By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — “Time is never meant to be useless,” said Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington in his homily at the opening Mass this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, and he advised the gathering’s 800-plus registrants to “work for greater justice in our world.”
“God has intended that we, his creatures, encounter time according to his design. The passage of time always follows God’s wisdom and God’s providence,” Cardinal Gregory said Jan. 29, the first day of the four-day gathering ending Feb. 1. “Time itself can be grace. It can be ordinary, or it can be existing. It can be fleeting, or it can be prolonged. However, time is never meant to be useless.”
Therefore, he said, “we must exit this Mass with the assignment to renew the church in our own time. We leave this moment in time with a burning desire to work for greater justice in our world.”
The tasks that remain are many, he acknowledged.
“Continue to work to end racism and bigotry in our own time,” Cardinal Gregory said. “Seek to end the destruction of human life at all stages,” and “work to lessen the poverty that stifles the lives of too many young people.”
Also, we must “improve the lives of immigrants who seek to improve the lives of their children,” he continued, and be “more courageous and more resourceful for the innocent unborn” and “for the protection of the fragile sick among us,” and act “for the dignity of the immigrant and the easing of the burden for the impoverished, for the achievement of the changes found in (the Old Testament prophet) Isaiah and perfected in Christ Jesus.”
The Mass was celebrated at St. Teresa of Avila Church in Washington, and was concelebrated by Cardinal Gregory, St. Teresa pastor Msgr. Raymond East, who has spent 30 years as a Catholic Social Ministry Gathering animator and master of ceremonies, and Msgr. Michael J.K. Fuller, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But, as was the case last year, the Mass was virtual, as were all the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering sessions, a nod to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
Beyond the pandemic, this marks “an extraordinary time in our society that has become so fragmented and divided,” Cardinal Gregory said. “We seem to have lost the capacity to engage in civil dialogue among ourselves and work in harmony for the common good.”
He added, “This same difficulty is found throughout the world, and through various cultures and religious communities. The Catholic Church herself has not been spared from this season of division and harsh rhetoric.”
But Cardinal Gregory offered encouragement despite the tenor of the times.
“Whether you serve your dioceses or your individual parishes, your work of encouraging your fellow Catholics to share their time, talent, and resources and to work for justice only increases in importance,” he said, addressing the virtual congregation. “You help to awaken in the hearts of your neighbors a realization of God’s good gifts to them and a generous desire to share them with others.”
He added, “The achievement of justice remains out of reach for far too many people. The poor, the immigrant, prisoners, the physically or emotionally impaired all find it impossible to attain justice because their voices are silenced, or simply ignored.”
But “you and your colleagues in the ministries of social justice have a great task ahead of you. I believe you also have the resources to prepare you and strengthen you for those responsibilities,” Cardinal Gregory said.
Referencing the Gospel passage for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time proclaimed at the Mass, he added: “Just as Jesus chided the townspeople of Nazareth to become more than they were, so too is Christ’s calling us to pursue justice for those who live on the margins of society, and are often overlooked.”
The Eucharist, he noted is “a source of divine support” for those so engaged, he said.
Pope Francis has issued a call to “seize this moment as a unique time of renewal and evangelization,” Cardinal Gregory noted. “The people who are dedicated to the works of justice and social outreach serve as a hopeful sign that the work of the Holy Spirit is fomenting a new spirit of determination and commitment.”
The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Relief Services and Bread for the World, along with other USCCB offices and 20 national organizations.
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Patricia Zapor contributed to this story.