Family, Parish, School: When people don’t let God

What happens when we don’t let go and let God? I was listening to a group member express his concern that there are teachers of religious education in Catholic schools who do not believe what the Church teaches about some moral issues. He mentioned abortion in his contribution to the review that was being conducted. There are many involved in Catholic education who would agree with him, but for every teacher who would argue that they don’t have to believe what the Church teaches, they only have to teach it, there are many who live with God and share that life with their students. Yet, there still exists a problem in the Church of people who do not let God lead them. That is why we need apostles in our schools as much as we need them in other places of work. 

Cardijn reflected on the role of parents as the primary educators of their children and of the responsibility of teachers in schools to be places “where you learn to live and to love in line with the education that mothers and fathers are responsible for giving to their children.” He knew only too well that this was an expression of the ideal. Earlier in the talk on formation and education he gave as part of the 1950 Godinne lecture series on Person, Family and Education, he acknowledged that many parents had not been prepared well for their responsibilities as the first educators of their children. He also acknowledged the difficulties created by teachers who were not formed in the faith that parents sought to pass on to their children. Moreover, then as now, there are teachers in schools who reject the faith as being integral to a fully human life. 

Clearly, from a perspective of faith, those who work in Catholic schools are duty bound to support parents who want to bring up their children in the faith. And where that happens the trinity of family-parish-school is marked by peace and happiness. Children are able to mature in faith. St Luke provides us with an image of the childhood of Jesus, who grew up in the safety of this trinity of faith (Luke 2:40). 

Today, February 10, is the Feast of St Scholastica, the twin sister of St Benedict. The Gospel for today (Luke 10:38-42) is pertinent to this reflection. Luke takes us into the home of Martha and Mary. Martha is all action, the model for hospitality workers. Mary is criticised by her sister for not helping out with the meal preparation. Instead, she sits and listens to Jesus, who reminds Martha of the importance of prayerful reflection in a life dedicated to spreading the Good News. How does this apply to Catholic schools? In a research project I undertook in 2021, I learned from Catholic school staff I interviewed that they are “time poor,” meaning that some were too busy with their work to take time to reflect and pray. That might be true, but it is also true that they have lost focus. 

So, what has to change? How do we encourage those who work in our schools to focus on and share their faith so that more will come to experience and appreciate the presence of God in their lives and in their schools? A recent experience of a YCW meeting has shown me the importance of listening to people’s experiences of being taught in a Catholic school and of the need for teachers to listen to one another. Likewise, the stakeholders in Catholic education need to sit and listen with prayerful hearts and minds rather than simply sending out surveys to be completed and using the data to make decisions regarding the type of education to be delivered. 


Pat Branson


Person, Family and Education – the 1950 Godinne Lecture series given by Fr Joseph Cardijn: Lecture 3 – “Formation and education”

Let go and let God …

Yesterday’s reflection focused on the parish and the young worker, indeed a timely reflection for me. I have been reading some of the stories told through the government report on the underpayment of workers in Australia and it has left me distressed. The committee behind the report gathered evidence from around Australia, including evidence of the underpayment of young workers. One regional organisation reported that 65% of the young workers being assisted by them reported wage theft issues impacting their lives. 

A young worker’s life is about more than just the wage they are paid. In yesterday’s reflection, a quote from a talk given by Fr Joseph Cardijn highlighted “the dangers to which they [young workers] are exposed” and he named areas of their lives where they are tempted to be less than themselves. Cardijn said on another occasion, “Left to themselves, young workers cannot possibly recognise their own dignity and fulfil their mission. They are incapable of understanding it with no one to help them, form them and uphold them.”

When I think about the young workers I see at Mass every Sunday evening, I wonder, “What does my parish do to help them, form them and uphold them? Our parish priest has invited them to form a young adults group. Some have responded to the invitation. And some have undertaken to be leaders in the youth group that meets after the evening Mass every other Sunday. This is an action that has flowed from the group that has been formed by him.

Cardijn committed his life to accompanying young workers and training young leaders as apostles to the workers. His faith in Jesus motivated him and he sought to communicate with young people about the centrality of Jesus in their vocation as workers. He said of them in the first lecture of the 1949 Godinne series of lectures, that “they are not criminals sentenced to a life of servitude, but the sons and daughters of God who have a magnificent, sacred, divine mission in their life and work.” I hope this is the message the young in our parish hear from our priest. 

