These are the prepared remarks of Bishop Edward Rice, auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, for the inaugural Blue Mass held September 13, 2015 for emergency responders and their families. This is not an official transcript.
In the name of Archbishop Carlson, I welcome all of the First Responders and their families to the Cathedral Basilica for this first annual Blue Mass. In his name, I say “Thank you” – thank you for what you do – day in and day out – oftentimes at great personal sacrifice, and often without recognition.
— Elizabeth Westhoff ن (@ESWesthoff) September 13, 2015
A special word of gratitude to your spouses and families gathered here – for the countless holiday parties that were missed – the birthday celebrations – just the simple meals ‘round the table that had to be postponed because your duties took you elsewhere to respond to the needs of others. It’s important that we say “Thank You,” especially in these days where there seems to be an outward scorn and contempt for our public servants. We the citizens of St. Louis and the Catholic Community of St. Louis – we pray for you – – we owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. I am so glad to have Fr. Boehm and Fr. Joe Laramie with us. You will find information on an upcoming retreat offered by Fr. Laramie at the White House and we encourage you to attend. Thanks also to our Deacons, Mark Byington and Jerry Knobbe who each have a law enforcement background.
There is a beautiful parallel to today’s Gospel and our First Responders gathered here for the Blue Mass. Our Lord explained what he would do in Jerusalem – he told his disciples the Son of Man would suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise up on the third day – all in Jerusalem. And if that was not enough, he then explained to his followers what they must do if they want to share in his resurrected life. They must deny self, take up the cross and follow – each one, and in doing so, by losing one’s life – they gain eternal life. I believe that First Responders understand this Gospel. Maybe you’ve never pondered it much, but I think First Responders actually live out this Gospel. They consistently die to self by putting others first.
You know, it’s not natural to put yourself second. It’s natural to put yourself first. It’s natural for the human person to want to preserve his or her life, and when threatened, we defend ourselves – we protect ourselves. The first human response is always to preserve one’s life. But not First Responders…when most of us are running away from the danger, First Responders are running toward the danger. When we have that moment when we need to protect ourselves, they overcome that inclination, and put their lives on the line… typically, for total strangers. And when we take cover, they expose themselves to danger, life-threatening danger. And again, it’s not natural to do that. And so, it’s inspired. It is supernatural to die to self and put one’s life on the line for another. Does not Our Lord say as much, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another.” And so in a powerful way when our first responders put others first, they share in the work of Christ. That is no over exaggeration. You imitate Christ in responding to the needs of others.
So the question is, what is your motivation for what you do? Well, for the Christian, I believe it is more than just a desire to help others, it is more than a generous heart, or even the desire to make a difference. I believe deep down, as St. James says, “It is the desire to do good that flows from our faith. When posed with the question, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter without hesitation said, “You are the Christ.” And while Peter made mistakes along the way, in the end he too died to self, literally. He was martyred; he literally took up the cross to follow Jesus. To all First Responders here today, I would hope that you see your work in light of the Gospel – that your good work flows from your faith – as you are called at any moment to die to self, put others first – remember the One who laid down his life for us – as St. Peter said, “Jesus, the Christ.” There is a beautiful, life changing question posed in today’s Gospel, “Who do you say that I am.” It is the most personal question ever asked and it has eternal consequence. And so in the heart of each person here today, that question echoes. My additional question is “have you answered that question from your heart?” Have you invited, have you accepted Jesus into your heart, have you proclaimed, as did St. Peter, “You are the Christ?”
On a more personal note, I publicly thank all of you on behalf of my family. It will be a year ago this coming November that my brother passed away from a house fire. The kindness of the fire fighters, the police, and the medics will never be forgotten by my family. This bishop who stands before you prays for you daily – for your safety and protection, and we invoke the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Florian, and St. Luke, that they may bless you and keep you safe in your work.
In a special way, too, we remember those first responders who died from 9/11 and all who have died in the line of duty. May they rest in peace, and may their families be consoled.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.