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The Soul Of The Apostolate

Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). With all due proportion, the way that God acts ought to be the criterion and the rule both of our interior and exterior life.

However, as we already know, it is God’s nature to give, and experience teaches us that here below He spreads His benefits in profusion over all creatures and, especially, upon human beings. And so, for thousands and perhaps millions of centuries, the entire universe has been the object of this never failing prodigality, which pours it out in ceaseless gifts. And yet God is nothing the poorer, and this inexhaustible munificence cannot, in any way whatever, diminish His infinite resources.

To man, God does more than grant exterior gifts: He sends him also His Word. But here again, in this act of supreme generosity which is nothing else but the gift of Himself, God abandons and can abandon none of the integrity of His nature. In giving us His Son, He keeps Him, nevertheless, ever in Himself. “Take, as an example, the All-Highest Father of all, sending us His Word, and at the same time keeping Him for Himself.”

Sume exemplum de summo omnium Parente Verbum suum emittente et retinente (St. Bernard, De Consideratione, II, c. 3).

By the Sacraments, and especially by the Eucharist, Jesus Christ comes down to enrich us with His grace. He pours it out upon us without measure, for He also is a limitless ocean whose fullness overflows upon us without ever being exhausted. “Of His fullness we have all received.”

De plenitudine ejus nos omnes accepimus (Joan. 1:16).

And so we ought to be, in some manner, apostolic men who take upon ourselves the noble task of sanctifying others: “ Your ‘word’ is your consideration. If it go forth from you let it still remain.”

Verbum tuum consideratio tua, quae si procedit, non recedat (St. Bernard, De Consideratione, II, 3).

Yes, our “word” is the interior spirit formed, by grace, in our souls. Let this spirit, then, give life to all the manifestations of our zeal, but, though poured out unceasingly for the benefit of our neighbors, let it be renewed likewise without ceasing, by the means which Jesus offers us for this purpose. Our interior life ought to be the stem, filled with vigorous sap, of which our works are the flowers.

The soul of an apostle—it should be flooded first of all with light, and inflamed with love, so that, reflecting that light and that heat, it may enlighten and give warmth to other souls as well. That which they have heard, which they have seen with their eyes, which they have looked upon, and their hands have almost handled, this will they teach to men.”

Joan. 1:1.

Their lips will pour forth into souls the abundance of celestial joys, says St. Gregory.

Now, therefore, we can deduce the following principle:

The life of action ought to flow from the contemplative life, to interpret and extend it, outside oneself, though at the same time being detached from it as little as possible.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church vie with one another in proclaiming this doctrine.

“Before allowing his tongue to speak,” says St. Augustine, “the apostle should lift up his thirsting soul to God, in order to give forth what he has drunk in, and pour forth that with which he is filled.”

Priusquan exerat proferentem linguam ad Deum levet animam sitientem ut eructet quod biberit, vel quod impleverit fundat (St. Augustine. De Doctrina Christiana, Book IV).

Before giving, says the Pseudo-Denys,

De Coel. Hier., c. iii.

one must first receive, and the higher angels only transmit to the lower the lights of which they have received the fullness. The Creator has established this universal order with respect to divine things: the one whose mission it is to distribute these things must first share them and fill himself abundantly with the graces that God wishes to give to souls through his intermediary. Then, and then only, will it be permitted him to share them with others.

Is there anyone who does not know St. Bernard’s saying, to apostles: “If you are wise, you will be reservoirs and not channels.” Si sapis, concham te exhibebis et non canalem? (Serm. xviii in Cant.) The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a drop. But the reservoir is first filled, and then, without emptying itself, pours out its overflow, which is ever renewed, over the fields which it waters. How many there are devoted to works, who are never anything but channels, and retain nothing for themselves, but remain dry while trying to pass on life-giving grace to souls! “We have many channels in the Church today,” St. Bernard added, sadly, “but very few reservoirs.”

Canales multas hodie habemus in Ecclesia, conchas vero perpaucas (St. Bernard, Serm. xviii in Cantica).

Every cause is superior to its effect, and therefore more perfection is needed to make others perfect, than simply to perfect oneself.

Manifestum est autem majorem perfectionem requiri ad hoc quod aliquis perfectionem aliis tribuat quam ad hoc ut aliquis in se ipso perfectus sit, sicut majus est posse facere aliquem talem quam esse talem et omnis causa potior est suo effectu (St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. de Perfec. Vitae Spir.).

As a mother cannot suckle her child except in so far as she feeds herself, so confessor, spiritual directors, preachers, catechists, professors must first of all assimilate the substance with which they are later to feed the children of the Church.

Oportet quod praedicator sit imbutus et dulcoratus in se. et post aliis proponat (St. Bonaventure, Illus. Eccl., Serm. xvii).

Divine truth and love are the elements of this substance. But the interior life alone can transform divine truth and charity in us, to a truly life-giving nourishment for others.








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