The young worker faces life
What makes a leader? It is not an empty title bestowed on a young worker nor is it merely an office. Being a leader is a quality and an aptitude. A leader is a young worker who has come to understand the enormous responsibility he has in life with regard to his fellows. He has an influence on other young workers. It is he who brings the Y.C.W. into being; he is the first Y.C.W.
The leader breaks new ground; he is a pioneer. It is he who starts making visits, selling the paper, recruiting, collecting subscriptions, and contacting other young workers wherever he happens to be. He has understood, and better than most, what can and must be done with other young workers, and he wants to win them.
Being a leader is a quality and an aptitude-quite often a natural gift and aptitude. In any house or street, bus or train, there is usually one lad who rules the roost, who is the life and soul of the party, who attracts others, at whose house they naturally meet, to whom they all look, who carries them all along with him. He is a born leader, with certain gifts, with more dash and go, who always takes the initiative and leads the others.
Many a young worker has a wealth of character and driving force. He must make something of it, either for good or for evil. If he is attracted in the first place by Communism, the cinema, or the dance hall, he is lost to the Church and the working class; but if only a priest, a teacher, or a fellowworker can attract him and get him into a movement, then he becomes a leader, a responsible person, who starts things and keeps things going, who inspires, who carries others along. Once he is won, it is necessary to supernaturalise his natural gifts and turn them into an apostolic force.
This is what happened with all those who did anything great for the Church. Saint Paul would have been a gangster, the greatest enemy of the Church, if Our Lord had not seized him and thrown him to the ground. He became Our Lord’s revolutionary. He had in him a driving force, a wealth of character, which he put to the service of Christ and the apostolate.
The Church and the Y.C.W. need leaders, and on a worldwide scale. If that is not appreciated today, the Church is lost. However many priests and monks and nuns there are, if they do not understand the need of forming these indispensable leaders, the Church is lost. Inevitably, these leaders hold in their hands the future of the Church.
First, they are needed in all the phases of life: in all environments; in all the problems of life; at all times of the day, in leisure and at work; for all ages, from youngsters leaving school to young workers preparing for marriage. They must be at work in their own homes and in non-Christian homes, in hospitals and sanatoria. They must be at work in the pagan surroundings of the workingman’s life-just those places where the priest cannot penetrate. Because they are young workers, they can penetrate the factory, the mine, or the family. They are the carriers of Christ. Our Lord will enter those places only through them, because He has no other means of penetration.
Secondly, leaders must be at work in and for all the Y.C.W. activity, in all its services, and its meetings.
It is not enough for the secretary to send out written, invitations to a meeting. A leader must go from district to district, to the homes of the young workers. He must persuade them to come with him for friendships sake. At the meeting he will introduce them to the others and look after them. After the meeting he will go back home with them, discussing what happened. At their homes, he will meet their people.
No Y.C.W. activity, no meeting, no service, can have any results without leaders.
Thirdly, there must be leaders’ teams. Young workers cannot be left to themselves. The leader forms a team with three or four young workers in a district, or a train, or at work ; a team for leisure, or for visiting, or for looking after the sick, or for the district. The true leader never remains alone. Woe betide him if he does ! He has to form a team, a Y.C.W. cell, or nucleus; a little community in which each knows the other-is not afraid to talk. They meet at the leader’s house, or somewhere else, and prepare their plans for visiting, for selling the paper, for meetings, for the Easter Campaign.
The members work as a team, under the affectionate, brotherly responsibility of a leader. This leader is a friend and companion, not someone giving orders; he is not a stranger, but a worker like themselves, who knows their lives and their difficulties.
So they live and act as a team ; not a closed group, but an open and apostolic group, in contact with others to win others. As a team, they discuss their district, and their work, all the facts they come across. As in Y.C.W. activity, so in life, they live and work as a team, set in motion, moved, inspired, by a leader.
Leaders do not grow like mushrooms-they must be formed. Their formation must be constantly intensified and deepened. There must be incessant search for the best means of forming them. Being a leader becomes more difficult every day ; but it is not less necessary, because it is more difficult. On the contrary, it is more necessary, because it becomes more difficult.
They are formed first of all by getting them to act, giving them small responsibilities. It is not necessary to take them apart and then give them a course of doctrine. That is to no purpose. It does not matter what responsibility they are given, provided it is some responsibility. First the action and the responsibility, and only afterwards the talk.
