In this time of seismic change and instability, many of us are finding the scale of injustice overwhelming. It can be inspiring to look to the Christian martyrs for justice whose lives were “written in blood” – extraordinary people whose stories of truth, justice and peace, in the face of indifference and opposition, offered witness to a hope-filled future of solidarity and fraternity. But what are the causes of injustice in our time, and what does it mean to live a life written in blood today? This was the theme set for Jenny Sinclair for the 2023 Justice and Peace Europe General Assembly annual lecture. The lecture was given on 12 November 2023 in the oratory of St John’s co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta, before the masterpiece the Beheading of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio.
It is a great honour to reflect on Caravaggio’s extraordinary painting of the death of John the Baptist. At such a time as this, it feels important to think about, and to pray about, what it means to live a life written in blood. May God’s blessing be upon us in this time of meditation together.
Let’s start by looking at the painting.
The subject matter is biblical and familiar. John was imprisoned for telling truth to power, a corrupt and decadent power, in the form of King Herod. Herodias, the king’s wife got her revenge through humiliating her husband. Salome’s dance, a foolish promise and there is John’s head on a platter.
But what is God saying to us through this painting?
In the Gospel of Mark, the narrative of this beheading comes sandwiched between Jesus’ sending out the apostles in pairs and the returned apostles retreating with Jesus to process their newly commissioned ministry. In effect, John’s martyrdom is somehow linked to the beginning of the apostles joining in God’s mission. John, of course, is the last Old Testament prophet and the first of the New.
His death marks the new era, which is the fulfilment of the old. The good news of Jesus continues and completes John’s mission and the prophets who came before him. That mission had several parts, including a call for economic justice – for fair wages for workers and just measures in commerce. The Baptist himself puts the economic teaching in the most concrete terms, he says “He who has two coats, let him share with one who has none. And he who has food, let him do likewise.”
Martyrs speak truth to power
Christians are called to answer John’s invitation. Some will be killed for their prophetic willingness to speak truth to power. For others, even if actual blood is not spilled, those who devote their lives to advocate for God’s justice in a corrupt world are, in the words of Isaiah, voices crying in the wilderness.
The Christian prophetic voice is uncompromising, but it is not bitter. On the contrary, Christian martyrs die forgiving their persecutors, testifying to God’s love. Their innocence and the injustice of the violence is clear. How different is this love from the ideological or political “martyr”, who, acting for a specific group or cause, dies cursing the badness of the enemy. The terrorist sacrifice is never redemptive, it only instigates more violence and disorder.
John’s martyrdom is an inconvenient reminder of the truth. His death makes way for Jesus, whose justice brings peace for all humanity.
So as we look at John’s body let’s bring to mind some recent Christian martyrs for justice and peace:
- Charles de Foucault, who was killed as he prayed for peace between Christians and Muslims,
- Oscar Romero, who was assassinated for exposing the persecution of Christians working with the poor,
- Richard Wurmbrand, the Romanian Evangelical Lutheran priest of Jewish descent, who publicly said Communism and Christianity were incompatible,
- Sister Rana Maria Vattalil,who was killed for defending the rights of poor workers in the fields of northern India,
- The 21 Coptic martyrs beheaded by Islamic State, including one who wasn’t a Christian when captured, who was moved by the faith of his fellow captives and before being beheaded, said “Their God is my God.”
But martyrs are not made differently from the rest of us. They are ordinary people who fall in love with God, who see the world through God’s eyes. This vision compels them to challenge the principalities and powers of the day, to become witnesses to the Kingdom. Caravaggio, who used ordinary people as his models, understands this deep truth.
This same truth, that martyrdom is a witness open to everyone, can help us understand why Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, believed that non-Christian labour organizers were also martyrs who died for Christ. What mattered was not their explicit faith, but their witness. They were struck down in their defence of poor working people. She quotes the novelist François Mauriac, who said “It is impossible for any one of those who has real charity in his heart not to serve Christ.”
