The family: A divine institution

For today’s reflection, I propose to look at the second part of Cardijn’s talk on “The workman and his family” delivered at the Catholic Social Week in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, in February 1966.

Headed “The family – A divine institution,”Cardijn’s talk outlines his vision of the importance of families and family life as the foundation of society, civilisation and even the Church:

We come now to the second theme which is really the first — The Family — the family of the worker and all the families. It is not a human institution. It is a divine institution. We cannot change the foundations of the family. God founded the family. And without the family there can be no society and no civilisation. It is the same as with work. Without work, no family. Without the family, no development of work, and no civilisation. The two are so united that we cannot separate them.

And we must respect all families — all, rich and poor, because all are founded by God. Christ made marriage a sacrament so that all married people would have the divine power, divine courage, divine perseverance to love each other, to respect each other, to remain united with each other. But, once you do not accept the divine character and the divine essence of the family, the family is broken. How many divorces! How many so unhappy families! The victims are always the children, orphans with no parents. Yes, we must have pity and we must he preoccupied also with those who have father and mother separated from each other. They are worse than orphans and are the most miserable on earth. We must see the dignity of the family, the divinity of the family, and we must he brought up with the Christian conception of family and family life.

We must also respect the human and social aspect of the family. The public authority in all the countries of the world must be preoccupied with the welfare of families. We must know about the families and how they exist, and we must come to the government and to the authority and say: “We want a good deal for the family.”

Without the family, there is no social order. There cannot be any progress if the father is a drunkard, and every night lie comes into the family and there is trouble and there is dispute. The boys and girls go away from the family. They arc ashamed of their family. The family should help them. In time we can save them. In time we can reconstitute the family. But first, we must have the right conception of the family.


When the boys and girls have sexual relations, today with one, tomorrow with another, no society it possible. And therefore it is the same as for work. Greater importance must be given to preparation. Bad preparation, bad family. I have had contact with thousands and thousands of families. It is always the same. Bad preparation, bad family, unhappy family, unhappy children, ashamed about their parents. And therefore let us see the importance of preparation.

Boys and girls, 14, 15, 16, 20 years must discover for themselves the importance of the family, the importance of the preparation for marriage and the family life. If the engaged do not respect themselves when they are engaged, they cannot respect themselves when they are married. It is impossible. Boys are often corrupted before marriage because they have no respect for the girl, no respect for conjugal life, no respect for the love between married people. It is not something accessory. It is essential for society and for the Church.

Without Christian families, there is no Church. The priest must come from Christian families — even poor families. My father was poor and he worked so hard that he died aged 53 years. And when l saw the body of my dead father, I said: “Father, you died so that I could become a priest. I will become a priest, and I will give all my life for the voting working people.”

When we understand the dignity of the human person, we will give ourselves not for one year, not for two or three years, but for our whole life. Yes, during our youth we will be in an apostolic movement to prepare ourselves and spread our conception of life in the factories. We are not animals. As we become more and more friendly and gain confidence in each other, there are more and more possibilities in the factories, in the workshops and during leisure.


What are the problems of family life that Cardijn identified? Do families now face the same problems or issues?

Are there new issues that people face today?


Why does Cardijn place so much importance on family and family life?

How does he relate this to Jesus’ teaching?


Is there a small practical action that you could take this week or month to improve life for your family or that of others?


Stefan Gigacz


Joseph Cardijn, The workman and his family (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Cardinal Joseph Cardijn speaks at Catholic Social Week in Ballarat in 1966 in the John Molony collection