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The Soul Of The Apostolate

In God is life, all life. He is life itself. Yet it is not by exterior works, by the creation, for instance, that the infinite Being manifests this life in its most intense form, but rather by what theology calls operationes ad intra, by that ineffable activity of which the term is the perpetual generation of the Son and the unceasing procession of the Holy Spirit. Here, preeminently, is His eternal, His essential work.

Let us consider the mortal life of Our Lord, a perfect realization of the divine plan. Thirty years of recollection and solitude, then forty days of retreat and penance are the prelude to His brief evangelical career. How often, too, during His apostolic journeys, we see Him retiring to the mountains or the desert to pray: “He retired into the desert and prayed,”

Secedebat in desertum et orabat (Luc. 5:16).

or passing the night in prayer: “He passed the whole night in the prayer of God.”

Pernoctans oratione Dei (Luc. 6:12).

Still more striking is the example of Our Lord’s reply to Martha who, desiring Jesus to condemn the supposed laziness of her sister, meant that He should proclaim the superiority of the active life. But Jesus said: “Mary hath chosen the better part,”

Maria optimam partem clegit (Luc. 10:42).

a reply which definitely establishes the pre-eminence of the interior life. What is to be concluded from this, if not that it was His express intention to show us, in this way, the superiority of the life of prayer over the life of action?

After the Master, the Apostles, faithful to His example, take upon themselves, first of all the duty of prayer; and then, after that, in order to devote themselves to their preaching ministry, they leave to the deacons all other, more external, duties. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Nos vero orationi et ministerio verbi instantes erimus (Acts 6:4).

In their turn, Popes, holy doctors of the Church, and theologians affirm that the interior life is, of itself, superior to the active life.

Not many years ago a woman of faith, of virtue, and of great character, superior general of one of the most important teaching congregations in the Aveyron district of central France, was invited by her superiors to consent to the secularization of her nuns.

What should they do: sacrifice the religious life in order to continue teaching, or abandon their active work in order to keep their status as religious? Perplexed, and not knowing how to find out what was God’s will in the matter, she left secretly for Rome, was granted an audience with Leo XIII, and placed before him her doubts, explaining what great pressure was being put upon her, in favor of active works.

The venerable pontiff, after a few moments of recollection, gave her this categorical reply: “Before everything else, before any kind of work, keep the religious life for those of your daughters who really possess the spirit of their holy state, and who really love the life of prayer. And if you cannot keep both your life of prayer and your active work, God will find a way to raise up other workers, in France, if they are necessary. As for you, by your interior life, above all by your prayers and sacrifices, you will be more useful to France by remaining true religious, although exiled from her, than you would by staying in your native land, though deprived of the treasure of your consecration to God.”

In a letter addressed to a great religious institute, exclusively devoted to teaching, Pius X flatly declared his views on this subject in the following words:

“We learn that an opinion is current to the effect that you ought to put in the front rank the education of the young, and leave your religious profession in the second place, on the grounds that the spirit and the needs of the time make this necessary. It is altogether against our wish that such an opinion should receive any weight with you, or with any other religious institute which, like yours, has education as its object. Let it be taken as a firmly established truth, as far as you are concerned, that the religious life is vastly superior to the common life, and that even if you have grave obligations to your neighbor, in your duty to teach, far more grave still are the obligations that bind you to God.”

Omnino nolumus aped vos caeterosque vestri similes, quorum religiosum munus est erudire adolescentulos, ea, quam pervulgari audimus, quidquam valeat institutioni puerili primas vobis dandas esse religiosae professioni secundas, idque aetatis hujus et ingenio necessitatibus postulari . . . Itaque in causa vestra illud maneat religiosae vitae genus longe communi vitae praestare: atque si magno obstricti estis erga proximos officio docendi, multo majora esse vincula quibus Deo obligamini (H. H. Pius X). However, to give up temporarily, the religious habit in order to keep a work going is not here blamed by Pius X, provided that every means is taken to preserve, in all things, the religious spirit.

But is not the whole reason for the religious life, and its principal object, the acquiring of an inner life?

Vita contemplativa, says the Angelic Doctor, simpliciter melior est . . . et potior quam activa. “The contemplative life is by its very nature better and more effective than the active life.”

Summa Theol. 2 2ae, q. 182. a. 1.

St. Bonaventure accumulates comparatives to demonstrate the excellence of this inner life: Vita sublimior, securior, opulentior, suavior, stabilior. “A life that is more sublime, more secure, richer, pleasanter, and more stable.”

Vita sublimior

The active life is concerned with men, the contemplative introduces us into the realm of the highest truth, and never turns aside its gaze from the very principle of all life. Principium, quod Deus est, quaeritur. Being more sublime, it has a much more extensive horizon and field of action. “Martha, in one place, was busy in bodily work, with a few things. Mary, by her charity in many places, accomplished many things. For she, in the contemplation and love of God, beholds everything; her heart goes out to everything, comprehends and embraces all, so that, by comparison with her, it can be said that Martha is troubled over only a few things.”

Martha in uno loco corpore laborabat circa aliqua, Maria in multis locis caritate circa multa. In Dei enim contemplatione et amore videt comprehendit et complectitur omnia, ita ut ejus comparatione. Martha sollicita dici potest circa pauca (Richard of St. Victor. in Cant. 8).

Vita securior

There is less danger. In a life that is almost exclusively active, the soul is excited, worked up, scatters its energies and, by that very fact, weakens itself. It has a threefold defect: sollicita es

Martha, Martha, sollicita es et turbaris erga plurima, porro unum est necessarium (Luc. 10:41, 42)

(thou art careful), it is worried with mental problems, sollicitudines in cogitatu; turbaris (thou art troubled), and here are the troubles that stir up the passions, turbationes in affectu; finally, erga plurima (about many things), occupations are multiplied, and so our energy and our action is divided: divisiones in actu. But for the interior life one thing alone is necessary: union with God. Porro unum est necessarium. All the rest can only be secondary, something accomplished solely by virtue of this union and in order to strengthen it more and more.

Vita opulentior

Contemplation brings with it all the other good things. “All good things came to me together with her.”

Venerunt mihi omnia bona pariter cum illa (Sap. 7:11).

It is the better part,

Optimam partem elegit quae non auferetur ab ea (Luc. 10:42).

above all others. Contemplation overflows with much greater merits. Why? Because at the same time it increases the zest of the will and the degree of sanctifying grace in the soul, and makes the soul act with love as its motive power.

Vita suavior

The truly interior soul abandons itself to the good pleasure of God, and accepts with the same patience and evenness of heart both what is pleasing and what brings pain: indeed, it goes so far as to be joyful under affliction, and happy to carry the Cross.

Vita stabilior

No matter how intense it may be, the active life has its limit here below. Preaching, teaching, works of every sort all come to an end at the threshold of eternity. But the interior life will never cease: “Which shall not be taken away from her.” Through this life, our stay here below becomes a continual ascent towards the world of light, an ascent which death only makes incomparably more radiant and more rapid.

One may sum up the perfections of the interior life by applying to it St. Bernard’s words: “In this life man lives more purely, falls more rarely, recovers more promptly, advances more surely, receives more graces, dies more calmly, is more quickly cleansed, and gains a greater recompense.”

Haec (vita) sancta, pura et immaculata, in qua homo vivit purius, cadit rarius, surgit velocius, incedit cautius, irrogatur frequentius, quiescit securius, moritur fiducius, purgatur citius, praemiatur copiosius (St. Bernard. Hom. Simile es . . . homini neg.).








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