Written in Blood
This witness, this “real charity of heart”, is also offered by the victims of injustice. The Holy Innocents, whose witness we celebrate in late December – their suffering is written in blood. They arepart of the Body of Christ, where if one member is wounded, the whole body suffers.
We, the community of Christians, are called to validate the witness that they themselves may not fully understand or articulate. We do that by accepting many small martyrdoms, by making ourselves less, so that Jesus can become more. Even if not written in actual blood, our actions are a witness.
This talk of prophetic witness of course brings to mind the grave situation in the Holy Land. We feel the intense pain, mourning those who have been martyred, recognising the human beings who will yet be lost. How many more will suffer before the rage and urge for revenge can be converted into a hunger for forgiveness and reconciliation? It appears to be impossible. But with God’s grace it is possible, through the witness of courageous people whose lives are written in blood.
But war is only the most obvious and extreme violation of peace and justice. We are here tonight to talk about our response to the many smaller violations, which when unresolved cause mayhem and can culminate in war.
Always, whether or not the worst is avoided, we are called to witness for Christian peace. This is not a negative peace as in “tolerance” or “social cohesion”, but a peace that comes through The Way, the Kingdom, through a life of meaning. To work for this is what it means to live a life written in blood. This is the challenge for us: to respond to injustice in the way that we live.
To do this, we won’t get much help from our culture and its leaders. The very people who should have a vision for justice and a clear direction are lost. They are blinded by the principles of a pernicious philosophy, a guiding idea that causes division and leads to violence.
Now sometimes it’s important to name what’s going on. Our tradition, Catholic social thought, which is nonpartisan, and both radical and conservative, helps us identify what is happening.
The animating philosophy currently dominating Western culture – the sea that we’re swimming in – is liberalism.
Now let me be clear. I am fully aware that for many, liberalism is regarded as benign. Seen as benign by the left as the alternative to conservatism, seen as benign by the right as the alternative to communism. And certainly, in its moderate form, it has been an important force for good, not least in civil rights achievements and in the liberation of individual reason.
But bear with me, there’s more going on here that we need to investigate.
Liberalism is a belief-system that promotes a certain vision of “freedom” – and at the core of this vision is freedom from constraint.
Taken to its logical conclusion this becomes a freedom from the constraints of family, religion, community, from place, from country, from history, freedom from God, and even liberation from human nature. Ultimately, it “liberates” society from truth and from mutual responsibility.
The liberal society is not actually free. On the contrary, its culture of individualism comes with great injustice: vast inequality, alienated cultural ghettos, the centralisation of power, and the commodification of human beings and the natural world.
To see how this culture undermines the Christian calling of love, peace, and justice, I want to turn back to the Bible, to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
Rashi, the great medieval Jewish scholar, said that four-fifths of the people actually refused to heed God’s call. They preferred to stay behind. In pointing this out, he was warning his people against assimilation to the comforts and values of the dominant culture. And today, it’s all too tempting to choose the security of slavery to a decadent but apparently prosperous empire, rather than taking the risks that come with the true freedom of a life with God.
Our liberal Pharaohs offer different kind of slavery – a list of pseudo-freedoms. They say, “you can have mobility, consumer choice, rights and self-determination.”
These freedoms may suit the self-interest of some people, but liberal captivity is bad for humanity. Let me describe in the broadest terms what I see when I look at the West, and increasingly over the whole world.
Neoclassical economics, which flows from the philosophy of liberalism, has generated a particular form of financial system and from this, globalisation – economic processes that serve the interests of big corporations. This operating system has led to the concentration of capital and the accumulation of unprecedented wealth. Over the last five decades this power has achieved influence over governments, who are now geared to serve the interests of capital over the interests of their own populations.
