Having provided a theological explanation of the lay apostolate proper to lay people, Cardijn naturally wished to show what that meant in practice.
This he explained in an annex to his Note 12. Naturally enough, he drew on the example of the JOC.
“The experience of the last 25 years, which, through Catholic Action formation, has oriented a great number of lay people in their specific apostolate in life, in institutions and temporal milieux, shows that this presence and action in the temporal sphere is closely linked to the christianisation and evangelisation of milieux of which the majority are not reached by the Church,” he wrote. “The religious apostolate is inserted in apostolic action at the heart of secular life.”
“The experience of the YCW is realised in this fashion and has been encouraged by the recent Sovereign Pontiffs,” he noted.
The human level
The first level of this apostolate is the human level, Cardijn said:
In general the concrete apostolate starts on the human level properly speaking, i.e. young people win their comrades to attitudes which incite greater respect, more justice, more security, more dignity whether in the milieu of work, during leisure or in the field of health, preparation for the future, etc.
And that, they want it and obtain it, not just for their immediate comrades, but for all, for all those who are around them, without distinction, and for all the workers of the world and other races of different colours, other religions and ideologies.
These acts multiplied infinitely create a habitual, permanent attitude which gives birth by itself to a climate of confidence, friendship and collaboration among all; little by little, they spread a conception of life, bring out a surge in public opinion; they transform working environments, leisure and living environments; they develop new kinds of human relationships at individual, national and international level; henceforth, these are relationships based on confidence, solidarity, collaboration for the equitable and positive solution of common human problems.
The next stage, according to Cardijn, develops progressively from a personal apostolate into “a group apostolate that is more structure and organic.”
“On one hand, this gives rise to apostolic grassroots groups (in the parish, the neighbourhood, etc.) which unite people and develop into regional federations, movements and national and international movements of the apostolate,” Cardijn explained.
“On the other hand, at local as well as national and international levels, it leads to interventions in existing secular organisations and institutions, whether private, public or semi-public.”
Preparing the way for deeper action
Next Cardijn explains the linkages between these human acts and the Church’s mission:
For Christian leaders who act in secular daily life, these acts, realisations and processes are truly acts of apostolate. To achieve this, they make personal sacrifices and all kinds of renunciations which transform themselves; to achieve this, they pray and unite themselves with Christ and the Church in sacramental, liturgical and ecclesial life. In their personal life, unity is achieved between their religious life and their secular life; in their action with and on others.
Their intentions are not limited to the human and temporal level; they aim for the glory of God, the reign of Christ, the extension of the Church, the evangelisation and salvation of souls. Their presence and action, which is profoundly human, prepares the way for much deeper action: it breaks down prejudices and obstacles; it invites people to seek and recognise the truth.
Impact on others
This kind of action also has an impact on others, including non-Christians, Cardijn argues. In some cases, it even leads to the catechumenate:
For non-Christians who participate in this action or who at least witness it, it is primarily a shock and a testimony. It raises questions in them: Why are my comrades doing this? Why have they given up that? How can they do this? Why are they so much against injustice whereas we thought that religion preached resignation?
And for a certain number of non-Christians, this shock and testimony will lead to a catechumenate of which the initial discoveries are those of a religion lived out integrally in both daily and secular life. Because it is in regard to all these secular problems that friendship and confidence lead to exchanges: “Why respect, help or love others? Why work? Why found a family? What use is money? Why earn it and how to share it?” In their turn, these occasional discussions lead to making deeper and more complete contacts: visits to homes, books and magazines, collective action in the neighbourhood, participation in meetings.
Faith comes from the interior
What is important in all of the above, according to Cardijn, is a climate of openness, sympathy and friendship without any kind of pressure:
The revelation of Christ and the Church thus takes place in a climate of openness, sympathy and friendship, which is already that of lived out charity. The faith cannot be imposed through pressure, but it comes above all from the interior; it is sought, guessed at then requested, like a gift, a grace that transforms the person, family and society. It will not always and immediately result in baptism, sacramental or ecclesial life. How many examples there are of young workers who were Sauls and who have become Pauls! And this is so in every continent, every race and every form of civilisation.
The path followed, the apostolic pedagogy which are valid for non-Christians are equally valid for non-practising Christians accustomed to separating their religious practices from their daily life; or even all those who are still – alas! – so numerous and who have never received any real religious formation or only a child’s or adolescent’s formation.
The importance of the priest as a guide
All of the above depends, Cardijn insists, on the role of the priest as guide, support and counsellor.
In this apostolate – which does not separate temporal action from religious action properly speaking – the priest is always the guide, the support, indispensable counsellor for activist Christians. And little by little, it also becomes the guide of catechumens, who he leads towards their complete conversion. He is thus the soul of the transformation of individuals, and through them, of the milieux, communities, structures and the whole of society.
Thus, there will never be a lay apostolate at the level to meet the needs of the current world unless there are clergy who understand the necessity of this apostolate, who wish to make the “consecration mundi,” who understand its specific methods, its fecundity and the sacerdotal assistance which is indispensable to it.
Joseph Cardijn, L’apostolat essentiel propre et irremplaceable de laïcs (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Joseph Cardijn, The essential, irreplaceable apostolate proper to lay people (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)