Pope Francis met with leaders of the French Specialised Catholic Action movements on 13 January 2022, delivering an important speech in which he reaffirmed the value of the Cardijn see-judge-act and review of life methodology.
Here is his speech:
I greet you all with affection and I thank Archbishop Fonlupt for his kind words. It is a joy for me to receive you on the occasion of your pilgrimage to Rome. Through you, I would also like to greet all the members of the Catholic Action teams in France, and I ask you to assure them of my prayers and my closeness.
It is an old habit for your movements to come and meet the Pope. As early as 1929, my predecessor Pius XI received representatives of Catholic Action and hailed “the renewal and continuation of what was in the first days of Christianity, for the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, (… ) in the cooperation of the laity with the Apostles” in the movement (Audience of June 12, 1929). You have rightly chosen the theme: “Apostles today” for your pilgrimage. I would like to reflect with you on our call to effectively become apostles today, on the basis of the insight given to you by one of the great figures of Catholic Action, Father Cardijn, namely the “review of life”.
When the disciples walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (cf. Lk: 2418-35), they began by remembering the events they had experienced; then they discerned the presence of God in those events; finally, they acted by setting out again to announce the Resurrection of Christ in Jerusalem. See, judge, act: you know these three words well! Let’s take them together.
See. This first stage is essential. It consists in stopping to look at the events that make up our life, which constitute our history as well as our family, cultural and Christian roots. The pedagogy of Catholic Action always begins with a moment of memory, in the strongest sense of the term: an anamnesis, that is to say the fact of understanding with hindsight the meaning of what one is and what was experienced, and to perceive how God was present at every moment.
The fineness and delicacy of the action of the Lord in our lives sometimes prevents us from understanding it at the time, and it takes this distance to grasp its coherence. In the encyclical Fratelli tutti, which your teams have studied, I begin with an inventory of the sometimes worrying situation in our world. It may seem a bit pessimistic, but it is necessary to move forward: “One never progresses without memory, one does not evolve without a complete and luminous memory” (Fratelli tutti, n. 249).
The second step is to judge or, one might say, to discern. This is the moment when we allow ourselves to be questioned and challenged. The key to this stage is recourse to Holy Scripture. It is a matter of allowing our lives to be challenged by the Word of God which, as the Epistle to the Hebrews says, is “living, energetic and sharper than a two-edged sword (…); it judges the intentions and thoughts of the heart” (4:12).
In Fratelli tutti, I chose the parable of the Good Samaritan to question our relationship to the world, to others, and in particular to the poorest. In the encounter between, on the one hand, the events of the world and of our life, and on the other hand, the Word of God, we can discern the Lord’s calls to us.
Through their history, our Catholic Action movements have developed genuine synodal practices, especially in team life which forms the basis of your experience. Our Church has also embarked entirely on a synodal journey, and I am counting on your contribution. Let us remember precisely that synodality is not a simple discussion. It is not an “adjective”. One should never turn the substantiality of life into an adjective.
Synodality is not even the search for majority consensus, that is what a parliament does, as is done in politics. It is not a plan, a program to put in place. No, it is a style to adopt in which the first protagonist is the Holy Spirit who expresses himself first and foremost in the Word of God, read, meditated on and shared together.
Let’s take the concrete image of the cross: it has a vertical arm and a horizontal arm. The horizontal arm is our life, our history, our humanity. The vertical arm is the Lord who comes to visit us through his Word and his Spirit, to give meaning to what we live. To be fixed on the cross of Jesus, as Saint Paul says (cf. Gal 2, 19), is to really accept to put my life under his gaze, to accept this encounter between my poor humanity and his transforming divinity. Please always leave an important place for the Word of God in the life of your teams. Also give a place to prayer, to interiority, to adoration.
We come to our third step: act. The Gospel teaches us that the action, which is in the very name of your movement, should always come from God’s initiative. Saint Mark reports that after the resurrection “the Lord worked with [the Apostles] and confirmed the Word by the signs which accompanied it” (16, 20). Thus, “action belongs to the Lord: it is he who has exclusive rights to it, walking “incognito” in the history we inhabit” (Speech of April 30, 2021 to the members of Italian Catholic Action).
Our role therefore consists in supporting and encouraging the action of God in hearts, by adapting to the reality which is constantly evolving. The people – and I am thinking more particularly of young people – whom your movements reach are not the same as a few years ago. Today, especially in Europe, those who frequent Christian movements are more sceptical of institutions, they seek less binding and more ephemeral relationships.
They are more sensitive to affectivity, and therefore more vulnerable, more fragile than their elders, less rooted in faith, but just as much in search of meaning, truth, and no less generous. It is your mission, as Catholic Action, to join them as they are, to enable them to grow in the love of Christ and neighbour, and to lead them to more concrete commitment so that they become the protagonists of their own lives and the life of the Church, so that the world will be able to change.
Thank you, dear friends, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generous service, which the Church needs more than ever, at this time when I so much hope that everyone will find or rediscover the joy of knowing the friendship of Christ and of announcing the Gospel. Asking you to include me in your prayers, I entrust you, those in charge, as well as all the members of your teams, to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and I give you the Blessing.
Pope Francis, Speech to leaders of Catholic Action movements in France (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)