Formation and education
(Third in the series Person, Family and Education 1950)
This morning I went to bless a Jocist wedding, a real one. It was a princely affair, and yet the bride was an ordinary working girl from a family of twelve children. She was dressed in white as she had been the day she was baptised and the day she made her first Holy Communion. This was the virginal spouse coming forward to receive the nuptial blessing.
The bridegroom was an organiser, and the day before he had been on his rounds throughout the area. The young workers with their flags had come in from all round. They were singing, and the whole village was in a turmoil for the wedding of a young worker and a young working girl.
I was not able to be present at the whole of the ceremony, but as I left I heard the whole church-a parish church with room for seven hundred and fifty people but in which there were even more young people standing-was singing the Mass. It was very moving, and I knew that the first action that the two were going to do together was to receive Holy Com-munion. Their parents, their families, and hundreds of the young people who had come were also, most of them, to receive Holy Communion with the newly married pair. They were going to be united in Christ.
That indicates a new youth, a new. conception of life and of the family and of that splendid vocation of which I spoke to you earlier.
I told all who were there that such a marriage ought to be possible not only for an organiser, but for everybody. For the poorest, the least noticed, for the very least of the working boys and girls. A marriage like that is a marriage they all ought to have. There are not two kinds of marriage, but for all there is the same marriage and sanctification and apostolate, for the most humble working boy and girl as well as for those who are best off.
But people will not find this out in the dance hall or the cinema or in flirting. The Y.C.W. wants to give the whole working youth of the world the chance to found families like this, which will give to the Church priests, religious, mission-aries, and apostles in all the countries of the world. An end must be put to corruption and to an idea of love which is unworthy. The poorest working girl must have the chance, as Our Lady herself had, of founding a happy home.
I went from there to Audenarde and talked to some girl workers. There were about 300 of them and they told me what they were doing in their factories and the factories from which they came. They examined plans of work they had for all these factories to prepare for the Jubilee Congress. There were tears in my eyes as these ordinary factory girls, grand apostles and missionaries, spoke. When I see what they have done I so often feel ashamed for myself. They are the apostles of their companions in order to deliver their companions.
Well, that is what I tried to explain to you the day before yesterday; the dignity of the smallest and poorest worker, of the most humble and the most ignorant and sometimes the most corrupt working girl in the world; Sons and Daughters of God just as much as the wealthiest or the noblest or the greatest in the world. And they must be made to understand it, whether the young working boy or girl be black, yellow or white. Whether the young working boy or girl be Indian, or Japanese, Chinese, or European, they are all sons and daughters of God. We need missionaries and apostles to make these young people understand the beauty and dignity of that, and the respect that must be given to them. Yesterday we saw how they must realise their vocation by marriage and the family, not for themselves alone, but for their children, who will be the flesh of their flesh, children who, thanks to their Christian parents, become sons of God, missionaries, priests, religious, and nuns. There is a holiness and an apostolic value in their marriage, and this applies not to some but to all, no matter how poor and unconsidered a person may be.
Today I am going to talk to you of a condition which is indispensable if the dignity of the person and of the human family is to be realised. We need to think deeply about that, for it is a great revolutionary truth which we are going to launch throughout the world. It is the indispensable condi-tion if the world is going to respect the most humble working girl, if the poorest working-class family is going to be respected both inside the home as well as outside the home, and that indispensable condition is education; education is indispensable for all working boys and girls. There is no way of being a human person if one has not been educated. There is no way of being Christian husbands and wives and Christian parents if we have not been educated, just as there is no way of being priests, religious, nuns if we have not been educated. If priests received no training they would not be able to be priests or else they would be bad priests. This, is the great revolutionary truth which we are going to launch upon the world, for the young of every race and every colour throughout the globe; they need a formation and an education.
Read the letter of the Holy Father; we are at a turning point of history and a decisive hour when a new world is rising.
We are at the hour of the human person. The moment when the human person is most threatened by Communism, Materialism, Science, Medicine, and the new psycho-techniques. A human person can today be deformed in his spirit, even an important person such as a Minister of State or a Cardinal. There is a danger threatening the human person throughout the entire globe from the totalitarian regimes which enslave man, and on the other side there is degradation through pleasure, sports, the cinema, or the dance hall.
