As I write this column in July, plans are already under way for our Archdiocese’s annual “Blue Mass,” to be celebrated at St. Joseph Cathedral on September 11, the very day of the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
The Connecticut State Police, the Hartford Fire Department, the Connecticut Department of Correction and many other organizations and individuals who are in the service of protecting the public’s well-being will participate in an opening procession on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. It will lead into the cathedral, the mother church of the archdiocese, where I will celebrate the Sunday liturgy.
While this annual event will once again honor the courage, generosity, personal sacrifice and life-saving competencies of first-responders, it will also be an occasion to reflect prayerfully on our unity as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We witnessed horrific violence in Orlando, and now with each heart-breaking headline about tragic events that give rise to other forms of violence, in Minnesota, Louisiana and most recently in Dallas, it is important to affirm that every life “matters” – whether of those who serve or those who are served. Whatever our racial, ethnic, religious or political differences, we all come from the hand of God to whom we will one day return. Catholic social teaching emphasizes the principle or virtue of solidarity, which, in the words of the Catechism, “presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled” (n. 1940).
Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). This is as necessary as it is challenging at a time of global and domestic unrest, in a world fraught with aggression, terrorism and mistrust. If we are to find peace, healing and hope, we must stand together and in the conviction that ultimately a loving God rules the world, not man, his selfish passions or personal agendas. God is always there for us – even in the face of all our human sinfulness.
Recently, I celebrated two Masses for inmates at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Although the celebration of Mass in prisons has always been part of my ministry as a bishop, it had special significance during this Jubilee Year of Mercy because visiting the imprisoned is one of the corporal works of mercy, as commanded by Jesus himself.
I took the opportunity to remind the attending inmates that we are all sinners – myself included. In fact, if we are not sinners, Jesus can do nothing for us. He can only be a Redeemer to those in need of redemption, which is all of us.
For the closing blessing at the Mass, I held a relic of Saint Maria Goretti, the story of whose death offers a striking example of mercy and redemption. In 1902, she was attacked and stabbed as part of an attempted rape, and as she lay dying, only 11 years old, she said that for the love of Jesus she forgave her attacker, whom she knew, and wanted him one day to be with her in Paradise. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, where he remained unrepentant until one night Maria appeared to him in a beautiful vision, which led to his complete conversion. When ultimately released, he begged forgiveness from Maria’s mother, which she duly granted. He moved to a Capuchin monastery, working in the garden for the remainder of his life. He was one of the witnesses who testified to Maria’s holiness during her cause of beatification, citing the crime and the vision in prison, and he was present at the beatification ceremony in 1947.
Nothing is hopeless. No one is hopeless. All things are possible because of the mercy of God, which is no less than his power.
As a resilient people and a unified nation, “under God,” may we show mercy to one another in a way that divine love and grace alone can make possible. May we work and pray for the healing of all bitterness and strife based on race, ethnicity, religion or politics, both in the United States and throughout the world. And may we continue to offer our prayers and express our heartfelt gratitude for all the first-responders who put their lives on the line for us locally, nationally and internationally.