The Fire of Love


On May 4, the Church marks the feast day of St. Florian, a third-century Christian martyr. Florian was a high-ranking officer in the army of the Roman Empire. One of his particular duties was to oversee the fire brigade of the city where he was stationed.
Ancient Roman cities were crowded and dense with residential buildings of several stories. While the center of the city might have those famous marble facades, most of the buildings in Roman cities were wood or brick. Fire was a daily occurrence in such large cities and was the source of much suffering and death. In many Roman cities, the authorities usually established fire brigades in groups of 50 men to watch for signs of fire and to form lines of buckets from the nearest fountain. Of course, that task became more difficult and dangerous when the brigades had to carry those buckets up into the taller buildings. Florian was admired for his effective leadership over the brigades and was celebrated for the lives he saved.
Unfortunately, his deeds and reputation did not save Florian when the Emperor Diocletian decided to embark on the most ferocious persecutions of Christians in the history of that violent empire. As an army officer, Florian was ordered to participate in the persecution but chose instead to reveal his own Christian faith. He was sentenced to death and brutally executed along with many other innocent Christians in those terrible days.
First and foremost, Florian is remembered for his courageous witness of faith in Martyrdom. He is also remembered for that witness of faith expressed in his dedication to serving the community. Christian or pagan, friend or foe, he risked his own safety to assist others in danger. For this reason, he is the patron saint of firefighters.
Many of you know how proud I am to be the son, nephew and great-grandson of members of the FDNY. My dad, also named Richard, served the department for many years and rose to lead other firefighters as a lieutenant. In some ways, he could not get enough of the “job” as he served as a volunteer in our local community and served in the U.S. Coast Guard reserve in a fire inspection and fighting capacity in New York Harbor. Even as a child, it was clear to me that my father loved firefighting. It’s why I put “job” in quotes above. It was his vocation and he had a passion and dedication that deeply affected me as his son. I saw his devotion to his fellow firefighters, the determination to keep them prepared and safe and his willingness to risk himself for others. While I went into a different kind of “firefighting,” my Dad’s example, and his ongoing encouragement have loomed large in my vocation. While few firefighters would express it this way, their service is a kind of concrete love for neighbor and is a reminder of the Lord’s own words “Whatsover you do for the least of these…”
On May 11, I will have the privilege of taking part in the annual memorial for the more than one hundred Rhode Island firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty. At the Rhode Island Fire Academy where recruits train for this calling, there is a memorial with the names of each of the fallen. It is fitting for them to understand the risks they face and know the legacy of service and heroism that they will inherit.
I ask that we take a moment this week to say a prayer for firefighters. Most especially on May 4, I hope that we invoke the intercession of Saint Florian for the safety of our Rhode Island firefighters, for the well-being of their families who share in their dedication, and for the success of their efforts to protect life and limb.
If you are feeling especially grateful for the protection that we enjoy, maybe you might reach out to a firefighter or visit and thank the local fire house. They are always ready to respond to our call for help. Consider this a call for us to express our gratitude. St. Florian, pray for us…