See, judge and act in today’s world

To mark the 25th anniversary of his death, a memorial Mass for Fr Hugh O’Sullivan was celebrated at The Monastery on May 29. FR DEAN MARIN reflects on Fr Hugh’s work with the YCW, and the importance of the movement and the ministry of its founder, Cardinal Joseph Cardijn.

Even before his ordination as a priest for the Archdiocese of Adelaide in 1964, Fr Hugh O’Sullivan, or Hughie as he was affectionately known to many throughout Adelaide and Australia, had come to know of Fr Joseph Cardijn the founder of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) movement.

In all his parishes – Hectorville, Brighton, Mount Gambier, Salisbury, Para Hills and finally Hallett Cove – Fr Hugh formed small groups of young workers in the YCW, steeped in the formation method of ‘See, Judge and Act’. He became Adelaide chaplain to the YCW, then national chaplain and eventually chaplain to the Asia-Pacific Region.

Fr Hugh was committed to the faith and the Church and with a passion for young workers and empowering them to be agents of change in the world. His down-to-earth acceptance of everyone he encountered will be remembered by so many in the Archdiocese.

Fr Hugh died on May 18 1997 and we are inspired by this great priest as we remember him.

It is also important to reflect upon the ministry of Fr Joseph Cardijn, who in 1967 was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul VI, and in particular his influence on the Second Vatican Council.

In an article by Stefan Gigacz, secretary of the Australian Cardijn Institute, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Cardijn’s death, he writes how Pope John XXIII’s 1961 encyclical, Mater et Magistra, recommended the use of the See, Judge and Act method that has since become a hallmark of Church documents on Catholic Social Teaching.

‘Cardijn drafted more than 25 formal detailed notes for the preparatory and conciliar commissions advocating his vision of the specifically lay apostolate of lay people, transforming their lives, their milieux and eventually the world,’ Gigacz wrote.

‘Much of his vision of lay apostolate was indeed finally incorporated both in the chapter on the laity in Vatican II doctrinal constitution: Lumen Gentium and in the Decree on the Lay Apostolate…Jocists bishops and periti played a particular prominent role in the drafting of Gaudium et Spes (Constitution of the Church in the Modern World).’

The Constitution of the Church in the Modern World begins: ‘The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well.’

We start totally grounded in the reality and experiences of people’s lives in the here and now in society and in the world. Isn’t this equivalent to the ‘See’ section? Further on it says: ‘At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.’ Here’s the call again to appreciate the reality of the features of any given time, the ‘See’ section.

However, we don’t just stay there, we move on from here to interpreting them ‘in the light of the Gospel’. Isn’t this equivalent to the ‘Judge’ section? We consciously bring to bear the vision of the Gospel of Jesus, for us as Catholics coming from the Scriptures and our tradition, to discern the call of God and prepare us for action.

There’s another way at looking at Cardijn’s vision to learn so much for us as Church today. In his pamphlet ‘The Young Worker Faces Life’ he spoke of three truths as another way of understanding the See, Judge and Act method. The truth of experience, the truth of faith and the truth of method.

In the Archdiocese of Adelaide, we can’t overestimate the influence of Cardijn’s vision on our church life and the many lay leaders formed through it. Both Archbishop Gleeson and then Archbishop Faulkner promoted the Cardijn movements of the Young Christian Workers, Young Christian Students, and the Christian Life Movement. Back in the ‘80s the Diocesan Pastoral Renewal was underpinned by Cardijn’s vision. Later the vision of Basic Ecclesial Communities used the See, Judge and Act method in small neighbourhood groups, just naming it differently as ‘our story’, ‘God’s story’ and ‘the ongoing story’.

We need Cardijn’s vision and his See, Judge and Act method in the Church today. Firstly, it helps us to truly understand Vatican II and its pastoral and transformational focus for the world, as well as the role of each person in this mission.

Secondly, rightly understood and practised it will bring a unity of common purpose for all passionate about the faith and its place in the world.

There are tensions in our Church life today in Australia. The processes of consultation, listening, dialogue and discerning in preparation for the Plenary Council, our own Diocesan Assembly and now for the worldwide Synod in 2023 have highlighted differences amongst us in responses to the challenges facing the Church. How can we be united in facing these challenges? Use the See, Judge and Act process.

We need to begin with the real situations of people’s lives today. We need to listen, dialogue and grow in understanding of others. We accept and value human experience. We don’t start from what people should be doing or how they should be living. We can’t start from the way things were in the past and just turn the clock backwards. We value and accept the ‘see’ and ‘the truth of experience’.

But we don’t just stay there. This is where we start, not where we finish. And we don’t just automatically expect that the Church should change to mirror current ways of life.

