When we encounter evil in the world --- and there is plenty of it --- our response might be to turn away from God, to reject God, even to doubt God’s existence. We may think or ask ourselves, “how can God exist if he lets such terrible things happen?” Murder. Assault. Rape. Drug abuse. Gang violence. Burglary. Rampant disregard for other people, for life, for property. These are just some of the things that the women and men in law enforcement face each day and the experience can be, often is, very dark.
And yet, on the other hand, the evil we see in the world, our response might just have the opposite effect: we may come to realize that God is our only hope; that God alone helps us make sense of our world; that God is, as the Psalm proclaims today, “our stronghold.” Of course it is this response --- an affirmation of our faith and trust in God --- that we celebrate each year in the Annual Blue Mass.
This Mass is our annual opportunity in the Diocese of Trenton to recognize you, the women and men who “protect and serve” us in Mercer, Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean Counties as law enforcement professionals, to thank you, to lift you up to God in prayer, regardless of your particular religious beliefs, to raise you up and ask Almighty God to watch over you, to care for you, to protect you, the way a father watches over and cares for and protects his children. The Blue Mass is a celebration of faith, a faith that is sometimes tested by the darker side of human life, a faith that cries out with the psalmist today:
God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress. Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
It is our faith in God that enables we who are believers to see with different eyes the mysterious hand of God, the Father, without whom life in this world could never make any sense at all. We need to believe and have faith that God our Creator never leaves our side. And faith, above all, brings us peace so that we need not be troubled or afraid.
God’s Word strengthens our faith. And God speaks other words to us as policemen, as public servants: words like duty and honor, words like integrity and service would be difficult for us to believe in and to understand if you --- our law enforcement professionals --- did not walk among us the citizens of New Jersey. Those words would be difficult for you to believe in and understand if the Lord God did not walk among and with you who “protect and serve.”
A bishop friend of mine in another Diocese once told a story about a soldier who had returned from Afghanistan. During his tour of duty there, he was in a town with his fellow soldiers when someone threw a grenade into the group. With hesitating, this soldier dove on the grenade to protect his buddies. The grenade didn’t explode. He got up and went back to his group. One of the soldiers embraced him and said, “Man, I wouldn’t have done that for a million dollars.” The hero soldier looked at him and replied, “Neither would I.”
During this season of Lent, we fix our eyes on the Cross of Jesus Christ and his suffering for us, his suffering to save us from the darkness of this world. As we look at him on the Cross and the crown of thorns on his head and the nails in his hands and feet, on his broken and battered body, we, too, like the soldiers in Afghanistan might be tempted to say, “Man, I wouldn’t have done that for a million dollars.” Jesus says to us, “Neither would I.” Greater love than this no one has than to lay down his life for his friends. We pray that none of you will ever have to sacrifice your life in the service you render. But today, in this Blue Mass, we thank God for giving you, the women and men of law enforcement, the willingness and the readiness to do so.
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton