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The Soul Of The Apostolate

But now the extrovert, in search of arguments against the interior life, will complain: how can I dare to curtail my active works? Can I possibly do too much, when the salvation of souls is at stake? Do I not make up for everything in my activity, and amply too, by my sublime self-sacrifice? Work is prayer. Sacrifice excels prayer. And does not St. Gregory call the zeal for souls the most pleasing sacrifice anyone could offer to God? Nullum sacrificium est Deo magis acceptum quam zelus animarum? (Hom. 12, in Ezech.)

First of all, let us fix the exact sense of St. Gregory’s words, in the terms of the Angelic Doctor. “To offer sacrifice spiritually to God,” he says, “is to offer Him something that gives Him glory.” Now of all goods, the most pleasing that man can offer to God is, undeniably, the salvation of a soul. But every one must first offer his own soul, according to what is said in Scripture: ‘If you wish to please God, have pity on your own soul.’ When this first sacrifice has been consummated, then will it be permitted us to procure the same joy for others. The more closely a man unites first his own soul, and then that of another, to God, the more acceptable is his sacrifice. But this intimate and generous, as well as humble union, can only be effected by prayer. To apply oneself to a life of prayer, or to lead others to give themselves to it, is, therefore, more pleasing to God than to devote oneself to activity and good works, and lead others to practice these. “And so,” the Angelic Doctor concludes, “when St. Gregory affirms that the most pleasing sacrifice to God is the salvation of souls, he does not mean by that to give the active life preference over contemplation, but he is only saying that to offer to God one single soul gives Him infinitely more glory and obtains, for ourselves, much more merit than if we gave Him all that is most precious on this earth.”

St. Thomas Aquinas 2a 2ae, q. 182, a2, ad 3.

The necessity of the interior life is so far from being an obstacle to zealous activity in generous souls, to whom the clearly recognized will of God makes it a duty to accept the responsibility for such works, that it would be the greatest possible mistake for such persons to renounce this work, or give themselves to it halfheartedly, or even desert the field of battle under pretext of taking greater care of their souls and arriving at a more perfect union with God. In some cases, such a course would lead to grave danger. “Woe unto me,” says St. Paul, “if I preach not the Gospel.”

Cor. 9:16.

Once this reservation has been made, however, we must at once add that it would be an even greater mistake to devote oneself to the conversion of souls while forgetting one’s own salvation. God wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but never more than ourselves, that is, never to such an extent that we harm our own souls. And in practice, this is as much as if He demanded that we take more care of our own soul than of those others, since our zeal must be regulated by charity, and “Prima sibi charitas

Charity for oneself first (Charity begins at home).

is an axiom of theology.

“I love Jesus Christ,” said St. Alphonsus Liguori, “ and that is why I am on fire with the desire to give Him souls, first of all my own, and then an incalculable number of others.” This is a practical application of St. Bernard’s Tuus esto ubique

“In all places, belong to yourself.”

and that other principle of the holy abbot of Clairvaux: “No man is truly wise, who is not wise for himself.”

Non, ergo sapiens, qui sibi non est (St. Bernard, De Consideratione, ii:3).

St. Bernard, who was himself a rare miracle of apostolic zeal, followed this rule. Geoffrey of Auxerre, his secretary, depicts him as: Totus primum sibi et sic totus omnibus. “He belonged, first of all, entirely to himself, and thus he belonged entirely to all men.”

Gaufridus, Vita Bernardi.

“I do not tell you,” writes the same saint to Pope Bl. Eugenius III, “to withdraw completely from secular operations. I only exhort you not to throw yourself entirely into them. If you are a man belonging to everybody, belong also to yourself. Otherwise what good would it do you to save everybody else, if you were to be lost yourself? Keep something, then, for yourself, and if everyone comes to drink at your fountain, do not deprive yourself of drinking there too. What! Must you alone go thirsty? Always begin with the consideration of yourself. It would be vain for you to lavish care upon others, and neglect yourself. May all your reflections, then, begin with yourself, and end, also with yourself. Be, for yourself, the first and last, and remember that in the business of winning salvation, no one is closer to you than your mother’s only son.”

A te tua inchoetur consideratio ne frustra extendaris in alia, te neglecto . . . Tu tibi primus, tu ultimus . . . in acquisitione salutis nemo tibi gerinanior est unico matris tuae (St. Bernard loc. cit.).

Very suggestive is this retreat note of Bishop Dupanloup, of Orleans: “My activities are so crushing that they ruin my health, disturb my piety and yet teach me nothing new. I have got to control them. God has given me the grace to recognize that the big obstacle to my acquiring a peaceful and fruitful interior life is my natural activity, and my tendency to be carried away by my work. And I have recognized, besides, that this lack of interior life is the source of all my faults, all my troubles, my dryness, my fits of disgust, and my bad health.

“I have therefore resolved to direct all my efforts to acquiring this interior life which I so badly need, and I have, with God’s grace, drawn up the following points with that end in view:

“1. I will always take more time than is necessary, to do everything. This is the way to avoid being in a hurry and getting excited.

“2. Since I invariably have more things to do than time in which to do them, and this prospect preoccupies me and gets me all worked up, I will cease to think about all that I have to do, and only consider the time I have at my disposal. I will make use of that time, without losing a moment of it, beginning with the most important duties; and as regards those that may or may not get done, I shall not worry about them.”

A jeweler will prefer the smallest fragment of diamond to several sapphires; and so, in the order established by God, our intimacy with Him gives Him more glory than all possible good, procured by us, for a great number of souls, but to the detriment of our own progress. Our Heavenly Father, “who devotes Himself more to the direction of a soul in which He reigns, than to the natural government of the whole universe and to the civil government of all empires,”

P. Lallamant, Doct. Spirit.

looks for this harmony in our zeal.

He prefers sometimes to let an enterprise go by the board, if He sees it becoming an obstacle to the charity of the soul engaged in it.

But as for Satan, he, on the contrary, does not hesitate to encourage a purely superficial success, if he can by this success prevent the apostle from making progress in the interior life: so clearly does his rage guess what it is Our Lord values most highly. To get rid of a diamond, he is quite willing to allow us a few sapphires.








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