To function well, this system, which operates separately from the everyday economy, requires the unfettered movement of money and labour. Its business is the commodification of creation and the “financialisation” of everything. Land, water, homes, human beings. As jobs were moved around the world to low wage economies, the already wealthy got richer while catastrophic damage was done to the natural world and whole sections of societies were discarded. We have seen civic degradation on a vast scale. In effect this has been a politics of abandonment. The body was broken and people are suffering.
The blind spot
But the effects of this liberalism are not only material. There are social and spiritual consequences too. This culture of transactional individualism corrupts, commodifies and dehumanises. It’s weakened the human person, family and community. It’s effectively an assault on relationship.
Both the neoliberal economic model and hyperliberal social norms are driven by the same logic, where limits are framed as regressive.
So there is a blindspot here, on both the left and the right: the right attribute moral unraveling to excessive liberalism but somehow neoliberal economics gets a free pass; while the left attribute poverty to neoliberal economics but somehow unlimited self-actualisation is seen as “progressive”.
This blindspot obscures the activities of the financial system and its role in shaping human relationships. This connection needs to be examined.
This liberal hegemony has been building for decades, but since the pandemic we’ve seen an acceleration and now a new and decadent power centre is emerging. Not only governments and corporate interests, but now global media, big tech, big pharma, non-profits and information control also coalesce around the same ideological agenda, again framed as “freedom.” These are the Pharaohs of our age. This is our Egypt.
Objections to the new masters are growing. We see growing movements of discontent: millions have suffered the loss of productive income, and for millions more, income is stagnant. The governing class is increasingly out of touch, failing to respond adequately. Instead, its response is to aggregate power to itself in technocratic form, and communicate its dogma in innocuous language, insulating policy from democratic control. Significant decisions are often no longer made where citizens are able to exercise influence.
This violation of justice is often experienced as a soft oppression, as a flattening, colonial entity telling a dominant story that makes the local and communal seem trivial. Low paid families and communities bear the deepest scars. We should not be surprised if this results in further alienation. Disrespect in the end threatens social peace.
This liberal story claims to offer freedom – free markets, free consumer choice – but the spirit is anti-human. This is because it’s founded upon a false anthropology, a desiccated, soulless conception of the human being.
But this captivity is too dehumanising to last. The more it extends, the more fragile it becomes. I see signs that this Egypt is becoming unstable, the beginnings of an “unravelling.”
While the financial system attempts to shore up its power, the countries that have embraced it are seeing symptoms of distress – family breakdown, loss of trust in institutions, unstable levels of debt, social fragmentation, chronic atomisation and loneliness, more and more psychological pathologies, moral and spiritual confusion.
These are signs that the old era – which contains the seeds of its own destruction – is giving way to a new world order, whose character is yet unknown. We can already see authoritarian, collectivist, technocratic and other, non-democratic philosophies gaining favour.
We may feel helpless, but my sense is that we need to face this era with a sense of tragic realism.
If we feel called to act against this great injustice, we must first take care to ensure we are hearing what God is saying and not just our own opinion.
Surely, seeing John lying there broken, God is filled with sorrow and anger at this terrible act of foolishness done to humanity. John is the embodiment of all that is good that has been destroyed. God says, “My people, what have I done to you? Answer me.”
Like the characters in the painting, we have all colluded in some way. Some are indifferent, some compliant, some ignorant, some expedient, some realise too late. Even if we are faithful, we are fallen, and we continually forget.
In repentance, and realising his own complicity, having committed a murder himself, Caravaggio is filled with contrition, signing his name in John’s blood.
Too many Christians prefer to stay with the new Pharaohs’ false freedom. The Egypt of our time is a master of disguise, and there are many confusions.
Amid this great deception, we see well-meaning people campaigning for more social security, leaving the financial system unchallenged. We see people desperate to project their virtue, clustering around tribal hashtags and flags. We see misguided Christians enabling ideologies hostile to Christianity, and self-censoring, whether out of fear or self-interest, unable to tell the truth, failing to do what is right. In this vacuum, it is inevitable that the easily influenced will be captured by very bad ideas. Pope Benedict XVI warned years ago of the “dictatorship of relativism.”
