our Lord reminds us the blind cannot guide the blind.

Today, we gather in memory of the fallen, the valiant, the innocent and the brave who were swept up in the events that began on a fateful Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 when at 8:48 AM Eastern Standard Time the first plane flew into the first tower of the World Trade Center.

Hatred blinded the consciences of the perpetrators of these horrible acts. Acts no one must be allowed to excuse or justify. The survival of civilization demands zero tolerance towards such acts of barbarism. And recent events in Russian and Indonesia –events which in Florida were eclipsed somewhat by our preoccupation with the storms – remind us that hate inspired terrorism is still a clear and present danger in our world.

But the blind cannot lead the blind – for will not both fall into a pit? Even as we hear the daily news of violence and terrorism, even as we mourn the lost of our dead, especially those who died in the line of duty on that fateful day and those who have died in our nation’s armed forces, we can never allow ourselves to get use to violence and the shedding of innocent blood. We must continue to resist the logic of violence, revenge and hatred that would leave us all blind.

On the first anniversary of September 11 th, spotlights sends rays of light upwards into the skies of New York where the twin towers had once stood. Those lights helped dispel the darkness of the grief that we still feel. And those lights also underscored the firmness and resoluteness of the American spirit, the spirit that despite whatever our faults and shortcomings as a people and a nation still evokes the optimism, the confidence, the goodness of Ronald Regan’s image of America “as that shining city on a hill”. The Rev. Bill Graham reminded the nation in the prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington just a few days after the attacks: we need “to be moved more by compassion for one another rather than contempt for our enemies”. If in the face of evil we allow ourselves to hate, then we risk becoming what we most deplore. Our hearts too can be blinded by the darkness of hate. A few days ago, in recalling the anniversary of “that terrible September 11, 2001 ”, the Pope said the “fight against the death-makers doubtless requires firmness and resoluteness…” “At the same time”, he adds “it is necessary to make every possible effort to eradicate misery, despair, emptiness of heart and whatever favors this drift toward terror… We must not let ourselves be overwhelmed by fear which leads men and women to focus on themselves and strengthens the selfishness entrenched in the hearts of individuals and groups”.

If three years ago, the very worst that man is capable of, was shown by the terrorists, the very best was brought forth through heroic efforts by firefighters, police and rescue personnel – and through thousands of caring and compassionate volunteers who stepped forward in that time of crisis. Today, we remember them – and we remember you and the people you represent –firefighters, police, rescue personnel, because then and now through your public service you continue to bring forth the best of what man is capable of. Your response in these days, before, during and after the hurricanes, has also been a reflection of the best which our human nature is capable of.

Today, at this “Blue Mass” we honor you and your comrades – for your commitment, your service, and your sacrifice.

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.

Today, because of the emergency we are faced with in our state and in our communities because of the hurricanes that threatened us – and the one that still threatens, many of the people we honor today could not be here. We understand – and even if duty calls them away from us this morning, we still have a duty to pray and lift them up to God.

The aim of terror is to break our spirit, to cause fear, to have us fall into despair and darkness. For this reason, we beg God for the gift of his peace, the peace which mankind is not capable of giving.

And of course if evil men can terrorize us, sometimes so can the forces of nature. And here again, this Blue Army of police officers, firefighters and rescue personnel have proven to be heroes by giving of themselves even when their own homes were in peril.

We thank you for what you do for us in this natural emergency. And we ask God to strengthen your faith and our faith in these difficult days so that we may never lack the peace of mind and heart that is faith’s gift to the believer. With faith, we know that if the Lord brings us to it, he will bring us through it. We trust that adversity –from wherever it may come – will not break us; strengthen by faith in God’s word and renewed at his table of sacrifice, adversity will only stretch us.

Jesus says the blind cannot lead the blind. Thanks to you – and to your vision of self sacrifice and community service – you light our way. You serve and protect whether we are threatened by the Taliban or the storm Ivan. God bless you.

Most Rev. Thomas Wenski
Bishop of Orlando

St. James Cathedral, September 10, 2004