1935: The Three Truths


This speech was first given by Joseph Cardijn First International Study Week of the YCW in Brussels from 25-29 August 1935. (Original version in French in Semaine d’Etudes Internationale de la JOC 25-29 août 1935, Bruxelles; English translation by Fr Eugene Langdale.)

26th August 1935.

Three fundamental truths dominate and illume the problem of the working youth of the world. They inspire, explain, and direct us towards the solution that the Y. C. W. has to give: 

1. A truth of faith. The eternal and temporal destiny of each young worker in particular and of all the young workers in general.

2. A truth of experience. The terrible contradiction which exists between the real state of the young workers and this eternal and temporal destiny.

3. A truth of pastoral practice or method. The necessity of a Catholic organisation of young workers with a view to the conquest of their eternal and temporal destiny.

Of all eternity, through an infinite gift of His goodness, God has predestined each young worker in particular and all young workers to share in His Nature, His Life, His Love, His Divine Happiness. He has decided to give Himself to communicate Himself to them, to make them live of His Own Life, enlighten them with His Truth, to give them a share of His Kingdom.

Young workers, are not machines, or animals or slaves. They are the sons, the collaborators, the heirs of God. ” He gave them power to become the sons of God … partakers of the Divine Nature.” That is their sole true destiny, the reason of their existence, their life, and their work, the source of all their rights and all their duties.

This destiny is not two-fold: on the one hand eternal, and on the other temporal, without any link or influence of one upon the other. There cannot be an eternal destiny by the side, at a distance from earthly life, unrelated to it.          

A destiny cannot be disincarnate, any more than religion can be disincarnate. No, eternal destiny is incarnate in time, begun in time, develops, is achieved, is fulfilled in time, in the whole earthly life, in all its aspects, all its applications, all its achievements; physical, intellectual, moral, sentimental, professional, social, public life. Daily life, concrete and practical. Eternal destiny can no more be separated from temporal destiny than religion is separated from morality. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. The eternal destiny of each human being is incarnate, develops, and is achieved in temporal life always and everywhere-on earth as it is in heaven.

It is not a question of continuity, it is one and the same destiny. The destiny of the little servant girl, the young apprentice, in their normal environment, the framework, the atmosphere of their life ; in the midst of all their comrades, their closest neighbours, whom they must help conquer their temporal and eternal destiny.

This fundamental truth, which cannot be repeated too often, is the basis of the whole Y.C.W.; but one must look at it with a total and absolute faith to see its revolutionary value. ” Send forth thy spirit, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”

The life, the actual conditions of existence of the mass of young workers is in terrible contradiction with their eternal and temporal destiny. We must have the courage to face this reality, just as we must always face the reality of their eternal and temporal destiny. We must remain with our eyes fixed to heaven and our feet on the earth, as inexorable for the brutality of the conditions of earthly life as we are inexorable for the demands of eternal destiny. We must realise the age, the conditions of work, the influence of environment, the problems to be solved in isolation, in loneliness, inexperience. Present conditions increase the tragic aspect of the opposition between the two realities; unemployment, crisis, impossibility of founding a home, of bringing up children. And all this in a wave of neo-paganism unexampled in history.

There can be no external or arbitrary solution; the only solution is one of conquest organised by the young workers and taking into account their eternal and temporal destiny.

We must not look for something external to working youth. No solution can be found in the clergy, in the parents, in schoolmasters, in employers, in public authorities. All these may and must help; but they cannot take the place of the young workers. This is their own affair. Nor can we expect a solution from the transformation of professional, economic or political regimes. These may either be an obstacle or a help. But the most ideal regime is not sufficient. We want men, we want human action, human conquest.

Neither can we have an arbitrary solution for the young workers some organisation with a fancy training, outside life, masses. An organisation of this kind may have some success and attract for a time, but it cannot solve the problem because it is outside it. Only an organisation of young workers with a view to the conquest of their eternal and temporal destiny can solve the essential and vital problem, which faces each and all young workers. An organisation for young workers, by young workers, between young workers.

An organisation for the conquest of their life, their environment, a conquest of the masses with a view to their eternal and temporal destiny-with a view to their destiny which is at once double and unique.

And for this, an organisation which is adapted and specialised to the age, conditions of life, the future, the eternal and temporal destiny of the young workers.

An organisation which is local, regional and national, united, disciplined, autonomous, living, conquering, capable of influencing and leading the masses of the young workers in their daily life and their normal environment.

An organisation which is at once and inseparably a school, a service, a representative body.

A school of conquest of their lay life, of the whole of their personal, family, social, moral, religious life, with a programme of life, in a state of life, for a condition of life.

Not a school in a laboratory, a kind of seminary, a classroom but in and for real and daily life, with its real problems and its real difficulties.

A school of conquest of their environment, of their lay environment, in the absence of, and apart from, the priest in the real environment which is the framework, the atmosphere, the support of their life; not only physical environment but also human or inhuman environment ; not an artificial environment made for or by the organisation, but an environment made by life and for life.

A school of conquest for the mass of the young workers. Not for a minority, for the privileged few, deserters from the masses; but for the true, local, regional and national mass.

Not for a vague and anonymous mass, but for the definite mass profession lodging, age, name, Christian name, whose address, difficulties, life, are known.

Not only a school, but also and at the same time a service.

The organisation not only aims at training and educating. It sustains, it helps, it renders service. It trains and educates by rendering service, by teaching to render service; it is a school and a service of mutual aid and support, of protection, of assistance, of fraternal defence. Isolated, dispersed, individual conquest is impossible or ineffective under the actual conditions of modern life. And for this reason, too, we need an organisation which is a representative body, capable of acting and having influence over public and private authorities, and on public opinion; possessing powerful means of action, through the Press, rallies, congresses, petitions; but also being in itself a testimony and having representative value through the transformation it effects in the life and conduct of its leaders, its members, their families, and working youth.

A body representative of the conquest it is achieving within itself; a body representative of the demands of eternal and temporal destiny; which is a revolution in travail through the irresistible force it bears within itself.

It is often asked whether this organisation is the organisation of an elite or an organisation of the masses. This question seems meaningless to me. The distinction can only exist in the minds of those who do not live the movement. An organisation for the conquest of life and environment is necessarily and essentially both an organisation for the elite and an organisation of the masses. Both are necessary to one another. A real organisation of the masses is impossible without a powerful organisation and training of the elite. No organisation has more need of an elite, well trained, influential and active, than an organisation of the masses, but it should be an elite taken from the masses and acting in the masses, not a distant separate elite. We must have leaders who are with, near, and for, their men in the trenches, at the front, in battle.

It should be an organisation using active methods, which move to action the elite and the masses. Not passive, sheep-like masses, watching or listening to speakers or so-called leaders. But masses sharing in a team spirit and in teamwork in all the life, all the training, all the campaigns, all the achievements, all the services, all the conquests of the movement.

Leaders and members learning to see, judge, and act; to see the problem of their temporal and eternal destiny to judge the present situation, the problems, the contradiction, the demands of an eternal and temporal destiny; to act with a view to the conquest of their temporal and eternal destiny. To act individually and collectively, in a team, in a local section, in a regional federation, in a national movement, in meetings, in achievement, in life and in their environment, forming a single front, going forward to the conquest of the masses of their fellow-workers.

– Joseph Cardijn


Joseph Cardijn, The Three Truths (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)