The new Pharaohs’ false freedom is attractive to those afraid of not fitting in. Status is the reward for serving the new powers.
But if our lives are to be written in blood, then we are called to choose the God who is Love. The people of God should leave this Egypt. We must walk with God, and go where He leads. Like the apostles being sent out in pairs, we must take nothing with us. It’s in the desert places that the dreams, goals, and visions of false freedoms are exposed for what they are.
We discern God’s character through learning what Jesus loves. Our Lord loves all human beings and he has a special heart for the poor. Jesus lived in solidarity with people on low wages. God does not look kindly on those who act against poor people, for whom the Church should be Good News.
Like John the Baptist, we’re called to make ourselves less – to make way for more Jesus.
THE CATHOLIC TRADITION OF JUSTICE
Making ourselves less doesn’t mean becoming self-effacing. Making way for more Christ will bring us to our fullest humanity, because, as was said in the Second Vatican Council, “The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, …becomes capable of discharging the new law of love.”
In this law, God is the primary agent who always takes precedence over the self. Reflecting God’s trinitarian character, this new law of love respects our true human nature as relational beings. This is why we find fulfilment and meaning in mutual dependency and self-giving.
How different this Catholic anthropology is from that atomised and individualistic liberal conception of the human being! And, from its latest iteration, the postmodernist version of “social justice” that reduces human beings to rights-bearing individuals.
The true identity of the human person, as understood in the Catholic tradition, cannot be reduced to intersectionality categories. We are transcendent beings made in the image of God. Calls for so-called “equity” and “equality of outcome” are based on an unnatural reductive conception of justice that can only be delivered by coercive state intervention. In our modern Egypt, this plays out as a kind of divide and rule, creating a battle of all against all.
So we must beware of utopian, totalising ideologies, which promise what T.S. Eliot called “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” History tells us that when people try to bend human beings to dreams of perfection, the results are always coercion, division, resentment, and eventually violence.
In Christian anthropology, justice centres on the mutual obligations of just relationships. We are to work together with our neighbours – across our differences – every one of whom is loved by God. This will never be easy – Catholic doctrine recognises the messiness. But we are called to try, and to keep justice relational, not to outsource the redemptive opportunity of human connection entirely to the state.
As Saint Catherine of Siena said, God created us with “such diversity that [He] has not given everything to one single person, so that [we] may be constrained to practice charity towards one another.” We are designed to be complementary.
Where Christian anthropology guides the justice framework of states, societies, and communities there is a better chance of true freedom. This anthropology leads naturally to Catholic social thought, the purpose of which, as Saint John Paul II said, is to build “a civilisation of love”, the common good; to defeat what he called “structures of sin”, and to liberate human beings from the domination of the principalities and powers.
This “common good” thinking, as I like to call it, is like God’s compass, helping us to mentally “leave” this Egypt, to operate outside of this dehumanising story and to live within God’s economy, His story of loving relationship.
We are all called to participate in this story of God’s economy.
We can take courage from people today who are writing their lives in blood – witnesses to a story of Christian justice. Just as the Body of Christ has many members, these witnesses to Christ work together in different ways for the common good, and each at some risk to themselves:
I’m thinking of some who work at a high level, challenging the current political economy, proposing constraints on capital and on the privatisation of creation, refusing a post-workerist future, insisting on the dignity of work; others enable leadership in poor communities and build up the commons; some challenge corruption in big media and big pharma, others oppose coercive ideologies and promote freedom of expression; some strive to balance the interests of people and planet; others campaign to defeat the evils of gambling and pornography; others struggle to protect the unborn child and resist pressures on the vulnerable to accept euthanasia; others stand up for those persecuted for their faith.
And others will move at less grand, but often the most significant levels: sacrificing status and profit to live in solidarity with poor communities, visiting prisoners, working with homeless families, devoting their lives to being a good neighbour.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
In my work, I have the privilege to know these people and many more. Each is contributing to God’s economy. This is where our Catholic anthropology should lead us.
