The Justice & Peace Commission was established in this Archdiocese in the wake of the Second Vatican Council's restatement of the truth that salvation involves practical things: liberation from the bondage of slavery and debt, freedom from the pangs of hunger, release from the captivity of poverty, and entry into the promised land of freedom and prosperity.
In fact, Gaudium et spes – the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which was one of the four constitutions resulting from the Council – begins as follows: "Solidarity of the Church with the whole human family: The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community of people united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit in their pilgrimage towards the Father's kingdom, bearers of a message of salvation for all of humanity. That is why they cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history."
That is precisely what the J&P Commission works to do through its year-long programme of activities. Indeed, planning our recent annual assembly proved a more difficult task than ever because of the prevailing mood of 'grief and anxiety'. Whether it's Brexit, changes in benefits, zero-hours contracts, concern over social care, terror attacks, refugees and asylum seekers, climate change or the general election, no single issue stands out above the rest.
Eventually we settled for asking the question: What are the signs of our times? And we began by inviting people to depict the situation in which they live in order to develop a picture of what life is like in our part of the world, especially for those on the margins of society. The middle part of the day was a reflection by Father Tom Cullinan on the sort of world Jesus was describing when he talked about the Kingdom of God. Towards the end of the day, Jenny Sinclair from Together for the Common Good and Father Nicholas Postlethwaite CP helped us look for positive ways forward, especially by speaking and listening to all sectors of society, particularly those we normally ignore.
We realised that as a church group our concern must be how we integrate our lives into the life of God. This sounds pious but what we are called to do is to live as if the Kingdom of God is here. And it is not really an 'as if', because we believe the Kingdom IS here so we must find ways to get involved. The programme of the Kingdom is clear: "I have come to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free." (Luke 4: 18–24)
The J&P Commission's role therefore is to keep this vision alive within the Archdiocese, to counteract the view that religion is an otherworldly, spiritual activity mainly related to private behaviour. We believe that our bodies, our families, and the whole material world are gifts from God and that, if we are to be in tune with God's purpose for humanity, we must acknowledge the material and social dimensions of our lives. Religion is not some self-help therapy, all about our mental and spiritual well-being, a mere lifestyle choice. Rather, our starting point is not personal sin management but 'Where is the suffering?'.