PHOENIX — In the darkness of their lives, Mary Magdalene and Ss. Peter and Matthew received the light of Christ: Mary Magdalene delivered from demons, Peter restored to his leadership after denying Christ, and Matthew called from his life as a hated Jewish tax collector for Rome.
So, too, can Jesus’ light shine in our lives, if we look for Him and are ready.
That was the thrust of Bishop Emeritus Thomas J. Olmsted’s message to worshippers, including many veterans and their families, as the Diocese of Phoenix hosted its annual Red, White and Blue Mass Sunday.
The annual rite at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral included a procession of the U.S. service branch flags — Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Space Force — and the traditional lighting of a red, white and blue candle in honor of those serving as well as those who have died.
“Thank you for risking everything for us,” Bishop Olmsted said.
“With profound appreciation, we assure you of our prayers, we pray for your families and your loved ones, and in a particular way today we pray for those who have died. May they rest in eternal peace of our Risen Lord,” he said.
Then, turning to the day’s Gospel reading, the bishop emeritus discussed readiness and the consequences for lacking it.
‘WILL HE FIND US READY?’
In “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (Matt. 25: 1-13), the virgins wait for a bridegroom to arrive for a midnight wedding. But only five have enough extra lamp oil, while the others’ lamps run out, While the five “foolish” virgins are away buying oil, the wedding banquet doors are locked, and the five are shut out.
The parable likens the scene to Jesus’ arrival for His bride, the Church, and
Bishop Olmsted urged those looking for Christ to always keep their lamps burning, even in life’s dark moments.
“There are many times when it may feel like our inner world is in a time of midnight,” he said. “But let us never doubt that He comes at midnight to rescue us. He draws near to the brokenhearted. He calls sinners out of darkness.”
“So,” the bishop asked, “will He find us ready when He comes?”
In a world “suffocating” today under a culture that “desires comfort more than virtue, blinded by indecency and violence,” the bishop said many souls also are weighed down by sin.
“We must not stand by and do nothing. Now is the time to welcome the bridegroom. And to seek his gift of forgiveness.”
“Open the doors of your heart to the Light of Christ. Be not afraid. He doesn’t come like a wolf to steal your dignity, but as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He comes not as a stranger but as a bridegroom for whom our souls were made.”
“His light can never be extinguished — the light of Jesus can never be overwhelmed,” he concluded.
Later, several veterans said that the message reaffirmed their reliance on God in their military roles.
“Your faith is part of your standard equipment. You gotta take it with you,” said retired Navy Senior Chief Intelligence Specialist John Altmann, who attends St. Bernadette Church in Scottsdale.
“Faith keeps you anchored,” he said. “It helps relieve fear in any circumstances, whether going into conflict or (not).
Now a history teacher at a Valley public high school, Altmann still strives to keep his lamp burning.
“I’m proud that we have a Moment of Silence every day. I use that to pray for my students,” he said.
First Sgt. Bradley Heck of St. Ann Parish in Gilbert was a U.S. Army communications specialist at Qayyarah Airfield West about 30 miles south of Mosul, Iraq, in the 2000s. He served as administrative specialist for over two dozen soldiers, a role that required caring for their spiritual needs — whether they were Catholic or not — and serving as senior Eucharistic Minister. He provided rosaries to many of the soldiers.
Heck said the experience allowed him to learn about others’ faiths, as well as cultures of third-country nationals based at the 7,000-member facility, among them Filipinos, Turks, Indians and Muslims.
“I got excited, especially (with) the Filipinos. Though we could not speak each other’s language, they always communicated with a wave or a smile. You knew you were sharing something from the heart. We were sharing God,” he said.
Heck, who lit one of the candles at Mass, teared up at the playing of “Taps,” the familiar 24-note bugle call used at funerals, wreath-laying ceremonies and memorial services.
‘WE’RE BROTHERS AND SISTERS’
“When I grab the radio and yell for help, it doesn’t make any difference what branch of the service you’re in. We’re brothers and sisters,” he said.
U.S. Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Bill Hayes, who attends Corpus Christi Church in Ahwatukee and who presented the gifts with his wife, Anita, later recalled the fallen.
“They paid the (ultimate) price. Their families are now without them, and who knows what the world would be like (if) they were still with us,” Hayes said. “We miss all of them. That’s what this day and this ceremony are really all about.”
The Homily also resonated with Sheila Stubler, a worshipper from St. Francis Cabrini Church in Camp Verde. Stubler said the Mass was worth the 90-mile, hour-and-a-half drive.
“Our veterans should never be forgotten. (Many) don’t realize that people made sacrifices so we could be here, have the freedom of speech, the right to make decisions, live each day as we feel called.”
“Freedom comes at a cost. That price was paid by the soldiers who gave their lives,” she said.
“I think God (today) is giving us ample opportunities to open our eyes to what’s around us. It would be wise for all of us to keep our lamps filled with oil.”