Even so this by itself is not enough. It would be rash to throw someone into the water and hope that he will then learn to swim. If a lad were given responsibility and nothing more, it would not be surprising if he did not persevere, for what had been done to form him?
It is because he is a human being, that his formation is absolutely essential. Animals can be broken in and trained to perform tricks, but human beings are not animals. They have intelligence, and their intelligence must be developed. They must know the purpose of what they are being taught to do and the reason why they have to do it. You can break animals in but not human beings.
For 25 years now under certain political regimes, men, women and children have been broken in rather then educated. The science and technique of taming people has been developed, as never before in history. This is highly dangerous, and to meet it there is only one solution. It is necessary to give not merely a teaching or a doctrine, but a formation, which is quite a different thing. People must be taught to act for love, and freely to suffer and fight for what they are taught. There is no other remedy against the regime of the dictator.
The first means of forming a leader is to have personal contact with him, for personal contact supposes confidence. You form him by conversation and friendship. You speak to him and get him to speak, and see, and reflect. You get his opinion. Leaders are not mass-produced like motor cars, but formed personally, individually, one by one.
There is a Flemish expression, which illustrates the three stages of formation. Voordoen, meedoen, nadoen (to do before, to do with, to do after). Voordoen-one must do the work oneself before asking another to do it ; meedoen-then it is necessary to do it with him ; nadoen-after that one must get the work done by him, but always explaining, helping and supporting him. All formation depends on these three stages.
It is the method a mother uses with her child, or a craftsman with his apprentice.
Meetings of leaders are an essential part of their formation. just as you cannot form individuals simply by action and responsibility alone, so you cannot form leaders simply by the action of one person on another, because they must share their difficulties, learn to lead, to act on others, and to win them. No one works alone in the Church, because all are in the Mystical Body. There is no way of working alone ; it is contrary to Christianity.
There are all kinds of gatherings which go by the name of meetings : study circles, leaders’ meetings, formation meetings, action meetings. Different movements use different words to describe their meetings. In the Y.C.W. there must be real leaders’ meetings in which they learn to undertake responsibilities and to perform action. To do this they must receive a religious and a social doctrine, and, much more than a doctrine, a life.
Hence there is in every leaders’ meeting what we call the review ; the review of action, of influence, of responsibility, of facts. During the review facts and problems are brought up, and then the leaders are given new responsibilities.
Then there is a religious enquiry, but one based on their own life. You do not speak about God, merely for the sake of speaking about God. That might serve seminary students, but not young workers. They need a formation based on life and designed for life.
When I began the Y.C.W. and came to speak about prayer to the first leaders, I did not ask them for a definition of prayer. I said to them : ” I am going to pray with you and in front of you.” I knelt down and said : ” Lord Jesus, we have spoken about so-and-so ; such a thing is not going well ; there are difficulties ; You must help us.” They were surprised.
Sometimes I suggested going into the Church. In the darkness of the evening, I would open the tabernacle and kneel on the steps of the altar. ” Lord, You are there.. You come in the host to me. ” So they began to discover prayer and the Blessed Sacrament for themselves.
Or perhaps I would be preparing for the Mass next day. We would prepare it together. I would ask them if they would care to come to it, and would tell them that they could get round the altar and be priest with me and offer their small hosts side by side with the big host, their sufferings and prayers at the side of Our Lord’s. Thus the first Y.C.W.s learned what the Mass is, simply and concretely. There were never any long discourses from me; they would only have been bored. For them it meant one discovery after another ; and they would come again next day. Such were the first leaders’ meetings, and such are what leaders’ meetings should be.
Leaders must have their Bulletin and Campaign Inquiries, but they need not be slaves to them. On the contrary, they should be adapted to the use of the lads. They are not ends in themselves, but means in the hands of a good leader.
Besides these meetings, leaders should have retreats and days of recollection. Based as they must be on real life, these retreats and days of recollection supernaturalise the lives of the leaders. Through them they discover Our Lord, and learn to love Our Lord.
The priest who conducts the retreat must understand the leaders thoroughly and must adapt himself to them. He must use his insight and judge what must be said, and how it should be said. He must treat them with respect as persons, with due regard for their personality. He must not think he can say anything that comes into his head and talk on and on without attempting to fathom the personalities of the people he is supposed to be forming.