The same is true of the family. It is the hour of the family. The Holy Father talks of the family in nearly all his elocutions, and he says on every occasion; if the family ceases to exist, mankind will become a herd of animals. For the family also is threatened..
Today, in 1950 we are in a new age, at a turning point, and it can really be said that this moment is the hour of educa-tion. Education is necessary and indispensable; otherwise the world is reduced to slavery, to the ranks of the machine, it will become communised. Note how the great international bodies like U.N. and U.N.E.S.C.O. are concerned at this moment with education. There are still today hundreds of millions of men who cannot read or write and who wonder, "What are we? Are we animals? Are we machines?" Hundreds of millions in Africa, China, and India. Today we are concerned about them because nowadays it is not possible to live without education; democracy without education is an empty phrase. Workers cannot share in the organisation of industry without education. Double the salary of workers, reduce the hours of work to four instead of eight, with two months' holiday instead of one, give them cars . . they will not be happier and perhaps, on the contrary, they would be more enslaved than ever.
The working class must be given everything it needs to live in comfort and happiness; it needs a family environment, a family hearth, it must be able to prepare for its future. But if the proletariat is to disappear and . if the working class is to be raised up, education and formation are needed. And that is not true merely on the temporal plane but also on the spiritual plane. If the working class is not formed, the Church as well as religion will certainly decline. Education and formation are indispensable if man is to become a person.
In past centuries, the problem was not so urgent, because people lived in separation from each other and did not need each other. A Mohammedan woman did not leave her family, and when she went into the street she had to be veiled, and could not be seen by anybody; when she left her father's family it was to enter another with her husband. The same thing happened in India and in a large part of China. For hundreds of years many races lived side by side without any knowledge whatever of each other because mountains and oceans seemed a complete barrier. But now that is over and all these barriers have gone. The black in the wilds of Congo or of South Africa can hear the voice of Moscow just as well as you or I. All these people now live interpenetrated by each other, and the Mohammedan woman takes off her veil when she goes to work in the factory or workshop. In other days you did not need to know how to read or write; my father did not know how to read or write. He was more intelligent than I, but he did not need to go to school in order to learn. We must never think that nations who cannot read or write are less intelligent; that is a serious error. Today however it is no longer possible to live without education and without formation, because the nations are coming closer together, the world is being unified and mankind is becoming one.
Education now is a question of life or death for mankind. But there is an even deeper reason. We need to go to the roots of human nature if we are to see the difference between man and a stone, between man and a plant, between man and an animal. A stone is what it is, it does not change or develop, and any change in it comes from outside it. I can put iron into a fire so that it melts and becomes a liquid-but the iron does not know it. I can take a plant and change its colour-but the plant does not know it. I may take an animal and train it-but the animal remains an animal, moved by its instincts and its biological urges.
Do you see the great difference there is between man and all the other creatures? A man must learn that he is a man, so that he will not behave like an animal or a machine. We might say that in some way he must conquer his personality, his humanity. He must know that he is not a little animal, and that there are certain things he cannot do and certain things that he should not do. That is what education is for.
He must be taught to seek and to reflect. He must even be taught how to fulfil himself. One only becomes fully a man when one wants to live as a man; otherwise, one remains an animal. Man must be taught to have a will of his own, to have character. He must be taught to choose; will he become a tailor or a telegraphist, etc.? How? When? Has he never heard the call of God? All of that is included in what we call formation and education.
Every man must be formed, and that perhaps is one of the features of our day; it is not merely the wealthy who have to be educated. There has never been any doubt about that. But there is the question which has so often been doubted; must the least important of men also be educated?
The answer is yes, because otherwise men are merely animals and machines. They have to be formed and I would say that those who most need forming are those who are the poorest; they need far more formation in order to be men and husbands and Christian parents, and in order to become Christian apostles. And that is not possible unless they are formed. Formation is an absolute need, for without it one cannot become a man. You do not become a man as a young animal becomes an adult animal.