The Gospel reading for today’s Mass (Mark 7:24-30) presents us with a story about the power of faith in Jesus. A Syrophoenician woman appeals to Jesus to save her daughter. The story seems to focus on the verbal jousting that goes on between Jesus and the woman. I think Mark was inspired to write about “faith without borders.” God is passionate about everyone and he invites each into a relationship that is both human and divine. The distressed woman was responding to that invitation from the depths of her despair. She knew that she had to “let go and let God” be creator, redeemer and saviour. Jesus recognised this in the woman’s appeal and he told her to go home to her daughter who had been healed. 

God is present in our world and is engaged in the work of overcoming the power of evil. The temporal destiny of all workers is a life lived in the presence of God, a life marked by productivity and the joy of contributing to the wellbeing of others. This cannot be achieved without God. To act without God is to slow the progress of the triumph of good over evil. God intends us to act in ways that, upon reflection in the spirit of the Creator, we can say, “And it was good.” 

When I continue with my reading of the report into the underpayment of workers in Australia, I will look for signs of the presence of God and be thankful for the work being done to overcome evil. Being thankful in prayer; expressing appreciation for the work of those who participate in God’s work of completing creation through acts of restorative justice; and responding as God’s instruments of salvation to the needs of people around us: these are actions that we can all undertake each day as we work in God’s presence.


Pat Branson

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The Senate Economics References Committee – Unlawful underpayment of employees’ remuneration

The young worker faces life – The 1949 Godinne series of lectures

Workers called to be apostles

In a Christian context, an apostle is someone who is sent to deliver God’s good news to people so that they can find in God the source of light and life they need. I spent more than twenty years being educated in a school named after St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) who was referred to as the “Apostle of Our Difficult Age” by one of his biographers. He dedicated his life to providing spiritual sustenance to people in Poland and Japan. Well, the difficult age is still with us and so are the apostles. 

Fr Joseph Cardijn (1882-1967), a contemporary of Fr Maximilian Kolbe, referred to young workers, whom he formed in faith, as apostles. They spread the good news by word and example and he considered them to be indispensable in the Church’s mission to evangelise the world. Cardijn gave a series of lectures in 1948, which he titled The Young Worker Faces Life. In the first lecture, he established the place of apostles in the life of the young worker and in the Church: 

“In everyday life and its environment, the Church and Our Lord need what the Pope calls the principal and immediate apostles of the workers. There is a chain of apostles: the immediate neighbour, close at hand; the foreman and adult workers; then parents, priests, bishops, and the Pope. The chain is the means by which the divine influence is exercised on each young worker. Break the chain, and almighty God becomes, as it were, powerless.”

Regrettably, the chain has been broken. Was it ever unbroken? Clearly, for Cardijn, there were experiences of the apostolic action of the young workers he formed in faith. The coming of the Holy Spirit empowers people to embrace an apostolic life. Witness the chain in its Gospel incarnation, celebrated in the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Luke 2:22-40). The prophet Simeon gives the response of one who has been visited by the apostles we know as Mary and Joseph. In their presence, he acknowledges gratefully the generosity of God made visible in the infant Jesus. “My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see.” They had come to the Temple to offer their son Jesus to God. Luke’s summary of the life of Jesus in Nazareth is the fruit of all apostolic activity: “… the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was with him”.

We are called to be apostles of our age, in quiet ways, giving silent witness to the presence of God in our world and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And like the saints I have tried to honour here, our first and constant action that God encourages in us is prayer: God invites us into a prayerful relationship with the Holy Trinity, the model family. How, then, do we include others in actions flowing from prayer? And what actions can we undertake to draw people into considering a relationship with God? 


Pat Branson


The Young Worker Faces Life – the Godinne 1948 series of lectures by Fr Joseph Cardijn 

Brothers and Sisters All in Transforming the World

Emotions can be powerful forces of destruction. Our news media is filled with stories of people who wreak havoc on society when emotions are not directed appropriately. St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), whose feast was celebrated on January 28, highlighted the impact of the emotion of desire when it dominates a person’s life. The saint identified wealth, power, pleasure and honour as categories of addictive desire. Those whose lives are ruled by their addiction to power, wealth, pleasure and honour, create injustice in our society. 

Fr Joseph Cardijn was well aware of the impact of addictive desires on society. He identified the development of technology as transformative, but drew attention to the negative effects of such development on society. In his keynote address to the delegates gathered in Rome for the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, in October, 1951, Cardijn outlined the positive and negative effects of the transformation of society because of technology. The unequal distribution of technological advances globally “pose problems of responsibility, of equity, of social justice, and, above all, problems of education and formation.” 

The injustices that Cardijn identified in society in the first half of the twentieth century can be found in our world today, despite the further advances in technology. In his letter Fratelli Tutti (2020), Pope Francis tells us that the struggle for justice and peace has to be taken up by each generation and renewed each day. The proactive attitude of the apostles, of Joseph Cardijn, of Pope Francis and of all the saints is what Jesus expects of his disciples. 