Whose side are we on?
But these days many people in the churches find it challenging to speak truth to power and many are unfamiliar with the authentic tradition of Catholic social thought. Put off by the postmodern ideological interpretation of “social justice”, some feel that “justice” is either optional, or “too political”, for a faith that is essentially a private matter.
But look at John the Baptist lying here before us, representing all the martyrs to justice, all the small acts of heroism, the Holy Innocents and the suffering poor in our own countries. In Catholic doctrine there is no such thing as a private faith. So we are called to answer the difficult question, “whose side are you on?”
It is clear whose side Jesus was on. He was a common worker in a Roman economy that kept down the wages of the poor.  His resistance to that injustice stems from the biblical, rabbinical tradition of relational justice, and it took spiritual as well as civic form. He not only introduced His followers to the Kingdom, He also brought people together – rich and poor, across class, across ethnicity, age and sex, across educational background – to build a common good.
The poor are the treasure of the Church
Our Lord made it clear that the poor are meant to be the treasure of the Church. Pope Francis says the Church needs to be evangelised by the poor, because someone who is poor has a sense of the need for others and for God – an instinct for inter-dependence that the affluent and the busy so easily lose. This is the great mystery at the heart of God’s special love for the poor.
There was a time when leading Christians would act in solidarity with the poor. I think back to church leaders’ involvement in the 1889 dock strike in East London. Then, the churches could be relied upon to resist injustice. My own father, a leading Anglican bishop, in partnership with a Catholic archbishop, spoke truth to power during the Thatcher years. Saint Oscar Romero courageously stood with poor people in full knowledge his life was in danger.
Because of its impact, not only material, but moral and cultural, Catholic tradition takes a prophetic position about economic justice and the preferential option for the poor.
But the obligations that come with that preferential option are often ignored. Christians, both lay and clerical, have not escaped the influence of the culture of individualism. There has been a failure to articulate the impact of this damaging financial system on our culture. On the contrary, the Church has become estranged from poor communities. This loss leads not only to more material want, but also to a more serious deprivation – to the spiritual impoverishment of the whole Body of Christ.
So what is going wrong? My explanation for the decline of Christian solidarity starts with a middle-class, secular liberal culture prevalent across the churches, which too often frames poor people as the recipients of welfare, rather than as neighbours in a community.
In terms of the impact of that culture, language is revealing. We often hear language in church social action circles that indicates this estrangement. Terms like “marginalised”, “outreach”, “service delivery”, “engagement”. This isn’t the language of friendship and mutual respect. Such managerial language is well intentioned, but it effectively “others” the people whom the services aim to help. The Church is meant to be the embodiment of love in a desecrated world, not an efficient service provider.
From a church-centric position, poor people may seem to be marginal – but from God’s perspective, they are central. They are also not few. In the UK, one in five people is now classified as poor.
Speaking of the UK, I want to mention a British Christian confusion. Many churches in my country run foodbanks, offering free food to people whose wages and government benefits are inadequate. As this dysfunctional economy has played out, we’ve ended up with a huge foodbank network meeting increasing, essential need.
But the truth is, the more efficient emergency food aid becomes, the less urgent economic reform appears. Foodbanks are often a source of pride in churches who want to justify their usefulness. But the Church has a sacred vocation to be transformational, not just useful.
It’s disappointing to see Christians forgetting their own justice tradition, inadvertently choosing a utilitarian position, propping up the public subsidy of businesses who pay wages too low to live on. Whilst of course I understand and support the essential need for emergency food aid, I would argue that welfarist campaigns which do not also argue for full scale reform of the economy, in fact repress and marginalise prophetic justice.
This confusion is symptomatic of a well-meaning, but patronising attitude. Many activists and churches often talk about the poor as if they need advocates to be angry on their behalf, because they can’t do it for themselves.