Finally, local meetings are not enough. It is necessary to have regional, national, and international meetings. Leaders must be in contact with those of other countries or other districts. They must feel that they are not alone. They will never persevere, if they are left isolated, with nothing more than local meetings.
For the same reason also, it is necessary to have study weeks for leaders and committee members, and regional councils and regional study days. It might be possible to form individualists without these things, but not Y.C.W leaders who are proud of the regional, national, and international Y.C.W.; who live by the international Y.C.W; who feel that it is more powerful than Communism. To do all this, they must discover it and have contact with it. It is not enough to speak to them about it; they must experience it.
Compare the Y.C.W. with other youth organisations, like scouting, benevolent societies, sports clubs. oral societies,’ dramatic societies. Each one can serve a purpose, but not one of them could take the place of the Y.C.W. Scouting has its points, but it cannot save the working class a scout might possibly become a leader, but never in an international movement of young workers. Although the Y.C.W. in England is not very old, it has already produced a number of leaders for the working class; and Cardinal Griffin, on seeing its work, said. that through it the working class would certainly be saved.
To transform working-class life and environment, there must be responsible people who are leaders of the young workers. The only people who can be truly responsible within working-class life are people who are inside it-i.e. young worker leaders. To solve the great problem of our time, the problem of the world of work, we are forming responsible working-class leaders for the working class. This, an essential characteristic of the Y.C.W., is what the Church wants and needs.
Leaders are the principal and immediate educators of their fellow-workers. Parents, priests, teachers, and employers are not capable of doing this work of education. With the problem so enormous, it is necessary to have educators in life itself. A negative form of education is not enough ; these days you cannot form people by condemning, attacking, and refuting something. It is necessary to have a positive and constructive education which will teach what love is, what work is, the true meaning and value of the family, purity, chastity, marriage, children; what married life should mean, and the education of children and the respect due to them.
Further, an apostolate is necessary – a positive, supernatural influence. The Pope said that we need an active presence, which influences and energises not merely an abstention and an absence. If the Church is not inside the working-class world, the working class will be lost to the world, the working class will be lost to the Church. Some presence is necessary, like leaven in the mass; but the Pope and bishops and priests cannot be inside working life, for they have another and most necessary apostolate. This Christian presence within working class life depends on the leaders. That is why they must be formed.
Pulpit oratory alone will not save the Church, nor will the Mass alone. You must multiply lay apostles in the world, and especially in the working class. Our schools must be seminaries for the production of apostles, not merely for the foreign missions but also for the missions at home which sometimes are more difficult.
Leaders have a work of revolution to accomplish. A revolution means a total change, a radical transformation, but the revolution we plan is for good. It is a much-needed revolution, and it is inevitable. But we must have true revolutionaries; not tub-thumpers who work crowds up and incite them to revolt; not demagogues who carry their audiences away with rhetoric; but people who bring about a revolution by their testimony. Every leader must be such a witness-a sincere, true witness to love, justice, charity and respect for the young worker.
These Christian leaders must be the first to show what changes must be made, the first to respect the purity, the modesty and the dignity of young workers.
It is necessary to have faith in the possibility of making leaders, apostles, and saviours of their fellows at work out of these ordinary working lads and girls. What was it Our Lord said? ” Father Who art Lord of heaven and earth, I give Thee praise that Thou hast hidden all this from the wise and the prudent, and revealed it to the little children. ”
Do you believe it is possible to form these leaders? Then form them. Faith supposes patience and perseverance. It may take a year or years, even a lifetime. The educator must know the young workers and learn to know them better. Like the Good Shepherd, he knows his sheep. If he does not, and they do not know him, there can be no apostolate and no education.
” The harvest is plentiful enough,” Our Lord said. Never has the harvest been greater than it is today, when there are so many millions of souls waiting to be harvested. In Our Lord’s time only the Mediterranean district was known, but now every inch of the world is known. The harvest is indeed plentiful. The international Y.C.W. is faced with the biggest harvest imaginable. We have a task on a worldwide scale; we must have leaders on a worldwide scale.
The harvest is plentiful enough, but the labourers are few.” There are not enough leaders. Our Lord goes on: ” You must ask the Lord to whom the harvest belongs to send labourers out for the harvesting.” Pray that God will send labourers for his working-class harvest, which is nearest, the Heart of Our Lord, among whom He willed to become a worker.