The Gospel for the Mass of today recounts the story from Mark’s Gospel (5:1-20) about the man possessed by evil spirits and banished from his community. The evil spirits felt at home in the district in which the man lived. Jesus provides a creative solution. He drives the spirits out of the man and into a herd of pigs tended by Jews living in the area. The pigs drown in the lake and the townspeople ask Jesus to leave the territory. When Jesus’ disciples work together to restore justice, Jesus stands in solidarity with them, even when they experience failure. 

There is within each one of us the desire for peace and justice, the desire for unity, the desire to love one another and to be loved. Pope Francis calls us to action, but not to individualism. Cardijn worked with young lay people to found a movement to work for the coming of God’s kingdom. Who works today to counter the work of those who seek to consolidate their power and wealth at the expense of those who are powerless? What can we do to help them in their work? 


Pat Branson


Keynote Address, World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, 1951

Pope Francis (2020). Fratelli Tutti 

Readings for Mass for Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1

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

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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 



Making the love of God visible in Catholic schools 

“Our school’s mission? Well, to turn out well-rounded responsible citizens who will help to make the world a better place for others.” He was a teacher in a Catholic secondary school. He was also a participant in a study of the perceptions of school staff of their school’s mission. His view of his school’s mission did not differ substantially from the views of others who were interviewed. Their perceptions of the mission of a Catholic school focused entirely on the temporal work of the school. If they had ever thought of the divine destiny of everyone associated with their school, they did not allude to it. Clearly, it was not a priority. Yet, their dedication to the well-being of the young people in their care, their acceptance of the importance of celebrating Mass with their students, and their commitment to developing their students’ abilities to think for themselves and to be generous with their time and talents was both humbling and inspiring. 

Cardijn was not satisfied with the good that people did. He dedicated his whole life to educating young workers as leaders in the workplace. He focused on helping them deepen their understanding of the purpose of life as both a temporal and eternal reality. He spells out the relationship between the temporal and eternal destiny of each person in his teaching about the three truths: “The eternal destiny of each human being is incarnate, develops, and is achieved in temporal life always and everywhere – on earth as it is in heaven.” Surely such teaching would distinguish Catholic schools from those established by the State … if it is an integral part of the stated mission of the Catholic school. 

When I was about six years old, I was given a small catechism. I still remember learning that “God made me to know him, love him and serve him here on earth and to be happy with him forever in heaven.” The belief that the eternal is incarnated in the temporal is not part of the perception of the mission of the Catholic school shared with the interviewer in the research project. Yet it was clear to the interviewer that understanding of the purpose of education the staff members shared was more than the secular mission of a school. Theirs was focused on relationships, on modelling loving service of those in need, like the Good Samaritan, without making much of the analysis of why they did things and gave so much of themselves. 

Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales, a French bishop and doctor of the Church, who focused on the spiritual needs of lay people. The Gospel reading chosen to celebrate his feast day, has been taken from John’s Gospel (15:9-17). Jesus tells his disciples: “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” He commissioned his followers to “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The staff members who were interviewed placed great store on meeting up with ex-students who reported on the value they placed in the care taken of them while they were at school and their hope that what they had achieved would reflect their gratitude. Surely in this there are the seeds of the incarnation of the eternal destiny of all people. 

Cardijn’s belief that the eternal is incarnated in the temporal destiny of every person was shared with YCW leaders in a lecture he gave about eleven years before I was born. It is a blessing that I was given the opportunity to embrace this belief as a child with a child’s understanding of the temporal and the eternal. Surely, this should be the same for everyone. And to make it a reality, those who lead in Catholic schools need to recognise the belief in their own lives and articulate the mission of their school in ways that acknowledge the belief. Then they will know that they have acted on Jesus’ command “to love one another.”


Pat Branson




The Three Truths (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

The art of accompaniment with priests and religious

Have you ever sung “Companions on the Journey,” which was written by Carey Landry? It’s one song I dread singing at Mass. The only redeeming feature of the song is the message it conveys, albeit, poorly. As a lay person, I break bread and share life with other lay people and with priests and religious … and I am blessed. Yes, blessed by the presence of many beautiful men and women, priests, brothers and nuns, who have accompanied me in my journey through life. It is the still fresh memory of one priest’s sharing with me on the phone the other day that illustrates for me the importance of lay people sharing their lives with priests and religious who are lifted up and inspired to keep serving God through serving God’s people. Listening is a critical skill in the art of accompaniment. Active listening, yes, but really, it is listening with the heart for the sound of the Holy Spirit at work. And as I listened to him, we both recognised the signs of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of people he served in his parish. Without knowing it, they accompanied us, priest and lay person, in our desire for union with God. 

