Blue Mass Homily - September 15, 2019

As delivered by our Pastor at the Annual Blue Mass for all active and retired police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel, at the 10:00 a.m. Mass on Sunday, September 15, 2019:


Over the past several days we have revisited in our personal and collective memories the horrific events of 9/11, a day that will haunt us who lived through it regardless of who we are or where we were. Tragedies like that have a way of lodging in our psyche like an unwelcome guest.

But remember we must.

And remember we do today, not to relive the horror of that day but to honor the heroes of that day and every day when men and women choose to risk their lives for others without asking who am I saving and are they worth it.

For this is the tough question we have to face in the ordinary decisions of our life, decisions that are not as life-threatening or life changing as those made by the men and women who ran in when others were running out. They ran into burning buildings or they brought down their own plane to save the lives of others, not knowing who those innocent lives were.

What strikes me as very different about 9-1 was not just the scale of the loss of thousands of lives and the destruction of mammoth towers of steel and glass. What also stands out was the work that followed for days and weeks and years.

I want to talk about the search and rescue effort carried on for so long by so many at a cost to themselves that has yet to be calculated. Now in fact 'search and rescue' is what first responders are always about, no? Ask a cop or a firefighter or an EMT and when they get the call they don't know who they may be looking for or what it will take to find them. They seek out people in danger of being lost without stopping to ask themselves first: who are they?Are they worth it?

Think about that for a minute. Saint Paul wrote to the church at Rome that Christ died for the ungodly. Which doesn't make sense. He says: "perhaps for a good person one might find the courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us."

For days months and years after 9/11 men and women risked their lives first of course to rescue those who might be alive in the rubble. But then at risk to themselves in a highly toxic environment, they sought even just human remains, because those remains belonged to someone who had a wife or family or friends, to someone who had a name and a home and a reason to live.

This 'search and recover' story came close to home here at Saint John's. On that fateful Tuesday as I returned to Peabody to gather people in prayer and mourning and solace, I learned that one of the passengers on one of the planes that crashed into one of the towers was Christine Barbuto. Christine was the daughter of a very faithful parishioner, John Barbuto. A granite bench in her memory stands close to the memorial garden in front of Saint John's School, Christine's school. For a long time her family and friends waited for something, some fragment of her that they could claim, that they could bury with honor, that would bring closure.

You see, search and rescue, search and recover efforts tells is some very important things about the value of ever human life. They tell us this:

- that every human life is important, a unique person unlike any other.

- that every life is precious, it is worth finding and saving.

- that every life is a priceless thread in the fabric that we call our community.

Or simply put: every life matters.

Today's gospel proclaims these very truths in a way that challenges us as people of faith and compassion. The pharisees complained that Jesus, who claimed to be God, was taking meals with people who had a bad name, who were well known sinners.

People then as now had a tendency to put different values on different lives.

We have seen this in history and we see it today and maybe, if we dare, we can even see it in ourselves and in our choices.

Who for us is more valuable: a man or a women? a white person or a person of color? a rich person or a poor person? a mother or her unborn child? a native born citizen or an undocumented immigrant?

As a nation and as persons we struggle with the question: whose life matters? Who is worthy of our care? Who would you be willing to seek out to rescue, even at risk to yourself?

While we wrestle with these questions personally and professionally and politically, Jesus comes along with the answer. His answer first takes the form of the three stories we just heard. Stories about a shepherd who leaves ninety nine sheep to save one; a woman who turns her house upside down to find a coin, a father who loves two sons who are not worthy of his love, one a foolhardy youth who wanted nothing but his father's money, and the other, an older son who apparently never appreciated all he had and had nothing but scorn for his younger brother.

What are these stories all about?

Simply put, they tell us something very profound about God:
          the God we Catholics and Christians claim as our father,
          and Jesus whom we claim as Lord and brother.

They tell us who Jesus came to search and rescue...and how that makes a difference in our lives. Jesus came to seek and find the lost. He came to show us that in God's eyes, we all have importance, we all have value, we all have a place in a new community known as the kingdom of God.

To seek and save us, Jesus had to pay the ultimate price: his own life. His search and rescue mission continues to this day. And it belongs to all of us:

- to go out and meet people where they are, to break bread with them as friends;

- to love the holy and the sinner in ways that challenge them both to grow;

- and to create a new community, a kingdom of God
          where every human life has value,
          where every human life, regardless how great or small, or
          poor or sinful, has been paid the price of one who died for all;
          and where the sacrifice of God's Son inspires and transforms us to
          live " no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose for us."

In this kingdom, born of the crucified and risen Christ, everyone is worth saving.

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