Rowing against the wind without Jesus? That’s impossible!

In his reflection for 7 January, Greg Lopez asked the question, “Who is a saint?” As I read Greg’s reflection, I was reminded of something written by Fr Bob Wilkinson in New Visions of Priesting (ATF Press, 2022): “… the saints of the twenty-first century include vast numbers committed to saving the planet without a belief in God or divine destiny.” My intention is not to add to Greg’s reflection, although it might do just that, but to highlight the mission of the laity in the world, which is to give leadership in the workplace. One of the experiences I treasure from my time as a teacher in a Catholic secondary school was working with students and staff on environmental projects in the local community. The volunteers who led the projects modelled care for the environment and shared their knowledge and skills with us and treated us with respect and patience. 

According to Fr Joseph Cardijn, leaders are “people who bring about a revolution by their testimony. Every leader must be such a witness – a sincere, true witness to love, justice, charity and respect for the young worker.” In the second of his Godinne lectures on The Young Worker Faces Life, delivered in 1949, he stressed the importance of “patience and perseverance” in the task of forming leaders in faith. In saying so, Cardijn acknowledged the power of accompaniment long before Pope Francis reflected on it as an essential element of missionary activity in the world. 

We are most surely human when we actively and lovingly care for our common home (Genesis 1:27-30). How to do this well requires an acknowledgement of country that has existed from the beginning. Our home belongs to God and we, created in God’s likeness, have been given responsibility for creation as co-creators with God. 

When Mark shared the Good News with the gentile Christians in Rome, he described Jesus as a wonder-worker. The Gospel reading for today’s Mass follows on from the story of the feeding of the five thousand. We see the disciples on the lake in their boat in the early hours of the morning, growing tired from rowing against the wind. Jesus comes to them, walking on the lake and they are terrified. He urges them to have courage and climbs aboard the boat. The wind dies and the struggle is eased because of his presence (Mark 6:45-52). 

Jesus knows that evil is conquered by good because of God’s presence in the world. Faith in him ought to motivate his followers to have confidence in those who work to secure our planet from the ravages of ignorance and greed. Working alongside the saints who don’t believe in God, his followers recognise the presence of Jesus with them, who encourages his followers to share the burden with his saints and so the load is lightened for them. The good that is done by so many saints who are non-believers is testimony to the presence and power of the invisible grace in the world (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

The movement towards a better world for all is happening around us and we are called by God to contribute to it. This is essential to our vocation as human persons. There is so much to be done to restore God’s original justice and there are so many actions that can be carried out, even in the life of just one person, no matter their age or circumstance. I have decided to follow the UN Climate Change secretariat on Twitter (@UNFCCC) and visit their website to stay informed of progress in the fight against global warming and climate change and to encourage others through Twitter to do the same. To recognise the presence of God’s invisible grace in the good that is being done by so many is something to be treasured, which I will recall as I work to understand what makes good soil in which to plant crops and grow flowers.


Pat Branson


Joseph Cardijn, The Young Worker Faces Life (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)