Bishop Dennis Sullivan celebrated the 16th annual Blue Mass at Our Lady of Hope Parish, Blackwood, on Sept. 29. The homilist was Msgr. Michael Mannion. Below is a slightly condensed version of his homily.
John 1:47:51 — Jesus called Philip from Bethsaida, along with Andrew and Peter. Philip heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God. He would learn what that meant as Jesus was led to the point where he would give his life for those he loved. Philip would ask: “Where can we find bread?” He would learn to look at Jesus to find the Bread of Life. He was a curious one —waiting to be shown. Perhaps the steward — providing the provisions, caring for others needs. He would say “Come” to Nathanael when he wanted to meet Jesus.
Philip could have sought to keep Jesus to himself. He did not do so, He was not selfish. He was excited to show another the Way. So many of you — as officers, troopers and agents and support staff in public safety — have decided not to keep the best of what you know, and who you know — to yourself.
You have mentored, tutored and coached those who will walk and serve with you and follow you, in preparation for whatever danger may come. It has been said that “an adult generation that is not afraid of death will teach a youth generation not to be afraid of life.” In living that vision, you have also embraced the words of Pope Francis: “We belong to each other.” Where shall we find Bread?”
“Look at me” says Jesus in word and gesture. We are fed by those who love us and believe in us: Chosen, Blessed, Broken, Given — loved and wanted. Bread is a gift, but ironically enough, it feeds no one until it is broken, not unlike our own human ability to use our life experiences to help others.
Perhaps you don’t think a great deal about holiness in your daily duties and responsibilities of law enforcement. But recognize, among other things, that “a holy person as someone in whose presence I feel sacred about myself.”
We all carry our histories and memories within us. Childhood bullying, nicknames, put downs, not being included. We are our brother and sister’s keeper. And the sense of the sacred is crucial. Believe that you make a difference for the good! Take not for granted how much children look up to you! A smile and a hand shake from you means so much to them! Behold the children here today!
Philip says to Nathanael: “Come” — Meet him. I don’t own him, nor do I want to keep him for myself. Meet Jesus. Acts of goodness take place when an officer, trooper, agent affirms, supports another, is there for another without concern for one’s self or the sacrifice involved. “I’ll work that shift for you — go be with your family.” “I know your child is ill. Use my sick days to be with him at the hospital.” “That officer is really down. I’ll spend some time with him.”
Law enforcement can be a very lonely profession, especially in this day and age. It’s been said that “loneliness doesn’t happen when there is no one around you, but when no one around you understands what’s going on inside of you.” Being unselfish and committed to high ideals can be lonely. That’s when the grace of Christ is most needed and most present. Horrors reveal heroes. From the Gloucester Fire to 9-11. In our culture an idol is someone we envy or have jealousy toward because we want he has and what he’s done — or taken — for himself. A hero is someone we admire because of what he or she has done for others. Sometimes even doing little thinks with great love make a big difference, as Saint Mother Teresa has often said.
And sometimes the “place of the wound is the place of healing.” That’s why Vets return to Pearl Harbor, Okinawa and Vietnam. One may feel a call to return to the place of hurt to empower the journey of healing. To remember, to grieve, to let go. To move on.
In law enforcement, defusings and debriefings after tragedies are crucial, for they help to develop a sense of support and bonding as well as generate insights that can literally help heal the past of trauma and stress and save lives in the future. Scientists now tell us that cells have memories. We cannot trick our minds not to hurt. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel and don’t open ourselves to the resources we need — we can’t heal. We must feel to heal. Contemporary science also tells us that new diseases may be born in us and our lives may be significantly shortened. Unfortunately, sometimes hurting people hurt people, while caught in a cycle of their own pain. Again, pain that is not transformed is transmitted. Jesus is the healer par excellence.
Jesus recognized in Nathanael the absence of guile. He was authentic, real, sincere and true to himself. No hidden agenda. I see this again and again when so many of you quietly, almost secretly, buy food for hungry children and families, clothes for so many who have so little. The generous Christ in you recognizes and responds to the needy Christ in them. The world says: Achieve. Jesus says: Receive. “It is in giving that we receive.” Truly!
Some of the most humbling experiences of my life and priesthood have taken place when you honored and trusted me to support you in those times when an officer was down. I’ve been honored to share your tears and grief. At those times you did not abandon one another — you became strong at your broken places — a band of brothers and sisters. Time and time again you love the surviving spouse and children with tremendous care, compassion and protection — realistically knowing at present they can’t get over the loss, but they can get through it. How often you have helped to transform pain by taking the child of a fallen friend out for the day — not to replace a mom or dad — but to remind him or her that the love of that parent is still present through you.
I have also constantly sought and prayed, as you know, to connect and reconnect you to your home church and parish, where you will find a faith community to help anchor you, with the support of direction and correction. We need your gifts and talents in our- your church! You have so much to offer. We, too, want to welcome you and your families. You are a gift to us.
As Sgt. Ron Conley of Camden City PD said to me several years ago, shortly before he died: “Tell the guys never to trade their humanity for their badge.” And so also have you remembered. In the 14 years I’ve taught at the Police Academy I’ve learned from you that see your law enforcement profession as a vocation as well, a calling from within. And that’s why we honor you today and are humbled by what you do and who you are. For you see your law enforcement experiences through the lens of your life as a father, mother, son daughter, brother, sister, friend.
May Jesus see you as he saw Nathanael: no guile — authentic — sincere and real. In this is found your holiness.
The spiritual and the professional blend beautifully when we remember that Servant Leadership in law enforcement — Serve and Protect, Service Before Self — is not about titles and status but about attitudes and intention, action and purpose, common goals and teamwork.
In the spirit of Jesus, who reads the heart of Nathanael, we seek to “hold each person sacred, put others needs before our own, share the credit and shoulder the blame, be a person of character, and never say, “That’s not my job.” Then we lead and motivate others from within! We are a people of faith and worship. We must be. For history tells us, “when men don’t worship God, they worship each other.”
Today is the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael — your protectors. Bring each other and your people to Jesus with the protection of the angels. You wear body armor, vest, duty belt, and carry a firearm. Carry also with you the Sword of the Spirit to protect and preserve you — and give you the wisdom and “that inner gut feeling and instinct” — sixth sense if you will — to do the right thing in those terrible times when two or three seconds can change the course of your life and sometimes many others as well. Again, we belong to each other! In the words of Micah the prophet, may you always act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God. May God love you and keep you and your loved ones safe. God Bless you all!