Vatican II can be easily misinterpreted in this way. We need the ‘judge’ and ‘the truth of faith’, the Gospels, the whole of the Word of God and the living tradition of our Catholic faith with which to discern and judge the current realities. This tradition will always highlight the deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ and our unity as his Body on earth and our need for prayer and worship, the Eucharist and the Sacraments.

In our haste for solutions, in our need for immediate action, in our desire to be in touch with the times, we can downplay the ‘judge’ section and move on with our own ideas for action. We need to resist this temptation. And we all need formation and growth in understanding the Scriptures and our Catholic Teachings.

St Pope John XXIII’s opening remarks for the Second Vatican Council, taken from Vatican II in Plain English: The Council by Bill Huebsch, include: ‘The greatest concern of this council is this, that the sacred and central truths of our Christian faith should be guarded and taught more effectively…we will not depart from the truth as it is passed on to us by the early Fathers and Mothers of the Church. But we will also be attentive to these times, to the new conditions and new forms of life present in the modern world which have opened new arenas of work for Catholics.’

Then there’s ‘act’ which completes ‘the truth of method’. The Word of God affirms us of God’s acceptance, compassion and love, but also challenges us to change. We are challenged to act to bring about change within ourselves, family, community, society and world. Indeed, we act as part of God’s plan in Christ for the renewal of all creation. Cardijn always encouraged young workers not to act alone but with others, and so we act together united with the one common vision.

With the tensions in the Church today we have a recognised and acknowledged approach and pathway around which to be united and move forward together.

This pathway begins with and respects the real-life experiences of the people of our times; it relies upon and remains faithful to Scriptures and the teachings of our Catholic faith and moves forward with action, building God’s Kingdom on earth until it is fulfilled in heaven.

Used within movements and groups in the Church initially, it now needs to be used in all aspects of our Church life and my advice would be: come to know the Scriptures and the teachings of our faith and never overlook the judge section.

Fr Dean Marin is Vicar General and Director of Vocations of the Archdiocese

The doctrinal foundations of the YCW

At the First International Congress of the YCW in 1935, Cardijn delivered his classical “Three truths” talk setting out the “Truth of faith,” the “Truth of reality,” and the “Truth of method” on which the movement was based.

He went further in 1950 at the International Congress held in Brussels, where he delivered a series of in depth talks, including “The doctrinal foundations of the YCW,” which further developed his “three truths” concept, which we present here.

I. A Truth of Faith

The Mission of the Young Workers in the Working Class

1. Each young worker and working girl has an eternal destiny. They are human persons. Not machines, not slaves or beasts of burden; they are the sons, the collaborators, the heirs of God. They are made to the image of God. This personal characteristic is sacred and inviolable; it gives to each young worker a personal dignity: the young worker is an end, an absolute in himself. One cannot respect God if one does not respect the human person.

2. This truth is universal and applies to every race, every people, every country, every age. is the lever, the motor, the stimulus of every civilisation and all human progress.

3. This eternal destiny does not begin after death. It becomes incarnate in time to flower out in eternity. From the very moment of his conception in his mother’s womb, the future young worker finds in this destiny the source of his rights to life, to education, to protection, to health, to justice. Far from being a philosophic justification or an opium, a cause or a pretext for escape, for resignation, it is the foundation of all deproletarisation, the guarantee against all violence, the inspiration of all liberation.

It gives to each young worker a vocation, a personal mission, which transforms his life into a collaboration with God, with all men, for the achievement of the divine plan in the work of creation and redemption, Created by God, redeemed by Christ, the young worker is their necessary collaborator, but freely, wilfully, through love. Not a starveling of the earth, but a responsible citizen of the City of God and of the city of men.

4. This vocation, this mission of the young worker, gives to his work, to his profession, a human and divine value. Work is not a shameful thing, a “come down”, a punishment, but a service, a ministering to his personal fulfilment and that of humanity. Without work there can be nothing: no humanity, no civilisation, no religion. This vocation demands a regime of work which excludes the exploitation and proletarisation, and which guarantees a collaboration in justice and equity.

5. This personal vocation is expressed in the family vocation and mission of each young worker. This vocation is fulfilled in the working class family which ensures the complementary vocation of the spouses and of the parents of the young worker and young working girl, with a view to the procreation and education of children. Without families, there can be no children, no citizens, no priests, no apostles.

6. This personal vocation makes clear the communal vocation and mission of each young worker, which is incarnate in every working class community, professional and local. The young worker is the first and immediate apostle and collaborator of his comrades, his companions, his neighbours. This implies a community of life, of destiny, of mutual aid, of friendship, of brotherhood. The young worker must not be an escapist, but an internal ferment, inseparable from the community in which he lives.

7. This personal vocation makes clear the mission, the vocation of the working class, which comprises all working class families and communities, in which all are united together and feel their responsibility for the transformation of all environments of life and regime of work, bearing the aspirations toward a full emancipation of the working masses of the world.