But since 2015, low paid and working class people are proving to be the decisive factor in many elections. In many countries, the so-called “left-behind” have had enough of this story of liberal domination and mismanagement. In previous eras, such protests might have been understood as a peasants’ revolt. But in this Egypt, the reaction was framed by big money interests as “populist”, and then held in contempt by a political class which cannot accept that this blowback was produced by their own policies.
It’s therefore unsurprising that so many poor communities have given up on the Church. Often coming from places with proud histories, these are people who have experienced the dark side of globalisation. As their jobs haemorrhaged overseas, some local church leaders did show support, but institutionally, the Church largely failed to stand in solidarity with the poor even as they were suffering a cruel kind of death. They might as well have been crying in the wilderness. Many feel as abandoned by the Church as they do by the political class.
As David Gannon, a working class friend of mine said: “The church has alienated working class people by turning into a woke food bank. It needs to start acting like a church again. State handouts are soul destroying, people need dignified work so they can maintain some self respect.”
We have to be honest about the fatal effect of this liberalism on church culture. Compare this with Sister Rana Maria Vattalil who stayed with poor workers in the fields of northern India. Her witness was like that of Jesus, “I will be with you always”. Her love was covenantal, not contractual.
This may sound very grim, hopeless even. But the first step to recovery is recognising what has happened.
If the people of the Church can recognise this great injustice, and the legitimacy of the anger, then hope can be found. If there is solidarity – a friendship between the Church and poor communities – a common good – then hope for both can be found.
THE VOCATION OF THE CHURCH
So how can we change? At such a time as this, how can Christians tell truth to power?
The civilization of love is to be achieved by spiritual as well as social, political and economic means. We can approach this in two ways: by advocating for system reform and through our own behaviour.
The vocation of the Church in our time is to prepare the way for the Lord, and just as John the Baptist knew, prophetic justice always includes economic justice.
So in terms of system reform this means a shift from contract to covenant. The Church should expose the damaging effects of financialisation on human beings and nature, and demand fundamental reform including a de-centralised banking system.
The preferential option for the poor requires that profits are used to serve family, community and place, and not the other way around.
To support family formation, we should be calling for incentives to build affordable housing and for an end to zero hours contracts so that our young people can look forward to actually building a life.
And to uphold the dignity of work we should resist the utopian assumptions of an AI dominated, workless future, and instead focus on job creation, place-based investment and vocational training.
There is hope because the political class is so lost. They need help. There is space for a strong Church voice on these themes.
In terms of our own behaviour change, although the issues are global, the antidote starts in the local. So what can local churches do?
Let me just say a brief story. A woman told me that she had been struggling with terrible debts for two years. She went to mass every week but told no one at church about her situation. Her church’s culture was so impersonal that she suffered this alone. I think we all know that that story is not untypical.
Churches must overcome this individualism that has blighted our culture. Our congregations need to become “communities of place” where people are known and loved.
In this year’s World Day of the Poor letter Pope Francis says we must stop outsourcing and take personal responsibility. He uses the example of the Good Samaritan of course. A reminder that the most Christian behaviour, as Dorothy Day observed, sometimes happens outside the Church. Francis also says solutions are not to be found in activism or welfarism. We are to become personally involved. He is explicit – he says we are to share our table. We are to invite our neighbours who have less to dinner, to share our table.
A relational church
Becoming people of peace and justice means creating a relational church with a sense of family. Where neighbours with both high and low incomes stand in solidarity. It means giving a hand up rather than a handout, moving from contract to covenant. And it means becoming a Church that no longer sees itself as the rescuer, because only God can do that.
Many churches don’t know where to start. But let me share with you a couple of examples of how the local church can generate new life – by creating a space for people to come together.
In the UK, over six hundred churches host Places Of Welcome. All you need is a room, some warm, sensitive, prayerful people to host and invite members of the community to come together, to talk, to eat, to play games, to accompany each other, across tribal lines, to resist the toxic ideologies of the left or the right, by building a culture of encounter. A place where people can speak freely and be themselves.
