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)

With just five loaves and two fish – and Jesus – we can ….

“The world will not be finally beautiful, nor healthy, till it finds God.” So wrote Fr Bob Wilkinson in his book New Visions of Priesting (ATF Press, 2022). One has only to consider for a moment the state of our world at present to recognise the absence of beauty and health across the globe: the impact of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine; the support the Australian government gives to overseas powers to destroy communities and kill innocent people; the impact of the pandemic globally; and the effects of global warming. While technology makes rapid advances to counter the evil present in the world, there is a lack of solidarity between nations to restore order, rebuild communities, render loving assistance to the poor and usher in lasting peace. 

In Rome, in October, 1951, Fr Joseph Cardijn gave the keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate. He began his address with an analysis of the technological progress of society and he drew attention to the inequality of the distribution and effects of technological progress. He also spoke of the “the impassable distances between the classes of a population itself, between the small minority of the privileged, and the immense mass of the extremely poor who continue to live in subhuman conditions.” More than seventy years later, nothing seems to have changed. 

The world was created by God for all people to share equally not only in the present but also in the future. From the first moment of creation God has been present loving, blessing, forgiving and transforming those who seek and find God in their world. We can learn from Jesus how God intends us to respond to the mission he gave to all people to look after all of creation. When his disciples had returned from their mission to preach and to heal, he took them away to a quiet place (Mark 6:30-44). Their rest was disrupted by the presence of thousands of people seeking Jesus. To him they were like sheep without a shepherd, so he gave himself entirely to meeting their needs. His disciples soon learned that without him leading them, they could achieve very little. He brought order to the chaos before him and demonstrated how to look after those in need. Today, there are millions of people who follow his method and draw on his power … but without any faith in him, without belief in God. God’s commitment to creation extends beyond the Church. 

We know what has to change. Pope Francis has said that we need a Church filled with people smelling like sheep (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). Let’s extend that to the whole world smelling like sheep. What are some actions that can be taken to contribute to the efforts of the many who are working to bring about justice and peace in the world? Cardijn was particularly thorough at gathering the data he needed to understand the situations in which many young workers found themselves. I once read that to know something one must be able to tell others about it in all sorts of ways, like navigating your way around and through it blindfolded. This is a good place to start. 

Our federal government contributes to the atrocities committed in Myanmar by the military junta. I say this with some knowledge of how the Australian taxpayer supports the military regime and its criminal activity, however, I have to be completely on top of this issue so that any action I take and that I encourage others to take will be loving and just and be focused on empowering the people of Myanmar to restore order and peace in their country. And the action I take must be carried out like Jesus, who took the five loaves and two fish and offered them to God in thanksgiving before giving them to his disciples to distribute to the gathering.

What is there in our world that you would like to change? And what action will you take to bring about change to help people find God and help to restore beauty and health to God’s creation?


Pat Branson


Joseph Cardijn, The world today and the lay apostolate (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Mosaic in the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves und the Fishes at Tabgha near the Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret), Israel. According to the pious legend, in this place Jesus fed 5000 pilgrims with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14,13).

Photo taken by Grauesel / Wikipedia