“Bear much fruit and … be my disciples.”

I was sitting on the train, waiting to leave the station on the journey home. I noticed an advertising panel on the other side of the carriage. The poster highlighted the service to people with disabilities who travelled on the trains. The image spoke to me of kindness, generosity and encouragement. And I remembered an incident on the train in the recent past, when a passenger alerted the train guards of a medical incident in the carriage. We hadn’t yet left the station. Three guards came and cleaned up the mess. They spent time with the man who had been sick. They accompanied him for the next two stations and were replaced by other guards. And the man who reported his medical incident stayed with him, too, until he had to leave the train. 

There are so many stories about Good Samaritans in our society and of groups and organisations committed to help the needy, so why do our governments pass laws to allow for abortion and euthanasia? Which narratives do they use and which values do they promote to shape our culture? What sort of mind does it take to seek to help the needy and then support people to deny the unborn the right to live and the terminally ill to end their lives at a time of their choosing?

The Christian ethic is pro-life and is founded on the belief that all people are created in God’s image. Fr Joseph Cardijn delivered the 1949 Godinne lecture series. In his third lecture, titled “The Mystery of Vocation,” he said: “We must bear witness to Christ, not by words only, not by some deeds only, but by the whole of our life. by our generosity and charity in all the acts of our life. As was said above, all the acts of our daily life are completely changed once they have become apostolic acts. We bear witness to Christ in all the actions of the day, witness to His charity and generosity, to His desire to save people.” Cardijn emphasises the totality of the Christian’s commitment to Christ. 

Today is the feast of St Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, who lived in the eleventh century. A humble man, he shared what he had with the poor. He lived a life of penance and prayer. Like Cardijn, he believed that God gifts people with their vocation to live apostolic lives, bearing witness to the love of Christ for all people. In the Gospel reading for Mass in St Peter Damian’s memory, Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:1-8). Those who seek to be in union with him will bear fruit. 

If Jesus’ image of the vine and branches was the dominant narrative of our culture, then our focus as a nation would be the good of all not only now but also in the future. Cardijn emphasises actions that are generous and charitable, that is, actions that reflect the love of God for all of creation. These are actions that unite rather than divide, such as the actions of that Good Samaritan on the train, who, like his model in Jesus’ parable, stayed with the sick man until it was time to move on. And St Peter Damian reminds us that such charitable deeds need to come from a life lived in God’s presence, that is, a life of prayer. As Jesus tells us, “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples” (John 15:8).  


Pat Branson


The young person faces life – the 1949 Godinne lecture series delivered by Fr Joseph Cardijn 

The Church, the Young and Mission

Why is it that in my seventies I am still playing guitar and singing at Mass, whereas young people a fifth of my age give up, throw in the towel, and retreat from the commitment? Is this a feature of teenagers down under: afraid of commitment to something that most of their peers reject? If they stop singing, will they stop coming to Mass? There is every likelihood that they will. Our Catholic faith is lived partly through our participation in rituals that keep us connected with God. 

The situation I am experiencing is not new. When he was a young teenager, Cardinal Joseph Cardijn experienced the trauma of his peers’ rejection of the Church and of him because he was being faithful to the Church. Biographers Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert described the experience in their account of Cardijn’s life and work: “He knew they had been good boys and keen pupils and see them now: rebellious, anti-clerical, morally vicious, sometimes they themselves corrupters of others. “It was like a knife in my heart,” he used to say later. Seventy years after those holidays, we can see in that experience the source of all Joseph Cardijn’s work.”

It is certainly my hope that all young people be actively involved in the Church. Cardijn’s vision of that involvement focuses on its apostolic character. In his keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, in Rome, 1951, he said, “Each Christian, each Catholic, by his or her Baptism, must be an apostle and a missionary – he has an apostolic and missionary vocation. Each one is called by God to Existence, to life, and to a collaboration in His creative and redemptive work. The earthly vocation is an apostolic and missionary vocation.”

Young people are called to be apostles, not in the way St Paul was called – today is the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul – but called like him to “go out to the whole world: proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:15). When young people make use of the symbols the Church has used from the first Pentecost, their relationship with God will grow and develop. They will find themselves inspired to use their gifts and talents to fulfil their part in the mission given them in Baptism. 

The change was described by Cardijn in the following way: “an incarnate apostolate, adapted to the needs and the problems of this new world.” Even though Cardijn was referring to the world in the middle of the last century, our world today could be referred to as “new,” just as the Church refers today to evangelisation as “new”. What can be done to draw young people into the life of the Church? How can others be involved in carrying out the action? 


Pat Branson

Read more 

Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert with the collaboration of Roger Aubert, (Preface Dom Helder Camara) (English Translation Edward Mitchinson), Cardijn. – JCDL Library 

The world today and the apostolate of the laity – JCDL Library