Over the years and in a variety of circumstances, I have had the opportunity to provide pastoral care to police officers. As a result, I have seen the enormous pressures that the job places on officers and their families. There is significant physical risk to officers in the course of their duties, and the anxiety over that risk affects their loved ones. The difficult hours and dealing with some of the worst aspects of human nature also take a toll.
The officers I have known went on the job with a sense of idealism, wishing to live up to the motto “Protect and Serve.” Many have had that idealism stretched thin by the realities of policing in our culture. The vilification of police officers by some media and public figures has only increased the challenge. It is not lost on these officers that sometimes such easy insults come from those who enjoy private security and little fear of everyday crime.
We entrust police officers with a great deal of authority in our society and we do so for the common good. Like all those who wield authority, there are temptations to abuse that authority and fall into corruption. In addition to the risks to their physical safety, police face dangers to their emotional and spiritual well-being. There are clear instances when individual officers have failed in their duty. Society has a right to expect high standards and to seek constant vigilance and reform. It is in the interests of all, and of officers themselves, that corruption or abuse of authority be addressed quickly and forthrightly.
At the same time, we should never forget that the vast majority of officers serve with honor and integrity. We will not right wrongs by doing the further injustice of treating our honorable officers so shabbily. Tragically, the constant denunciations of officers in some media have contributed to a rise in violence against officers in communities across the United States. Police officers need our respect and our support. They stand between us and chaos with all the risks that such chaos entails. If we want officers who are true to their calling, then we would do better to encourage than to denounce.
On September 29, the Universal Church celebrates the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, patron of those who protect and serve in police forces and in the armed services. The feast is a good reminder of their special calling and generous service. It is also a good time to remember to thank the officers in our communities.
As we thank those who protect and serve, let us also pray for them and for their families. Many churches keep the tradition of a “Blue Mass” to pray for police officers and their families. In such Masses and in our own prayer, we invoke the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel that God deliver officers from physical harm, from temptation and from spiritual warfare. Likewise, we pray for their families who share in the burden they carry for the sake of all.
St. Michael the archangel, protect and defend us!