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The Soul Of The Apostolate

Of course, we speak only of active works that are worthy of the name of “works.” In our day, there are not a few that do not deserve this title at all. They are a species of enterprise, organized under a pious front, but with the real aim of acquiring, for their initiators, the applause of the public, and a reputation for an extraordinary ability. And these men are determined to achieve the success of such enterprises at any cost, even that of using the least justifiable of means.

Other works there are which, it is true, deserve a little more respect. Their intention, at least, is good. Their end and their means are beyond reproach. And yet, because their organizers have little more than a wavering faith in the power of the supernatural life to act upon souls, their results, in spite of great efforts, are either totally, or at any rate almost totally, futile.

To give a precise idea of what a good work ought to be, let us quote a man whose apostolic work is the pride of his district, and recall the lessons he gave to us at the beginning of our priestly ministry. We were interested in the formation of a club for young men. Having visited the Catholic clubs of Paris and a few other French cities, the work going on at Val-des-Bois, and so on, we went to Marseilles to study the work done for Catholic youth by the saintly Father Allemand and the venerable Canon Timon-David. We rejoice to recall the emotions in our hearts (as a young priest) on hearing the latter speak as follows: “Bands, theatricals, lantern-lectures, movies—I do not condemn all that. When I started out, I too thought no one could do without them. And yet they are nothing but crutches, to be used when there is no alternative left. However, the further I advance, the more my end and my means become supernatural because I see more and more clearly that every work built upon a merely human foundation is bound to collapse, and that only the work that aims at bringing men closer to God by the interior life is blessed by Providence.”

“Our band-instruments have been relegated to the attic for a long time, and our stage has become useless, and yet the work is going on better than ever before. Why? Because, thanks be to God, my priests and I see much clearer and straighter than before, and our faith in the action of Christ and of grace has increased a hundred percent.”

“Take my advice, do not be afraid to aim as high as you possibly can, and you will be astonished at the results. Let me explain: do not merely have, as your ideal, to give the youth a selection of clean amusements that will turn them aside from illicit pleasures and dangerous associations, nor simply to give them a Christian varnish, through routine attendance at Mass, or the reception of the Sacraments at long intervals and with questionable dispositions. “Launch out into the deep.

Duc in altum (Luc. 5:4).

Let your ambition be, first of all, the noble one of making a certain number of them, at any cost, take the firm resolution of living as fervent Christians; that is, of making their mental prayer every morning, going to Mass every day, if they can, and doing a little spiritual reading, besides going frequently to Communion, and fervently too. Put all your efforts into giving this select group a great love for Jesus Christ, the spirit of self-denial, prayer, vigilance over themselves; in a word, solid virtues. And take no less trouble to develop in their souls a hunger for the Holy Eucharist. And then stir up these young men to act upon their companions. Train them as frank, devoted apostles, kind, ardent, manly, not narrow-minded in their piety, but full of tact, and never making the sad mistake of spying on their comrades under pretext of zeal. Before two years have gone by, come and tell me whether you still need a lot of brass or stage sets to catch your fish.”

“I understand,” I replied, “this minority will be the leaven. But what about the others that you will never be able to bring up to that level—what about the group as a whole, the youths of all ages and even the married men who will join the club we are planning: what are we going to do with them?”

“You are going to build up a strong faith in them, by a series of well prepared talks, which will take up many of their winter evenings. Your Christians will go out, after these talks, well enough armed not only to give complete and effective answers to their fellows in the various plants and offices, but also to resist the more treacherous action of newspapers and books. If you can give men unshakable convictions which they will know how to affirm if they have to, without regard to human respect, you will (already) have achieved a result that is not to be despised. But still, you will have to take them further yet, and give them piety, genuine and ardent piety, based on conviction and full of understanding.”

“Shall I open the doors to all comers right from the start?” I asked him.

“Numbers will be no use to you unless every one is handpicked. Let the growth of your club depend, most of all, on the influence exercised by the nucleus of apostles, the center of which will be Jesus and Mary, with you as their instrument.”

“The premises won’t be very impressive. Should I wait until we can raise the money for something better?”

“Well, when someone is starting out, spacious, comfortable rooms may serve as a big drum to advertise your new enterprise, and draw attention to it. But, I repeat, if you know how to build your club on the foundation of an ardent, complete, and apostolic Christian life, the barest minimum, in the way of premises, will always be enough to accommodate all the accessories demanded by the normal functioning of the club. Don’t worry! You will soon find out that noise does not do much good—and that what is good doesn’t make much noise. And you will see that a good clear understanding of the Gospel will cut down your expenses and, far from hurting your success, it will promote it! But above all, you will have to pay the price yourself, not so much by wearing yourself out rehearsing plays or getting up football games, as by storing up in yourself the life of prayer. For you can be sure that the extent to which you yourself are able to live on the love of Our Lord will be the exact measure of your ability to stir it up in other people.”

“What it all comes to, then, is that you base everything on the inner life.”

“Yes, absolutely. That way, you don’t merely get an alloy, but pure gold. Besides, speaking from long experience, I know you can apply what I have just said about youth-clubs to any kind of work—parishes, seminaries, catechism classes, schools, soldiers’ and sailors’ groups, and so on. How much good a Christian society, really living on the supernatural level, can do in a city! It works there like a strong leaven, and only the angels can tell you how many souls are saved because of it.”

“Ah,” he concluded, “if only the majority of priests and religious and workers in Catholic action knew what a powerful lever they have in their hands, once that lever takes advantage of the Heart of Jesus as a fulcrum. Living in union with that Divine Heart they would soon transform our country! Yes indeed, they would bring our land to life, in spite of all the efforts of Satan and his slaves.”

The zealous canon who thus spoke to me and of whose conversation I retain so precious a memory has developed these thoughts in several fine books: Méthode de Direction des Oeuvres de Jeunesse; 2nd, Traité de la Confession des Enfants et Jeunes Gens; 3rd, Souvenirs de l’oeuvre, ou vie et mort de quelques Congréganistes (Paris, Mignar Frères).








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