by Patricia L. Guilfoyle
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — The battle between good and evil rages on — not on the streets, but within the human heart.
That was the message relayed to the congregation during the Diocese of Charlotte’s first Blue Mass, celebrated Sept. 29 at St. Patrick Cathedral in honor of law enforcement and public safety personnel.
The Mass had been planned several weeks before a fatal police shooting Sept. 20 triggered a week of protests in Charlotte that left two African-American men dead, several police officers injured, and residents shocked by the violence.
The cathedral was filled with people who had come out to pray and express thanks to local first responders, during a liturgy offered on the feast of the Archangels.
“We see a parallel between your work and theirs,” said homilist Father Patrick Winslow. “We see the work you do as sharing in their angelic mission as protector, healer and aid to those in need.”
His parish, St. Thomas Aquinas Church, sits just a few blocks from where Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old African-American man, was shot and killed by police Sept. 20 in an apartment complex parking lot. Protests erupted there Sept. 20, and on Sept. 21, Father Winslow led one of the city’s first prayer services for reconciliation and justice.
“The archangels — Gabriel, Raphael, Michael — are known in Scripture for coming to the aid of those in need. In the case of Gabriel and Raphael, to provide healing from sickness and mercy, like EMS (emergency medical service) responders and firefighters. Michael is known as one who confronts the forces of darkness, one might say like our policemen and women who seek to protect and defend.”
Father Winslow also reflected on the first reading of the Mass, which was a passage from Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation that describes St. Michael casting Satan out of heaven.
“Throughout Christian history, this apocalyptic text has been interpreted not merely as some future or past event, but as also describing the current, ongoing, unfolding battle between the forces of good and evil,” he said. “It has been something that has been taking place since the beginning and even now in this present age, throughout the world, in the U.S., in Charlotte.”
“Unlike conventional battles, which have . . . clearly delineated front lines, the war between the forces of light and darkness know no such borders. Rather, darkness is more pervasive and sinister. It’s a battle not between nations, not between peoples. The battle of dark and light is not between races. Rather, it is a battle that takes place within each human heart, within each one of us.”
This insidious darkness attempts to attack all of us, including priests and police, he said.
“Fighting the darkness in the human heart is the real battle. It seeks to strike at our hearts and, by so doing, tear down the fabric of our societies and our communities.”
However, Revelation also describes the battle’s outcome, Father Winslow said. “We are assured that God is victorious. The light will always conquer the darkness that threatens us. God always wins.”
“It’s in this context that the officer patrols each day,” he continued. “It’s in this context which the first responder sets a pace to help those of us in need. We need men and women like you who tirelessly bring this light of aid and service to the world — to help our brothers and sisters, to help us, especially in our moments of need and defenselessness.”
In this complicated and difficult world, “it is not always easy to make wise and prudent decisions,” Father Winslow also acknowledged. “So we pray that you’re able to do so in a split moment, at a time when it’s needed, for people depending on you.”
“May God bless you, your families and the people you serve.”
First offered in 1934 in Washington, the Blue Mass provides spiritual support for those on the front lines of public safety and derives its name from the uniform color of police officers and firefighters. The Blue Mass is now offered in hundreds of parishes and dioceses annually throughout the U.S.
Before the Mass, Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis blessed fire trucks, patrol cars and ambulances, sprinkling them with holy water as they drove past the cathedral, lights flashing.
About two dozen police, fire and EMS personnel, both Catholic and non-Catholic, attended the Mass.