Christians, priests, and apostles of the present day at all social levels must understand this and they should be the first to demand it. We must not wait for the Communists to say that the poorest working girl must be educated. It is we who ought to do it.
The workers have an absolute need of education. And when they ask "What am I?" they must be in a position to know the answer. They must have been taught to answer all the vitally important questions of their lives. "What is my work? Is it a punishment or is it something disgraceful? What is my wage? What should it be used for? What is my pocket money? I am given £7 or £10 for my holiday with pay. What should I do with it?. Must I degrade myself? Get myself into trouble or what?"
The least of the young workers and the least of the young working girls on this earth must be educated to be able to answer these questions.
And when I speak of education and formation 1 do not mean that they must be taught merely to read and write and be given some smattering of geography and arithmetic or cooking and sewing, or being a mechanic, an electrician, or a tailor; that is a technical and utilitarian formation.
For the future of the youth and of the working class and for the future of the Church-it is a question of life or death-the young worker must be taught to live like a free and responsible man. He must be given what is called today a human culture, a humanism. There are Latin and Greek and modern human-ities; there are humanities for everybody; there are also working class humanities. At this time everybody is trying to solve this problem. And we can see that we are in the forefront. For a man to be educated and to be really a man, no matter how poor he is, three things are needed.
A conception of life. He must know what his life means and why he is alive, why he is on this earth. He must understand the problems of his life. "Why have I to work and another man has not to work? What is my boss and what am I, his employee?" He must have a conception of life, and the Christian must have a Christian conception of life, not a Com-munist, utilitarian, and liberal conception but a Christian and apostolic conception. But that is not enough. This concep-tion of life must be fulfilled every day.
A style of life, an attitude, a way of conduct. Why must it be thought that workers must be rude and impolite? Is that written anywhere? Why can't the worker be the most polished man on earth? In order to be that he must acquire a style of life.
When King Albert I came back after the war of 1914, famous for his exploits on the Yser river, there was a mine disaster, and a large number of men were buried. Other miners had risked their lives to go down, and save their comrades. The King went immediately to the scene of the accident and after viewing the bodies of the dead, he went to the rescuers and asked them, "What do you want?" One of the workers came forward and said, "Sir, we want to be respected." That answer marks and expresses what I mean by a style of life.
An ideal of life, for which you are ready to suffer and even to die if need be. An ideal for which you are ready to give up everything, and to accept death and failure, and which will never allow you to flinch at difficulties. Those miners had an ideal.
These three things must be given to all men and especially to the poorest and humblest. They are an absolute necessity for the masses and are not merely for an elite. A human formation, a human education are indispensable.
The second important point is, who is to give this education to the workers ? What are the milieux and the institutions which give this education and formation?
The first to give this education is the family, which no one can replace. That is why I insisted on this point yesterday. It is why everybody needs a family. Other creatures do not need it, but man does in order to be born; his education begins at his birth, and even before his birth.
Take a small child-he cannot live for a single day without his mother. It is she who starts his formation. From his birth until he is three, she teaches him to be himself. Between three and seven he learns good and evil, what he can do and what he can't do. His mother has to teach him this, and ought to tell him why there are some things that he can do and others that he must not do. Little by little he learns that there are duties, that he has to make decisions and choices. All this is learnt in the family.
I told you yesterday all that my mother had taught me. But she was a servant, she had not received very much education, but she told me first of all the story of the Child Jesus, then all the Old Testament. I remember one striking feature of her method. We were going out shopping together when we met a poor man and my mother said to me, "Joseph, here's three -pence. You can do what you like with it. Buy chocolate, or marbles, or put it in your money-box, or give it to that poor man." I looked at her, but could not hesitate for long and I gave it to the man. That is what she taught me. No one can take a mother's place, for she can give that first education which influences the whole life of the child. And she is irreplaceable. The poorest mother can do it.
