“Let us do ever so little for God”

It was a scene in the Bear Grylls interview with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that popped into my mind as I listened to a recording of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s talk on “The workman and his family,” given in Ballarat during his visit to Australia in 1966: “We do not reflect enough on the dignity, on the value, on the honour of work and of the worker. The cleaner of the street must be respected because without cleaners there will be accidents. There will be more and more disorder. The cleaner of the street helps society and so does each worker.” As I watched Bear Grylls walking with the President, I noticed someone clearing snow from the path. A simple job, but so important because it helped to create a sense of normality in the war zone. The street cleaner’s simple task contributed to the hope for peace in Ukraine. 

When the interdependence of people in society is valued, then the dignity of each person is affirmed and celebrated. Speaking about the ordinary acts of every day in his 1949 Godinne lecture series The young worker faces life, Cardijn said: “Each one must play their part, and each one must do so as a person by knowing its value and by understanding its importance. No one can do it instead of them, just as no one can eat in his place. Each one is indispensable.” As I watched the street cleaner in Kyiv carefully scoop up a small mound of snow and deposit it in the garden beside the path, I realised how important small actions are in keeping hope alive. A small piece in a large puzzle, yet without it, the picture will be incomplete. 

I believe that the human and the divine meet in small actions carried out for the glory of God. Fr Joseph Cardijn put it better in the first of his 1949 Godinne lectures when he said: “… the young worker’s role is not only human it is also divine. Each one takes the place of God; he is the image of God; he is like an agent or representative of God.” Approached with this view in mind and heart, every person’s action is a piece in a puzzle depicting the Kingdom of God. And I am taken back to 1952, when I learned through memorising the catechism questions and answers given to me by my teacher: God made me to know him, love him and serve him here on earth, and to be happy with him forever in heaven.  

Jesus’ parable about the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) is the Gospel reading for Monday of the First Week of Lent. Its theme is found in Jesus’ declaration: “… in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (vs 40). Blessed Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers, must have modelled his life on this saying of Jesus. He wrote in a letter to one of his friends: “Let us do ever so little for God….” It is in the little things that we can do for others that we will experience the eternal in the temporal. Whatever it is that we do today, let it be done for the glory of God because when we act in this way, we are God’s co-workers and it is for this that he created us. 


War Zone: Bear Grylls meets President Zelensky

The workman and his family – Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s speech given to a gathering during the Christian Social Week in Ballarat, Australia in 1966.

The young worker faces life – Fr Joseph Cardijn’s Godinne lectures, 1949

The life of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844)

The art of accompaniment with fellow workers

Pope St John Paul II published his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), on the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum (1891). He defined work as “any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances.” Work, then, has two dimensions: the subjective dimension, that is, those who engage in work; and the objective dimension, which is the type of work in which people engage. Pope St John Paul II outlines in his letter the principles by which the dignity of the worker is celebrated. One key principle is “the concrete reality of the worker, takes precedence over the objective dimension” (LE, 10). One aspect of the reality of the worker is the dominance of the objective dimension of work, thereby “depriving man of his dignity and inalienable rights or reducing them”.

Fr Joseph Cardijn was a priest and a sociologist. He gathered evidence of the imbalance between the subjective and objective dimensions of work. The romantic in me wants to create an image of Cardijn and Wojtyla swapping notes on this aspect of the mission of the Church in the shadows of Vatican II. Cardijn gave a series of lectures in 1948 around the theme of “the hour of the working class” and in his second lecture, he gives the theological justification for the development of a movement to promote the dignity and rights of all workers. He said: “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 those who misuse a working man or woman: They are misusing God.” So from his perspective, and also from St John Paul II’s perspective, the Church needs people working together – the Pope called them “movements of solidarity” (LE, 8) – to help workers recognise, accept and celebrate their reality as children of God. 

It is clear from the problems in society that there is an imbalance between the first and second dimensions of work. It is as if people no longer believe in the divine mission of all workers. The movement founded by Cardijn, which many refer to as the YCW, existed to lead workers to a realisation of their divine mission. The Gospel reading for Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time is pertinent to this reflection. Mark gives an account of Jesus summoning those he wanted to help him with his mission to preach and to heal (Mark 3:13-19). Mark tells us that “he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions …” We know these twelve as the apostles, the ones who were sent out into the world (with the exception of Judas who betrayed Jesus). In the twentieth century, Cardijn referred to the leaders in the movement he founded for young workers as “working-class apostles.” What is there to stop us from thinking of young workers today as potentially apostles to those who work.

The work of preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom, involves restoring the balance between the subjective dimension and the objective dimension of work. There are so many areas of work in society where the imbalance exists, that choosing an action towards bringing about change seems overwhelming. But God does not accept that the change is impossible, because the change represents the triumph of good over evil. Therefore, to ensure that even the smallest action towards restoring the balance needs to be carried out with the support of others.


Greg Lopez and Pat Branson

Read more

Joseph Cardijn, The hour of the working class – Lecture 2 – The Church and the workers. Joseph Cardijn Digital Library.

Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Poverty in Australia (2022)

Mass Readings 20 January 2023 (USCCB)


Source: Wikipedia