Wilhelm Ketteler’s Advent sermons called for spiritual renewal: “I’m not afraid of social evils,” he told the congregation: “I am only afraid of godlessness, faithlessness, Christlessness!” The crux of the social question, for Ketteler, is to be found in the indifference of Christians to the suffering of the poor, and in the refusal of the church to live out her faith in works of love. If Christians choose to live as Christ did, he thought, the injustices inflicted upon the poor will be swept away. Spiritual and social transformation are one. The stated aim of his first homily sums up his perspective: “One soul, one life won today for Jesus Christ and the consolation of the poor!”

Wilhelm Ketteler, known as the father of Catholic social thought, did not set out to be a radical; he only tried to be a Christian.