It is an honor for me to join you hereto worship God and to ask His blessings on all the women and men “in blue” who serve our communities as Police, Fire and EMTs. You protect us citizens and our homes. You ensure the good order of our communities and so guard human lives with the protections that allow us to live in peace.
The Gospel today is much more than a dramatic episode at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Much more is going on. John the Baptist performs his ministry of baptism for the repentance of sins. He is seeking converts, people who are ready to straighten out their lives, people who want to start again. He is the answer to their prayers. BUT IS HE?
He himself says “not me but another”. And then who comes along? Walking across the desert toward the Jordan River. And how does John identify him? Not as “my cousin”; not as “the prophet from Nazareth”. He calls him THE LAMB, THE LAMB OF GOD. What does that mean to a Jew of that time? Jesus reminds them of he lamb of Passover; the lamb of offering at a bris; the lamb who accepts being the suffering servant. Thus John turns the people toward the one who will come after me whose who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.
Repentance and salvation are odd words in our society today . My friend, Bishop Barron, recently wrote, “One of the distinctive marks of our culture is a tendency towards self-exculpation and self-exaltation. I am beautiful in every single way…No one is morally to blame for anything. One’s personal desires take precedence over politics, nature and religion”.
But you know that is not true. Of all people you men and women who safeguard us and our communities know the follies and failures that make you so necessary in our society and expect from you so much simply because we are not perfect. We all are tempted. Many of us fall. All too often and in the large number of situations people do do bad things, no matter who much they try to deny it or run away from it. You know it. I know it. But you are the ones who have to deal with it.
That is why we are here today. You and I know that there is a God, a God who created us and at the end will judge us. The God, our Father, however, has given over to His Son the task of judging us. Thus we have every reason to have confidence. It is not the self confidence of the ones who deny their faults. Despite our own failings – and we all fail from time to time – the one John called the Lamb of God is the one who died for us. Our Savior is one like us. He knows what it is to be tempted. He knows we all are subject to failure. Knowing this, He is the one who will be the one to judge. And so we have confidence. The one who takes away our sins is the one who gave up his life so that he might be a merciful brother to us all. And this merciful Son of the merciful Father has given us all the way to salvation because from baptism on he gives us the Holy Spirit, the bond of love that ultimately conquers all the forces of sin and death.
John described his role, saying the reason I came baptizing with water was that HE might be made known…He will baptize with the Holy Spirit!
You and I are called to live the life that He alone can give and does give us. We do our best. The Lord who knows us better than we know ourselves knows our strengths and our weaknesses. Yet from time to time we are given a model to help us realize that life conquers death. Forgiveness is the way toward holiness and love ultimately is the only real answer. Friday we laid Detective Steven McDonald to rest. Who in our communities does not know about his tragic experience of thirty years ago? Who does not know his heroic and Christ like act of forgiveness toward the teenager who shot him and left him crippled in his body? Who will ever forget how he turned his life into a living testimony to all that is true, good, just and loving? With Patti Ann and his son Connor we see not just him and his family. We see as well all of you who face such possibilities day in and day out.
Today he is the pride of all police officers and the shining inspiration for New York and for many others across our country. Steve, in his talks, through his monthly men’s spirituality gatherings, by his life and example testifies what John the Baptist testified: The one on whom the Spirit descends is the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit.
My friends: Jesus is the answer. Steve has shown us that. But he is not alone. We too, as St. Paul says, we who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus are called to be holy. You are today’s apostles of truth, forgiveness and guardians of human life. You been called and you accepted to take on the great responsibility to safeguard your fellow citizens, our communities and our beloved nation. It is a commitment you fulfill every day. As Paul was called to be an apostle, as my brother priests and I are called to be priests to serve the Church and the world, so you too are called to bring your gifts, your talents to build up and defend all that is true, all that is good and all that brings peace and harmony to our world.
As we pray for you today, we do so with hearts that give thanks to the example Steve has left us, one that might well bring him to being acknowledged as Blessed by God and an intercessor for us. But we pray for you with gratitude in our hearts and thanksgiving in our prayer. That the Lord who told the Father, Here I am Lord, I come to do your will might protect and guide and love you all. To you and your families I invoke St. Paul once again
GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, NOW AND ALWAYS.