In his reflection on the role of the priest in YCW, Cardijn noted: “It is a difficult, slow task which demands patience and perseverance in facing disappointment and failure and a readiness to give up a great deal. The chaplain must be the youngest among the working youth; the youngest in faith, hope and charity; the youngest in enthusiasm and optimism.” The priest is not a lay person. The work of the lay apostolate remains the work of the laity. The priest, however, places himself at the service of the lay apostles and is there to give the Church’s guidance and blessing. In the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis), which was promulgated prior to the close of Vatican II, we are told that priests “would be powerless to serve men if they remained aloof from their life and circumstances” (PO, 3).

The Gospel reading for today is short (Mark 3:20-21) yet relevant to the issue of the accompaniment of priests and religious by the laity, which is reciprocated. Mark tells us that Jesus went home, and so many people gathered at his home, hungering for his presence in their lives, and he made room for them in his life and his home. Jesus’ relatives thought that he was crazy. Clearly, they had no understanding or appreciation of his mission. In one sense, the Gospel scene is so unlike our Australian society, which was once predominantly Christian, but is now marked by a lack of commitment to Jesus. Across Australia, about 11% of Catholics go to Mass regularly. If they meet Jesus in their daily lives, it is likely that they do not recognise him in the Eucharist. In this country alone, there is a real need for the Emmaus Walk to be lived out millions of times in people’s lives.

For those of us who attempt to “practise” our faith in ways that include priests and religious, what is there that we can do to grow in faith through accompanying others, particularly those who are priests, or members of religious orders or congregations? One starting point might be one’s examination of conscience: What have I done today or recently to show my appreciation for the presence of my parish priest in my life? When was the last time I shared with him my hopes for a world united in faith at home with Jesus? How do I show the religious I know that I appreciate the part they play in my life and the part I play in their lives? And when was the last time I expressed my appreciation for them sharing their lives with me? It will be by small steps and sharing the experience with others that change will happen. 

By Greg Lopez and Pat Branson

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Joseph Cardijn, The priest in the YCW (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

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

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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

A good shepherd looks after the sheep 

Jayne (not her real name) was in Year 12 and eager to do well in her final year of her studies. She was most concerned about her Maths class and feared her results at the end of the year would not reflect her ability in this subject. She was also worried for the others in her class. The problem: their teacher was often absent from the class. The problem: their teacher was also the principal of the school and her administrative duties often drew her away from her teaching. Jayne knew the negative impact on the class of their teacher’s frequent absences. Their requests for help with their Maths seemed to fall on deaf ears. 

Jayne reviewed the situation with her YCS group. If Cardijn had been present in the group, he would have reflected on the problem as one of humanisation, that is, a situation which calls for “permitting and assuring the dignity, the respect, the development of each person, of each family, and of the immense majority of human beings.” In his keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate in Rome, 1951, Cardijn also said that we need to remember that we are not meant to live to work, but to work so that we can live. 

When Jesus restored a blind man’s sight on the Sabbath, the Pharisees carried out an investigation of his action. They were intent on finding evidence that would rid them of his influence on the people. Jesus used the opportunity to speak of himself as the “good shepherd” and that his work is to look after his sheep. He said, “I have come in order that you may have life – life in all its fullness” (John 10:10).

I would like to propose that Fr Joseph Cardijn had Jesus’ revelation in mind when he reflected on the relationship between the worker and work. Moreover, the purpose of work is the good of the other. In the Gospel reading for Mass for Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, Mark tells about the time that Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). His focus is on the life of that man and not on the Sabbath. And isn’t this what Jayne is looking for from her teacher: that she take care of her students who express their need for her help? 

As we look from the sideline, the change in Jayne’s situation that is needed is obvious: that the students have a Maths teacher who teaches them and helps them to learn and experience success. If you were Jayne, what action would you take to achieve this goal? And what did Jayne do? The school she attended was conducted by a religious order and the principal was a member of that order. Jayne wrote to the leadership team of the order and was invited to a meeting about the situation in the school. She attended the meeting and described the impact of not having regular Maths lessons on herself and her peers. At another meeting, the leadership team discussed the situation with the principal and concluded that the school should appoint a Maths teacher and the principal focus on the task of leading the school. Indeed, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and his disciples follow his example. 


Pat Branson

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Joseph Cardijn, The world today and the lay apostolate (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Daily Mass Readings 18 January 2023 (USCCB)


Ted / Flickr / CC BY SA 2.0