You see now how important education in the family is. But you also see that the family must be in a position to give that education. Its place must not be taken by creches or nursery schools or artificial institutions or anything else. Work and the lives of workers must be organised so that the parents, especially mothers, should be able to educate their children. Future fathers and mothers must also be prepared to fulfil this irreplace-able role, and learn what a responsibility it is to have children and to be able to bring them up and educate them. I am convinced that in general the workers love their children more than the wealthy do. But they do not know how to love them. They either spoil the children or beat them. Why? Because they have never been taught how to bring up their children. The very first educative milieu which is indispensable for the working class throughout the world is the family environment.
The second, under present conditions, is the school. But we must see it should not be just a school where you learn to read and write, to sew and to do sums, but a school where you learn to live and to love in line with the education that mothers and fathers are responsible for giving to their children.
That is why the poorest worker and the simplest working girl has the right to demand that the school shall confirm the education given by the family. They should be able to choose the school. The choice of school must be free. The State cannot lay down what school the child should go to. Nor should the master say "That is stupid" when the child says that at home they say their prayers; he should not even say that he doesn't care. If he says that, he kills the child instead of educating it, for the child then wonders, "What nonsense my mother talked when the teacher says it is not of any importance."
There is in fact a third force in education, the public authority or the State. It has the right to be active in education, and it ought to do so because it is no longer possible without education to live in the State. But we must be clear about several things.
The State may lay down that all children must learn to read and write and attend school until they are fourteen or fifteen or sixteen, but the State is not the educator, cannot take the place of the family, nor lay down a conception of life by which children in the schools become automatons in the service of the State. Before the war, in Germany, in Yugoslavia, in Czecho-slovakia, you could see children, school-children, marching like robots, who think like the State and are slaves of the State. Unhappy the children who would not say that Hitler was God, for their parents were sent to the concentration camps.
There must be denominational schools, and the State must subsidise and help them. It can demand a training which is necessary for the life of the State, and in order that it shall live with other states.
But are the family, the school, and the State sufficient? We must realise that all the milieux of life-work, pleasure, leisure, the street, the neighbourhood, everywhere-must be places of education instead of places of corruption. In the letter which the Holy Father wrote last year, he said, "The Y.C.W. must form the young workers who are aware of their responsi-bility and who will accept no truce nor rest until they have transformed the environment in which they live, according to the demands of the gospel." The milieux must not contradict the education received. Nor must we say that this is not an important matter or that it is the priests who have invented all this, nor that people must amuse themselves and so on. For man to be educated and to be authentically man, the milieux must educate the young workers in the same sense. Pius XI has already said that the great crime of today is that matter comes out of the factory made beautiful whilst the souls of the workers come out made corrupt. Look at the wonderful crystal glass of Vol-Saint-Lambert, and look at the souls of the workers and working girls who make it. That is what must be changed. Above all for youth the environment of work must be formative and educative.
We now come to the institution and environment which is the most necessary of all. To take mankind and form mankind and teach men that they are not machines or slaves, the most necessary institution is the Church. "Go and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teach them what I have told you and I shall be with you until the end of the world." The Church is the divine educator of all the human race and of all peoples. The Church has received this command and mission from God himself and from Our Lord himself and is to give that education right down till the end, not merely to the end of time but even to the limits of the world. That is what you the militants and the team leaders of the Y.C.W. who live with working youth must understand. You must understand that the Church on this earth for the working youth, for the working class and mankind, is both the educator and the educational environment which is the most necessary.
In order to fulfil this mission the Church needs to be free throughout the entire world, able to open schools and universities for children and young people: these schools must not only be free, they must also be recognised and State-aided. If they are not, the Church cannot fulfil her mission to educate.
Note this: the instruction given in schools is not the main education that the Church must give to the working youth of the world; the Church must make them understand before anything else the meaning of life, the value of life, the under-standing of life. The Church gives this understanding by her Gospel, by her religious teaching, by her worship, by her sacraments, by the meaning of confession, by every parish which must be an educative environment for the working youth and for mankind.
But in order to fulfil this mission of education in the world, the Church must have priests, religious, nuns, and missionaries who devote themselves completely to the Church; they must understand that the Church needs thousands of priests, religious, and nuns throughout the world to make certain of her apostolate and her mission to educate.
Yesterday I spoke to you about the holiness of the vocation to marriage. There is an even holier vocation than that, it is even more necessary than the vocation to marriage.
