A moment of optimism

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.’ Charles Peguy

hope you were able to attend the J&P online assembly and hear Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald speak about ‘inspiration’ 

He referred to the Council of Jerusalem where the disciples could say ‘It seems good to the Spirit and to us’ and crucially, by the end of our week of shared reflections, many of us (I can’t speak for all but the feedback is wholly positive) were daring to believe that the Spirit does indeed speak through us.  

The plural pronoun is key: not to me but to us. This is theologically startling for those of us who have been trained to expect and accept a lowly role within the ChurchIsn’t one of the functions of theology to make the formerly obscure blindingly obvious? It seems obvious that the Spirit is shouting loudly that we need to be involved in preparing the future, with the ‘we’ in question being the people in parishes. It’s when we get involved that the Spirit speaks and our Church comes alive.  

Another theme that emerged strongly was the need to be prophetic. Prophets are disturbing but they are voices of hope, pointing to where we can find greater life. As we emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown we cannot stay where we are any longer, nor can we return to the old normalWe’re called to make changes to the way we live as individuals, renewing the old mantra of Livesimply. Again, this is plural – communal. We must change. It’s not just that they must change. And the change we want is a cause for joy.   

Crucially, prophets must work for systemic changes to the way society is organisedstaying together because it’s much easier to feel inspired in the company of prophets than as a lone, isolated voice. There is grace in this moment, which calls us to welcome a rebirth in hope. And so, as in Jerusalem early in the Christian story, it seems good to the Spirit and to us that we should be active as a Church community to ‘prepare the future’. We can expect stubborn opposition to calls for any change that affects the pockets of the super-rich. At the point of resistance we will need courage to practise what we preach.  

We ‘get involved’ when we cultivate the practice of  ‘See – Judge – Act’: when we look outwards from Church, with the doors wide open to the world, and we notice what is happening to our brothers and sisters, especially to the poorest and most marginalised, and seek to invite them into the kingdom of God. 

The Liverpool J&P Commission has had some influence on diocesan policy but never before have we dared to believe what now seems obvious. It was the work of the Spirit to gather a group of people who are lay-led and well-integrated into the Archdiocesea community of people encouraged and enabled to become active in the life of the diocese by knowingly using the practice of  ‘See – Judge – Act’ to pray, reflect and act.   

My hope is that this way of being Catholic can become even more important in the life of the diocese so that we end up not with a Justice and Peace Commission but a Justice and Peace Archdiocese, committed to the vision and practice of our Lord Jesus who came to bring sight to the blind, to set captives free, to make the lame walk, and to protect widows and orphans. Then we would know that the Spirit is moving among us.  

This is my last column as J&P fieldworker as I retire at the end of the month. It has been a privilege.