8. This vocation, this mission of working youth and of the whole working class, is their own irreplaceable vocation which inspires a conception of life, a spirit of life, a manner of life. This conception, this spirit, this manner of life must be acquired, especially between the ages of 14 and 25, between school and marriage, through a properly adapted education.

9. This vocation, this mission is essentially religious, apostolic, and missionary, and gives to each young worker, to each working class family, to all working class communities, to the whole* working class an apostolic responsibility which demands a training, graces, union with God, with Christ, with the Church.

10. The Church spreads throughout the world this essential truth concerning the destiny of each young worker and of the whole working class. By its doctrine and its grace, by its apostolate and its organisation, it enables this truth to become a living reality in the world and in history.

The State, national and international institutions, working class and employers’ organisations and the economic regimes must place this truth at the basis of their achievements, with a view to the progress of national and international communities.

11. This vocation, this mission of the young worker and of the working class will decide the future of humanity and of the Church.

II. A Truth of Experience:

A Flagrant Contradiction,

N.B. – This point of the lesson must be presented in a much more concrete form than point 1; in particular, it will be necessary to recall in all that follows, some of the facts and problems noted in the preceding lesson; “The Situation of Working Youth in the World”, in order to give a factual basis to the remarks that follow.

The various enquiries made at the occasion of the International Conference show once again the flagrant contradiction in 19$0 which exists between the plan of God and the tragic situation of the young workers and of the working class in the world.

These enquiries show:

– the ignorance of the young workers concerning their eternal destiny and their temporal mission.

– the contradiction between this mission and their conditions of housing, work, and life.

– the lack of preparation of the young workers before their entry in work.

– the abandonment in which all young workers find themselves on entering work, when they are lonely, isolated, far from their family and their teachers.

– the disastrous influence of this ignorance, this opposition and this isolation.

– the powerlessness of the young worker in the face of the system which rules the economic life and even the thought of the modem world: capitalism, “liberal economics”.

– the disastrous consequences for the young workers, for working class families, for the working class, for humanity for the Church; proletarisation, general indifference, despair, revolt, war.

– the irresistible influence of the great idealogical talents which are at present moving the masses; materialism, naturalism, existentialism, nationalism, communism, etc.

On the other hand, those enquiries have also shown something of the great living riches of working youth today in many countries: generosity, thirst for liberty, for justice, sincerity, sense of international brotherhood, etc.

These positive characteristics need further careful study, and will serve as starting points for the building of the true solution to the problem: the YCW.

III. A Truth of Method:

An Internal Solution

1. The achievement of the personal, communal, and family destiny of each young worker is conditioned by a number of efforts which must be made by the young workers themselves, so that they may train themselves, unite themselves, and support themselves in order to discover and to achieve together their own proper personal and collective mission in the uplifting and deproletarisation of the working class of the world. This personal and collective effort is especially necessary from 14-25 years, from school to marriage; before that time it is impossible; afterwards it is too late. It must coincide with the age at which human beings become persons.

2. This effort of the young workers in the discovery and achievement of their mission and the development of their personality, instead of being directed toward an individual trend, must be done from the inside, for the transformation of the environments of life, by those who belong to those environments of life, efforts of the young workers, to establish justice and charity in their environment of life; efforts to animate and develop the workers movement; efforts to create a human and Christian atmosphere in these environments of life, and thus make them more suited to their providential destiny.

3. This effort of working youth for its personal education and the transformation of the environments of life, demands and creates the reforms in social, economic, political, and cultural institutions; it is the condition and the guarantee of the success of those reforms. The latter are most urgent and necessary in a society which needs to learn how to respect the dignity of human personality in each young worker, without distinction of class, nationality, religion or race, and which has to seek to create a real and efficacious collaboration within the world of work, on the national and international plane.

These “external” reforms will be all the more efficacious if they are based at the same time on the efforts at self-education of the young workers themselves, who are trying to assume their own responsibilities toward their environment. Without that realisation by youth and the working class of their dignity and responsibility, all external reforms will be insufficient to solve the working class problems.

b. The YCW aims at achieving this organised effort of the young workers themselves who “between themselves, by themselves, and for themselves” are trained and exercised with a view to a permanent apostolate in the working class movement and in view of the uplifting of the working class which will remove proletarian conditions from the world.

5. The Church must inspire, guide and sustain the organised effort of the young workers, which must teach them and help them to achieve not only their personal vocation, but also their apostolate within the working class and the working class movement, for the total rechristianisation of their life, their environment of life, and their institutions of life.

The State, public institutions, and private organisations must support the organised effort of the young workers and assist an effective collaboration for the training and protection of working youth.


Joseph Cardijn, The doctrinal foundations of the YCW and its essential characteristics

Joseph Cardijn, The three truths