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2016 Memorial Day Homily

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By Chicago Fire Department Chaplain Fr. Thomas Mulcrone

On many Tuesday nights anywhere from 7 to 9 million people sink into their favorite chair, set their TV to NBC, and begin to watch the television program, Chicago Fire.” I suspect there are many in this church today who can count themselves among those very dedicated viewers. Me? I rearrange my sock drawer on Tuesday nights, instead. But I do know for those millions who have their eyes glued to the big screen TV on Tuesday night Chicago Fire is their reality – they believe this is what the fire service in general, and the Chicago Fire Department in particular, is all about. Too bad those same millions couldn’t be here this morning to experience what it really means to be a member of the fire service and, more importantly, the CFD.

The reality is that we have come together today in this magnificent church to remember your husband and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, your co-workers, brothers and sisters in this noble profession, who lived and served with unwavering dedication and honor. We’re here with our flags, our Honor Guard, with the Pipes and Drums, with the uniformed members of this great Department, because for the past 84 years the CFD has gathered on Memorial Day to show honor and respect for those of our family that have fallen. We surround ourselves with the tradition bound symbols of our profession that taken together, represent the courageous and proud service that our brothers and sister have rendered.

The Honor Guard has already proudly displayed the symbols of loyalty, discipline, and patriotism while the dedicated members of this Department marched proudly in honor of your loved ones. The mournful and sultry tones of our bagpipers bring dignity to this celebration, while the drums tap and pound in cadence. A bell will toll as we read the names of these brave one whom we honor, signally the final shift of our fallen. Later on, we will lower the colors of our nation to show respect and remind ourselves that a grateful country remembers the service of all who have sworn an oath to protect and defend.

These traditions are not just symbols used as part of a ritual to honor those we lost…these traditions are part of who your loved one were, the core of their very character, expressing the breadth of their life’s values. This was their reality. This is how they lived their lives. And we do not forget.

As their names are read we will remember them for their great deeds. They saved lives in spite of the great dangers they faced in the performance of their duties. They were tenacious with strong character. They had larger than life personalities and lived their lives with passion. Giving of themselves and giving back were simply a way of life for them.

They loved this “job” and were willing to put their lives in each others hands…they had each other’s backs. That meant that once the speaker cracked or the tones sounded they were all in this together. That is the bond they shared…and it is what brings us here today. That is our reality this morning.

And it is no mistake that we gather here at Holy Family Church to share our faith in the Lord and to be strengthened by his Word and sustained at his altar. St. Paul, writing in a letter to the struggling church in Rome, reminds these new Christians that the reality of their new found faith is found in giving themselves over to the Lord and trusting in His protection. And it is the Lord’s own words, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, that remind all of us of what that giving of ourselves truly means…that when we do it for the least among us we do it for God. That is the sacredness of this great calling to be firefighters and paramedics. That is what those whom we honor today spent a lifetime doing – good work, real work, God’s work. That is why they are counted among the saints and angels in heaven.

Finally, I’d like to share with you the words of a firefighter that hopefully puts this into perspective. In 1982 Chicago author Studs Terkel wrote the book, Working. It is a collection of interviews, oral history actually, about people and the work they do. The final chapter of the book is an interview with a New York firefighter by the name of Tom Patrick. The book closes with the words of this firefighter:

“Last month there was a second alarm. I was off duty. I ran over there. I’m a bystander. I see these firemen on the roof with the smoke pouring out around them, and the flames, and they go in. It fascinated me. That’s what I do! I was fascinated by the people’s faces. You could see the pride they were seein’. The world’s so messed up, the country’s messed up. But the firemen, you actually see them produce. You see them put out a fire. You see them come out with babies in their hands. You see them give mouth-to-mouth when a guy’s dying. You can’t get over that. That’s real. To me, that’s what I want to be. 

I worked in a bank. You know, it’s just paper. It’s not real. Nine to five and its junk. You’re lookin’ at numbers. But I can look back and say, ‘I helped put out a fire. I helped save someone. It shows something I did on the earth.’”

It doesn’t get any more real than that.