Editor’s Note: Retired HPD Lt. Jay Gause is now a Catholic deacon. He delivered a very moving message at the memorial service of Officer Ernest Leal. The Badge & Gun herewith prints Gause’s verbatim message at the service which celebrated Leal’s life.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
In this life, I am Deacon Jay Gause— ordained clergy of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. I am assigned to this parish, Christ the Redeemer and to North Cypress Medical Center as a hospital chaplain.
In my other life, I was a Houston police officer for 35 years. Yes, I am a retired Houston police officer. So, I know something about the Houston Police Department. I know something about the city of Houston.
I also know Dee, Officer Ernest Leal’s wife. She is also a retired Houston police officer. We know each other because we hold positions on the Houston Police Burial Fund. I’m so sorry Dee that we are meeting today under these circumstances. My heart goes out to you and your family. Know that my concern for you and your family goes beyond today. I’m only a phone call away.
The line of duty death of an officer like Ernest Leal opens a window into the soul of the Houston Police Department. What usually makes the news about HPD are bad things which are an anomaly, a statistical outlier, and exception to the norm. When I spoke to citizen groups as an officer, I would sometimes say the headline story in the Houston Chronicle on most days should be last night Houston police exercised extreme restraint at great personal risk to their own life and didn’t shoot anyone.
Officer Leal’s life is much more indicative of what police are about then the typical HPD news story. Officer Leal’s life illustrates what motivates most police officers. Just to give a few examples from a very long list: Officer Leal served the community through extensive volunteer work as an auxiliary member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Houston Food Bank, the Texas Hispanic Council on Aging. He coached youth soccer. He was an active volunteer at his parish, St. Patrick’s.
He also served his fellow brother and sister Houston police officers. He was a member of the Houston Police Burial Fund; whose mission is to perform one last act of mercy for fellow officers— see to their honorable burial. He was active in the Assist the Officer organization. An organization that assist officers in a time of great crisis. For example, it could be helping an officer who has learned he has a terminal illness or assisting an officer whose child has a catastrophic health problem. Nothing indicates better Officer Leal’s devotion to his fellow police officers than his practice of working extra hours and donating them to officers who were unable to work because of health issues or family crises. He donated this time to them so that they would continue to have a paycheck.
I was an adjunct instructor at the Houston Police Academy for about 25 years. Now if you ask most any cadet in the police academy why they want to be a Houston police officer, they will say, “I want to help people.” If you press them further, they will add, “I also want an exciting job.”
But just because we want to help people and we want an exciting career, every officer I know has a very clear goal for the shift— go home to your spouse and kids. In fact, I have no doubt that if one recklessly puts his or herself in harm’s way, the chief will end his or her career.
So, it is not the excitement of the job that motivates officers to put themselves in harm’s way. What is it?
I stumbled upon this answer after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack at the World Trade Center. I was a scout leader with a Boy Scout troop when at the end of a campfire I was, without any preparation, asked to talk to the boys about 9/11 from a police officer’s point of view. I got up and started by saying:
“When everyone was running away from the twin towers, one group was running into them. When everyone was running down the stairs, one group was going up. That was a group of firefighters and police officers. They were not looking for that kind of excitement. They wanted to go home to their loved ones at the end of their shift.”
As I was speaking, I felt strong emotions start to well up. I stopped and had no idea what to say. What happened next is what I call a Holy Spirit moment. Without any forethought, just before I was so overcome with emotion that I could not speak, I blurted out, “You will never know how much police officers love you.” I was amazed I said that. I was even confused. I had never thought about police work like that before.
So, for a long time I reflected on police work as a type of love. I prayed about it. It was my Catholic Christian faith that began to help me sort out this idea. In Catholic churches all over the world, there hangs a crucifix. This is for us a symbol of the highest form of love— sacrificial love. It is indicative of the breadth and depth of God’s love. It is one thing to tell me you love me. I have seen many parents say they love their children as we take their children away because they are abusing them. Words are cheap. You may have sentimental feelings about me. But feelings are often shallow or temporary.
However, if you are willing to take risks for me, to suffer with me and for me, or to die for me, that’s really a whole different type of love. Sacrificial love takes love to an infinitely higher level.
Sacrificial love. You do not see this type of love expressed outside the family unit very often. And it is certainly rare to see this type of love expressed to a total stranger. Yet this is what Houston police officers do routinely. This is what Officer Leal did. And remember, at the same time, Officer Leal wanted to go safely home at the end of each shift to his beloved wife Dee. He wanted to see his daughters Christina and Dianne. He wanted to enjoy his grandchildren Adrianna, Adrian, Liberty, Lincoln and Lorenzo.
Now add this to the situation. Officer Leal was way past the point of when he could retire. He could have said: “This COVID danger is too much. I’m retiring this year.” All this is what makes his sacrifice so precious. So valuable.
When everyone was running away from the COVID 19 virus, Officer Leal was staying in harm’s way. He dearly loved his family. But he also had the highest type of love for humanity— sacrificial love. I do not believe that society could continue to function if some of us were not called by God to love humanity with this type of love— when everyone is running away from danger, some of us are called to stay behind and save the ship.
Therefore, I believe with all my heart, that being a good police officer is nothing less than a calling from God given to certain persons. A call to:
- To love deeply beyond family ties.
- To love the stranger with a great love.
- To love the community with a great love.
- To love as Jesus loved.
Ernest’s sacrifice leaves a broken-hearted family. Only time will lessen the grief and allow happy memories of Ernest to bring joy once again. I know you love and miss Ernest very much. I hope the family and all of you here can take some comfort in what Jesus has promised men and women like Ernest in today’s gospel from Matthew (5:9-10, 12a):
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.