Lecture 2 - The Church and the workers



Today we are living in an hour decisive for the Church. Will the Church succeed in the re-conquest of these millions of workers? She will, because the Church without the working class is not the Church of Our Lord Jesus. 

How will the Church succeed in the re-conquest of the working class? Must we pray? Yes, but that is not sufficient. Must we go to Mass and Communion? Yes, but that is not sufficient. Must we fast and make sacrifices? Is it any use depriving ourselves of daily pleasures? All that is useful, but it is not sufficient. We could scourge ourselves till the end of the world and still the working class would be lost. Christ could remain nailed to the Cross-till the end of the world, and if there were nothing else, the working class would still be lost. If we go to Mass and Holy Communion every day and do nothing else, the working class is lost. 

Besides prayer, Mass, Holy Communion and mortification, there are three things without which no one can save the working class, three things together. 

The working class must itself know what is its vocation. The working class has a divine vocation, a mission that no one else can fulfil. Without that mission, the work of Creation and Redemption cannot be completed. 

The working class needs a movement, an organisation that will enable it to know and fulfil its mission. 

The working class needs leaders for, and from, the workers, working class apostles, missionaries, who, acting from within the working class will help it to know and fulfil its mission, and to organise and direct this workers' movement. 

The working class must be given a positive doctrine about life, about work, about the family; which will enable it to know why it is on earth and how great and noble is its mission; which will make it proud to be working class, courageous in work, and morally strong to overcome the difficulties in the life of workers. 

The first time I saw the Holy Father after the war, he said to me: " The greatest danger facing the Church is not Communism or Socialism. It is the fact that the working class knows nothing about the Church's teaching on the workers' mission." 

It does not know its divine mission because that mission has never been explained to it in a way, which could be understood. 

Simply to be anti-Communist is not enough to save the working class and the Church. It is not enough just to refute Communism. Nazis, Fascists, capitalists, all know how to do that, and they do it readily. We must see the element of truth in Communism. I have read many books on Communism, and many refutations of Communism; and all these books do quite clearly refute the errors of Communism-materialism, class warfare, dictatorship. But they overlook the element of truth in Communism from which it draws its strength; that Marx and Communism give a mission to the working class. It teaches the working class that it has a divine mission on earth, a redemptive, a messianic mission. That is why they cry out: "Workers of the world unite! You have a divine mission. You are the redeemers of the world. You, the working class, you must redeem the world." 

In Communism there is a great element of truth; but because it denies God, it makes a god of the working class; because it denies Christ, it puts the working class in the place of Christ. The mission it gives the working class is one of dictatorship and force. 

That is what the Pope said in his encyclical letter against Communism. Unfortunately, we study its negative side and leave out its positive side. We study in Divini Redemptori the arguments against Communism and that is all. The more important part is that dealing with the remedies and the alternative to Communism. That is usually ignored. 

We must make known to the working class its divine mission, which in God's plan is indispensable to the Church. 

That mission is the vocation of each working man and woman. Every one of these millions of workers has a divine mission to fulfil, a practical divine vocation on earth, which no one else can fulfil in his stead, because they are all human beings, enjoying God's friendship on earth. Each working man and woman must develop within himself or herself the friendship of God, the truth of God, the dignity of God; and each must be respected as God Himself. We cannot respect God, if we do not respect the working men and women who are made in His image, because they are sacred like God Himself. Woe to him who misuses a working man or woman: He is misusing God. 

That is why the poorest of workers can be called by God to become a pope, a bishop, a priest, a monk, a missionary, a saviour of humanity, because each has, without exception, a divine vocation. In the same way each working-class girl, like Our Lady, has a divine vocation to fulfil, and therefore she must be respected. If anyone does not respect her, it would be better for him if a millstone was tied round his neck and he was thrown into the depths of the sea. That is how the good, merciful Lord Jesus speaks, because of the divine dignity of working girls. 

(a) The worker has a divine vocation in his work. It is work that must continue God's act of creation, make use of the creation, discover all the riches within creation, and place them at the disposal of humanity, in order that it may attain its destiny. Without work there is nothing, moral, intellectual, or religious. Without work there is no Host, a single drop of wine to consecrate, no altar stone, no vestments, No Church. Without work there is no religion. 

There is no Kingdom of God without work, and therefore work must be respected and treated with dignity, honour and justice. By its labour, the international working class must build the Cathedral of the New World, in which the working class is no longer regarded as a slave, but in which he offers up his work as an act of praise in the Mass with Christ. 

(b) Like every other family, each working-class family has a divine mission on earth, which no other can fulfil. The parents are deputies of the Creator, procreators. There would be no children without them, no life. God has given them the divine mission of begetting life, of bringing up their children, sanctifying them, and preparing them for life. Courtship, engagement, and preparation for marriage: all this is a divine mission. Why should they respect each other? Why should they honour each other while they are courting? Just as in a seminary or a novitiate, priests prepare for the priesthood or novices prepare for the apostolate as monks, so must future husbands and wives prepare together for an indispensable lay priesthood. It is they who will give to the Church the future priests, monks and missionaries. Without them there will be none. 

(c) In the district or in the workshop, or wherever workers and their families are grouped together, each community of workers has the mission of making that divine mission known to each other and of helping each other to live up to it. During leisure hours or while travelling, these working men and women must reveal to one another the greatness, the importance, and the dignity of their divine mission. 

(d) The whole working class has a divine mission, demanding that organisation of workers which will give the working class the chance of knowing, fulfilling, and being proud of, its divine mission. No longer will they be the cursed of the earth, slaves of famine, machines, beasts of burden; but they will be sons of God, collaborators with God, heirs of God, not only after death, but here on earth, in their work and in their district. It is a magnificent mission, a marvellous mission, which no one else can do - not even the Pope, bishops or priests. 

And that is why Christ was born, to make all this known to a world suffering from original sin, the effects of original sin, disorder in the world, the sin of liberalism, materialism, and slavery. That is why He was born and lived as a worker. Why didn't He come as an aristocrat, an intellectual, a university professor? Why did He come as an ordinary worker? Why was He born in a stable? Why, continuously, for thirty years, did He live the life of a worker? In order to remind the world of the divine value of work, even of the roughest work. 

He rose from the dead, not only to ascend into Heaven, but also to continue to live in each worker, each working-class family, in the whole working class, to live with them, to work with them, to suffer with them, and to save the world through them. 

The second means to enable the working class to know its divine mission is the creation, building up, and development of. a workers' movement. 

If the Pope were to write hundreds of encyclicals on work; if the Bishops spent their lives writing pastoral letters on work; if the Bishops preached on work and the nobility of work, week in week out, the working class would still not be saved. 

To fulfil the divine mission of the working class, only the workers' movement will do. Isolated parishes cannot do it. There must be a workers' movement on the local, regional, national and international planes. If we could understand that, if the whole clergy could understand that, there would be no more Communism. 

There must be a workers' movement to make known to the working class its mission, a movement which will help it to accomplish its mission. Millions of workers all over the world, left to themselves in the face of the terrific organisation of industry and commerce, are absolutely powerless. 

The Pope has often said to me: "I can write encyclical letters, but I can neither spread them nor make people live up to these teachings in their workshops. I cannot do it, nor can the bishops and priests. To do that, workers are needed who are apostles." 

This movement must be a workers' movement, run by workers among workers.

- Joseph Cardijn

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