1963: Joseph Cardijn: An apostolic method

The whole of secular life is nothing other than the realisation of the Lord’s Prayer, the synthesis of all religious life: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

What I have been stressing up till now, on every page —the fundamental relationship between life and the apostolate—will probably not surprise anyone. What has been said should perhaps suffice to indicate the essential place taken by secular life in the total theological and practical conception of the apostolate. However, I want to emphasise one last time the central role played in apostolic training by attention to life. If life must be one of the essential bases of a sound theology, it is, at the same time, a methodological base without which we would only be making artificial gestures, aiding and abetting the divorce, of which we are all witnesses, between religion and the world.

I am convinced that to ignore or underestimate in supernatural and apostolic formation the humblest, sometimes the most obviously down-to-earth aspects of life, will always mean a deficiency, often a fault, and sometimes a deformation.

People must be careful not to misinterpret the allusion I made at the beginning of this chapter to a lay seminary’. It goes without saying that I would have no part of a formation that takes place behind closed doors, between the walls of some institution or other, however orientated towards the world its teaching programme might be. This seminary must find its fulfilment in everyday reality; not in a room, but outside, in the open air!

There is no need to say that, for me, attention to life means attention to the transformation of life through absolutely essential individual and collective action. We must start with life itself if we want lay people to transform and consecrate it. And we must look at life objectively if, little by little, we are to replace human vision and judgment with the vision and judgment of God. It is through permanent contact with life that we will strive to transform it, in order to integrate or reintegrate it totally in the divine plan.

This is the method—see, judge, act—that Pope John XXIII was pleased to mention in his encyclical ‘Mater et Magister‘ as a means of human and supernatural education that should be used to train lay people and apostles and authorities. It inspires the total apostolic dialectic that I talked about in the beginning, with a vast vision of faith, hope and charity.

This is a concrete method, realistic and effective. For me, lay people are not formed for the apostolate through books, purely theoretic teaching, or spoken lectures however magnificent, or even through discussions, although these may be means of rounding off formation in helping to draw up various syntheses. Lay people are formed first of all by the discovery of facts, followed by a Christian judgment, resulting in the actions they plan, the plans they carry into effect, the responsibilities they shoulder. The method involves the exercise of all the human faculties and at the same time the use of all the supernatural and apostolic resources which have already been considered. And through a constant vision of the needs of all those who must be saved, it is an extraordinarily powerful impetus to progress and personal sanctification. This is a total, vital, existential apprenticeship to the apostolate; it generates an ideal, a way of life, with personal and communal demands corresponding to the huge measure of the apostolic task.

The review of life, already so well-known in the circles of the lay apostolate, is one of the most important aspects of its method: see, judge, act. It is not only an irreplaceable method of education, it is also a precious element in spiritual direction and formation. All the first young militants of the Y.C.W. had their own note-book’ which was, among other things, a means of entering directly and profoundly into the concrete details of their everyday life; they prepared their visits and their conversations there, in a way which was both practical, stirring and exciting. Whether it is made alone or at a meeting of the team, this review of life is a means to the apprenticeship and fraternal control of the total transformation of everyday life.

So the priest who carries out his educative task loyally, patiently and selflessly, using the method: see, judge, act, possesses the master plan of what could be called’ ‘apostolically based education, on which we can found our finest hopes.

I could cite thousands of facts and countless personal testimonies of people who have literally been trained by this method for a total and final commitment to a mission which has absorbed their whole life.

Such an apprenticeship comes about progressively. I said at the beginning of this chapter that militants are not found ready-made; to start with they must be taken just as they are. But once they have made the discovery, once they have caught on, they are able to fulfil the increasingly greater demands that are specified in a programme of life adapted to their human and spiritual possibilities.

It is quite clear that formation carried out in this perspective and according to these methods could never have a purely individual character. There is no need to repeat that the apostolate of each layman must be essentially communal, a collaboration with all his neighbours’. Even where the elite is concerned, it cannot act apostolically from outside; it must be the leaven of the crowd, working within the crowd itself; it must be the germ of a community, in living communion with all people.

If we sincerely want to entrust lay people with their total responsibility, if we want to send them out towards the world which awaits them, their formation must obviously be of a social and a communal kind. Today, when all the sectors of life interpenetrate each other, it would be unthinkable to ignore this aspect; such negligence would make lay people, and more particularly those who are rooted in the working class world, powerless in their everyday environment.


Joseph Cardijn, Laypeople into action, Chapter X: The formation of lay people for their apostolate (Melbourne YCW, 1964)