Important too, to help young people organise a space of their own to meet – research shows that loneliness is now higher among the young than the old.
To challenge this individualistic culture, the local church must also intentionally build relationships with neighbours. This must start with listening. A church I know asked their neighbours what they most wanted. Top of the list was a playground. The church organised, got everyone involved. Neighbours actually dug the foundations together. Twenty five years on, it’s now the hub of that community with 2,500 people engaging every week.
Our church communities need to discuss and discern together the question: “How can we reorient our parish life so that everything we do becomes “an occasion for communion”‘.
Like Jesus we’re called to build new forms of association, to live an incarnational theology that tangibly weaves itself into all aspects of our daily experience. Our synodal practices can help us. It must start with the one to one conversation.
This focus on relationship is not a soft alternative to speaking truth to power – it is the antidote to individualism. Relationships are the foundation of Christian justice. So listening to each other and to God, getting to know each other as neighbours will make us stronger. We can then build coalitions with the low paid, to negotiate for decent jobs, affordable housing and place-based investment.
A humble church
I am speaking largely from my own British experience. But I have heard enough from you and others to know that most Christians across the West are facing similar realities. The Church appears to be declining, and I know that many of you sometimes feel overwhelmed, sometimes helpless, even hopeless. I recognise the situation.
But I have good news for you – and this is counterintuitive: your vulnerability can be a strength.
Pope Francis says that if you know what it is to be poor, then you will be better equipped for this moment. God sees our brokenness as a way to teach us to share, to be truly human.
A poor church is a church that needs others, especially the poor. There is a mysterious reason why Francis wants the Church to be in relationship with the poor. It’s not just for their benefit.
When we think about church decline, we might consider, just maybe, that God is doing something to humble the Church so that in its poverty, it can realise its need for others, especially the poor. In this new era, the Church must learn to receive as well as give.
There’s no question that we are entering a dark time. The symptoms and pathologies are connected and too numerous. And for the churches, it may feel like it’s all over.
Listening to God
But God is at work. If we listen, we will see He is doing something profound. He calls us to participate. He’s preparing us to send us out.
As we come into land, let’s go back to this painting. We recall that in Mark’s Gospel, telling of John’s death, he places it right after the moment where the apostles are sent out in pairs having been told by Jesus, “take nothing with you”. So we have the moment where their participation in God’s mission begins. And then the horrific beheading of John. A moment of devastation. Hearing of his death, his followers must have felt it was all over.
But then, Mark’s next passage, which he chooses to place there, is where Jesus’s apostles, having been sent out, vulnerable with nothing, having healed people – come back to pray with Jesus and prepare for the next stage of His mission. John’s sacrificed body is not only a sign of the end, but a sign of the beginning.
Now, the Church of our time may not look the same in the future. But God is doing something in the world and in the Church. This could be an inflection point for the Church.
God is at work – especially among the poor. What matters is that we listen to God. And if God’s people can build common good with poor communities, to unite the body of Christ, then hope will be found. This is a matter of solidarity.
Founder and Director, Together for the Common Good
 Mark 6
 Luke 3:11
 Micah 6:3
 Luke 9:3
 Gaudium et Spes, 22
 Eliot, T.S., Choruses from The Rock, VI, T.S. Eliot Collected Poems, 1909–1962
 The Dialogue of St. Catherine Of Siena: A Conversation With God On Living Your Spiritual Life To The Fullest (I,7)
 Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 36
 Oakman, Douglas The Radical Jesus, the Bible, and the Great Transformation
 Evangelii Gaudium, 198
 Goodhart, David The Road to Somewhere
 Matthew 28:20
 Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Sixth World Day of the Poor para 7.
 Acts 2:42-47; Instrumentum Laboris, B2 Co-responsibility in Mission, para 52.
 Mark 6:8