WASHINGTON (CNS) — As hundreds of participants at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering prepared to go to Capitol Hill to press lawmakers on the U.S. church’s policy agenda, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, commissioned them with tales of Pope Francis and long-ago Catholic martyrs in his homily.
“The Catholic Church really is ‘here comes everybody,'” Cardinal DiNardo said Feb. 6 during the Mass on the last day of the four-day conference in Washington, telling participants, “You represent an anchor of hope to the whole body of the faith that is engaged and at the same time mystical.”
Cardinal DiNardo focused on Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which he said was “a text dear to the heart of Pope Francis.”
Immediately sensing skepticism at that assertion, Cardinal DiNardo asked the inevitable question, “How do you know that?'” Because, he said, “I sat across the table from him at a bishops’ meeting and he went, ‘Evangelii Gaudium,'” followed by beating his fist against his chest. “So I know.”
Cardinal DiNardo said “Evangelii Gaudium” “asks for a ‘no’ to the idolatry of exclusion, a ‘no’ to the inequality that spawns violence … a ‘no to a throwaway culture that throws away human beings that are in need or fragile, in weakness, seemingly unimportant, no matter if they have no voice, no voice, because of poverty — or in case of the unborn, they don’t even have a name yet.”
Despite all of the “nos” in “Evangelii Gaudium,” the cardinal said, “there are many yeses: the joy of missionary spirituality and missionary discipleship — and he adds this great line: ‘not tempted by pessimism.'”
“Evangelii Gaudium” “sets the tone for the work for so many, but especially you in your work here,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
Pope Francis, he added, “has spoken frequently of martyrs for the faith and their growing number today.
He remarked that February has many martyrs on the liturgical calendar. Feb. 6, the date of the Mass the cardinal was celebrating, is the feast of St. Paul Miki and Companions, the first martyrs in Asia, who died in 1597 in Nagasaki, Japan. The feast day of St. Blaise, an Armenian bishop, is Feb. 3; the feast of St. Agatha, who died at age 20 in Sicily for professing the faith, is Feb. 5.
St. Polycarp was martyred at the age of 85 — or 86 or 87 — in the year 156. “They burned him at the stake,” Cardinal DiNardo said. Reports from his fellow Christians at the time, he added, were that “it didn’t smell like human flesh burning, but like bread being baked for the Eucharist.”
“Now there’s a martyr,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “He must have taught that congregation well in Smyrna.”
Along the lines of St. Polycarp, “our ministry is the baked bread that becomes the Eucharist,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “It is from the Eucharist that we get our ministry, our social action.”
In the day’s Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for complaining that his disciples did not observe Jewish ritual law for cleanliness while at the same time ignoring God’s law.
“Can any human law turn against human beings? Sure,” Cardinal DiNardo said. But in preparing for congressional visits, it “means we have to have a taste for all human beings, even the ones who drive us crazy,” he added. “Even someone like me gets nasty letters from people. Amazing.”
He reminded the soon-to-be citizen lobbyists “you have to have a taste for the mystical and the practical. You’re doing the practical today. God bless you. Don’t ever forget though, those martyrs and their witness. … That’s what Pope Francis says and you don’t want to mess with ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ because that’s in his heart.”