Marriage and the vocation to marriage is a holy, sanctifying, apostolic, and missionary vocation; but it will never spread throughout the world and the nations in the world unless there are a number of the young who give up marrying and having a family, and consecrate themselves to all families. They give up having a human partner to devote themselves to Christ, young men who do not take a wife in order to consecrate themselves to the spouse of Christ; girls who give up being mothers, boys who give up being fathers, in order to become fathers and mothers spiritually. Then they can take in all the children of the world in every country in the world and can give themselves completely to the Church, to saving the young, to saving the working class of the world. Priests do not look down on marriage, or the family or human life, but in order to make it possible for young people to know what life is, to create a family, to have and bring up children, they turn their backs on these things themselves.
Do not think that what I said to you yesterday about the nobility and beauty of marriage is in any way contradictory of what I have just said today. It is not. For the ideal of life, the respect of the working youth for marriage, for the child, for life, is only possible if the young are educated and formed. For that to be done, persons are needed who have given up everything: who have given up their own families and have given up founding a family or having a husband or wife or children in order to consecrate themselves to the young and to the working class.
All this demands much generosity and not all are called to it. But when one has understood God's call and the call of souls, an answer must be made. This is a very important problem in our day. I have recently come back from Portugal, a country of great possibilities, but from the Christian point of view much is not what one might expect, and the reason is that there are not enough priests, religious and nuns. There are not enough vocations. I visited the only seminary which exists for four dioceses, Lisbon and three others. In the two years of philosophy and the four years of theology, there are 160 students; at Malines there are 600.
When you go to South America or to Africa you meet the same thing but on an even bigger scale, because the people have not yet understood how important the priesthood is. There are not more really Christian families because there are not enough priests.
We must think well about this second point. To educate properly we need environments which give it; they are the family, the schools, the State, the milieux of life, but first and foremost, the Church.
Finally, the last question, which is a burning and revolutionary question: What is the age for education? At what age must the young be educated?
Everybody agrees that if they had been left to themselves at the age of fourteen to twenty-five, those who are today priests, religious, and nuns would not be what they became. Everybody agrees that if we had no colleges or universities there would be no doctors, no managers, no thinkers. But no one has yet thought about this: if it is necessary to train priests and mana-gers, is it not also necessary to train young workers between fourteen and twenty-five? This is perhaps the most revolutionary and necessary truth which needs to be said today.
It is necessary to educate children until they are fourteen. That is fundamental, but it is not enough.
The essential age for education, for real education in life, is in the years between fourteen and twenty-five. You can prepare children for the virtues of chastity and purity in general, but you cannot prepare children for the great problems of life. If you don't talk about the great problems of life between fourteen and twenty-five it is too late, the young boys and girls have already begun to meet and court each other, they are already engaged and caught up in the milieux of work and leisure and the time has gone.
Ask all your companions who surround you in the various milieux of life, and they will tell you that the essential age of education is between fourteen and twenty-live, between leaving school and getting married. In these years they learn what the problems of life are directly, what the body is, the relations between boys and girls, what courting, marriage, love, married life mean, and what having and bringing up children implies. These are the years in which they must be taught to answer the vital questions, and if they do not learn the answers then, they are ruined. At the base we have placed respect for the person and the family. For that respect to be possible we must have the education and formation which is necessary.
The Y.C.W. is the school of life which is to teach the young workers what they are and what they must be; it must teach them the meaning of their bodily life, their intellectual life, their moral life, and their spiritual life; it must teach them the meaning of their work in their surroundings of work, and their preparation for marriage, it must teach them the meaning of their responsibilities, when they are leaders in works councils later on, in the trades unions and even in the higher councils of state. The Y.C.W. is that school of life.
But it is not merely a school of life, it is also a school of the apostolate. It teaches them the divine, religious, and apostolic meaning of life; it teaches them not merely to pray and to go to Mass, but to be apostles in their working environment; it teaches them the divine significance of their preparation for the future family; above all it teaches them that this conception of life is not the preserve of a small number, but must be the property of all young working boys and girls because they possess an eternal destiny.
Joseph Cardijn, 1950