In Chichester cathedral stands a Romanesque sculpture of the Raising of Lazarus. Looking at it became a meditation on the nature of Christian faith. To me it conveys the grave responsibility of the Christian calling. The shape of Lazarus suggesting birth, rebirth, baptism, resurrection. He is inscribed in the tension of human life. Each human person bears within them sacramental wombs of liberation (some licit and others illicit). Here the spirit bears witness to the conflict between grace and sin, fertilised by the former and sterilised by the latter, as it were. The history of salvation alternately suffers and is praised by many permutations; the mystery being that of co-responsibility and refusal. Coheirs in the mystery of life and resurrection – that, I thought, was the Way of Christian life. We all perhaps resemble Lazarus: receivers of life, resurrection (one which touches us), and forgiveness bestowed with gratuity. As an echo – an echo in stone and flesh – of the Incarnation, of embodiment, it also suggests the realism of salvific incarnation: shock, immediacy, awe. All of these are inscribed on the faces assembled here. It conveys an overall sense of being caught – in body and soul – in the inexorable dynamic of grace. One feels the irrevocable pull of apostolic turbulence, the present Gospel insurrection indicated by its challenge to personal and socio-historical malpractice: ‘Therefore if any person be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and ‘be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God’ (Romans 12:2).
Reflecting on the transformative clarity of the Gospel, along with the real presence of structural and collective greed and injustice begs the question: what does the spirit and practice of capitalism mean for Christians? The presence of capitalism in the world signifies two things: the mystery of iniquity and collective sin. Apostolic turbulence (‘they are those that turned the world upside down’!) is demanded of our Christian vocation. We are obliged to be memories of Saint Paul’s words: ‘where sin abounds, grace more abounds.’ We are followers of Jesus Christ, ‘who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ (1 Timothy 1:10). Ours ought to be a discipleship of soteriopraxis rooted in the present Reigning of God, fearlessly mobilised by resurrection and revolution. Our parresia (fearless speech) parting the waters of cowardice and ill-gotten consent.
Returning to the Romanesque, the raising of Lazarus seems to provide the following insights. Christians are witnesses to the gratuitous ferment of grace and life amidst anxiety, apprehension, unwillingness, and collective self-hatred. The grief-marked faces of Christ, apostles, Lazarus and family are poignant today in the midst of consumer society’s graceless dance of servile sorrow: ‘The joy of our heart is ceased: our dancing is turned into mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, because we have sinned! Therefore is our heart sorrowful: therefore are our eyes become dim’ (Lamentations 5:15-17). The sculpture includes a touching gesture of benediction, showing all those present as receptors of salvific liberation. This grace interplay between hands, arms, and facial expressions is saturated in sacramental dynamism. It addresses the viewer directly, saying: you are called to be incarnate notes in symphonies of salvific transformation. We must try, every day, to repeat the words of Thomas the Twin: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11:16).
Seeing as one ought not to speak of conversion without having acted upon it, I will here include some autobiographical details. During my sojourn in academic life, the threat of censorship was, during PhD studies, intended to chastise me. I had used irreverent, highly critical, and – in their eyes – heretical language in referring to some of the modern world’s chief idols: nation, state, and bourgeois intellectuals. The 26-county southern Irish state was – and in my opinion still is – an illegitimate neo-colonial entity. It is an insult to what so many republicans lived, fought, and died for. The reality of Anglo-Irish history, far or near, consists of Ireland, particularly the North, being maimed by genocidal imperialist practices and projects. The war in Northern Ireland was precisely that – a war. Referring to the historical experience (and we all know that history is always present and future) of a people as one of being maimed and the conflict in Northern Ireland as a war, was seen as outside the pale of academic etiquette. I had refused the obscene pretence of neutrality. This was the final straw in my excommunication. The work of so many “professional scholars” – if that’s not a contradiction in terms – in my area of research deserves a response of indignation and interrogation. Their crime (sin of deliberate omission) was systematically obscuring the Irishness of Samuel Beckett’s writing, and therefore deliberately (for political, national, and racial reasons) misinterpreting it. So much of it is superficial propaganda for English imperialism. In short, ideologically contrived rubbish. My forensic analysis clearly expressed my view. For this I was called ‘polemical’ and cast out, eventually to be made redundant. A badge of honour if ever I received one. From this experience, one of many similar experiences, I saw first-hand the grotesque corruption of careerism in any and all forms; I was victim and resistor of the mercenary ethos of academic life. The scholarly rigor and contribution of my work was never questioned: it was attacked from the viewpoint of political and financial interests. It was obvious that these forms of greed and selfishness subvert the beatitudes and lacerate the Gospel and do so willingly. From then on I made choices concerning the logical consequence of these events on this basis: ‘No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’ (Matthew 6:24). ‘For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’ (1 Timothy 6:10). ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort’ (Matthew 6:20/24). ‘That which men magnify is abominable in the sight of god.’ ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Luke 14:11).
If my social, financial, and intellectual failures are seen in the pattern of an emerging religious vocation, they all contain a glimmer of the paschal candle. Redundancy, given to me by slaves of filthy lucre, was the crowning of my career. From this grave I arose, recalling Lazarus. Angry, weary, battered. Then penitent and increasingly ascetic. Mortified. Accompanied in eremitic vigil by the harsh ascetic realism of fourth-century desert monk Evagrius Ponticus. Immersed in prayer. Then forgiving. Then changed. Purged. I received Confirmation (no sacraments in 29 years and suddenly 3 in the space of 2 days!). I went on retreat: “to the Desert of Quarr to seek refuge in the ‘honeycombs of holy Scripture’ and to hear the Flemish bricks sing the ‘mellifluous name of Christ.’ Meditating on the hyssop of humility, I seek cisterns of Truth to carry water of life from the darkness of the pilgrim chapel and from the incisions of light dancing through the Abbey Church.” Certain. Then in a new beginning: loved by the Gospel and fired by the witness it required. The theology of liberation a revelation to me. Awakenings. Called. My calling to a religious life emerged, clear and strong. Renewed in the furnace of apostolic peace and evangelical turbulence.
I am disturbed by the brutal meaninglessness of capitalist society. I refuse to be enslaved by an economic system which is the embodiment of iniquity. I believe Christian discipleship requires implacable hostility towards the natural intransigence of affluence. I believe that to be truly Catholic is to be revolutionaries of the Reign, passionate disciples of the Incarnate God, and living paschal candles of liberation. I believe in the radical soteriopraxis of the beatitudes and maledictions. I believe it is masochistic and selfish to allow the anagogical to torture, through commission or omission, the anthropological…and vice versa. ‘And we have not hearkened to the voice of the Lord our God according to all the words of the prophets whom he sent to us. And we have gone away every man after the inclinations of his own wicked heart, to serve strange gods and to do evil in the sight of the Lord our God’ (Baruch 1:21-22). We Christians – troublesome creatures that we are – are heirs annexed to the Good News of Jesus the Liberator, and to the Immaculate Heart of Liberation which pumps paschal blood through the veins of Mary. Aren’t we called to be veins and vessels carrying this blood throughout the body of the church and amongst the body of the crucified peoples of the earth, which show radical continuity with the suffering flesh of Jesus, still scourged by structural sin and injustice?
Finally, the question I ask is this: are we willing to anaesthetise ourselves and others – through consumerism and its cancerous appendages – at the expense of anathematising ourselves in the eyes of the Good News?
Saint Oscar Romero, bless us all, so that we do not betray the beautiful cross of Christ. May the God of life, the God of Jesus, bless us. And may the Liberator Mary – tender before the shepherds, harrowing to the rich and powerful – guide our steps.
 Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, p56.