Love, sacrifice and honor
“I have given you an example,” says the Lord.
Jesus is the supreme example of humility, service and dedication selflessly given for the good of others. There is no one that has had a greater dignity than Jesus, and no one has served others so diligently.
Every Christian is familiar with the powerful imagery in the fifteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Our Lord Jesus uses the lovely analogy of the vine and the branches to illustrate the life-giving love that connects every one of the faithful with Him, and with His Father, the vinedresser.
The stem and the branches form one single being. They are nourished and act together, producing the same fruits because they are fed with the same sap. United to Christ, we are made strong and are effective, giving direction and purpose to our daily works and dealings with others.
Jesus was preparing His disciples for what would be His ultimate gift to them, and to us, through the terrible events of His sorrowful passion. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). By His death and resurrection, He has set us free, becoming the source of our life and of the Church’s whole apostolate.
There are many lessons here for all of us, but for those who serve in the military and in public services where the duty is to protect others, the connection is especially clear.
Key to every first responder’s and every serviceman’s duty is the readiness to sacrifice his or her life for another. While it is true that any one of us could be called upon to sacrifice our lives should the moment come, relatively few of us have actually signed up to be in a position to do this as a matter of basic duty.
Firemen, police, military personnel and related professionals hold a position of honor in our society for a reason. The protector, thinking not of himself, freely risks his own life for the well being of another, usually a complete stranger. That’s the job. Some who serve in these areas never face a life-or-death situation; others see it far too often. The readiness to place one’s life at risk is what connects all such protectors and why they tend to grow such strong bonds of friendship and loyalty. After all, if you step into a burning building or return fire under great pressure, you are entrusting your own life into the hands of your partners.
These intense moments and shared mission create bonds that last a lifetime, and a love that those on the outside can’t understand.
This is a powerful human thing – the love that arises and grows from dramatic situations of great self-sacrifice. Very hard situations force us to look at reality and at what is most important. If we can do that with love and a readiness to die for the other, God can do incredible things through us.
We may lament at times, especially in those moments, that suffering is indeed the currency of salvation. We may not understand the mystery of God’s will, but we can grow to trust Him and His divine will, knowing that He will give us the strength we need, when we need it.
Here, in the reflection of the Savior Who gave His life for us, we see human dignity in its most raw incarnation. Why risk one’s life for another, even a stranger, if he or she is not a person, made in the image of God? In the moment when one’s life is truly at risk, and one chooses to step into the breach to stop evil or to protect a vulnerable person, there are no politics or fashion, no complaints or equivocations. There is only reality and love and sacrifice.
This is why those whose profession it is to protect others so intensely honor their fallen brothers and sisters. It is a function of love and of justice. They deserve to be honored. And those of us who benefit from our often-anonymous protectors owe a certain debt of honor and gratitude both to those who have fallen and those who continue to serve. They do not deserve our worship, but they do deserve honor and our profound gratitude. The best way we can honor them is to pray for them — for their safety, for their families, for the purification of their intentions. L