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The Soul Of The Apostolate

This book is addressed to such active workers as are animated with a burning desire to spend themselves, but who are liable to neglect the necessary measures to keep their devoted work fruitful for souls, without wreaking havoc on their own inner life.

It is not our object to wake up those pretended apostles who make a fetish of repose; nor to galvanize those souls whose egotism deludes them into thinking that laziness will foster piety; nor to shake up the apathy of those lazy, sleepy drones who will accept certain works, in the hope of material advantage or of honor provided their quietude and ideal of tranquillity are in no way disturbed. Such a task would require a special volume.

Leaving to others, then, the job of bringing home to this apathetic brood the responsibilities of an existence that God willed to be active and which the devil, in collusion with nature, makes barren by inaction and lack of ambition, let us return to those beloved and respected colleagues for whom these pages are destined.

There is no metaphor capable of giving any idea of the infinite intensity of the activity going on in the bosom of Almighty God. Such is the inner life of the Father, that it engenders a Divine Person. From the interior life of the Father and Son proceeds the Holy Ghost.

The inner life that was communicated to the apostles in the Cenacle at once aroused them to zealous action.

To anyone who knows anything about it and who does not contrive to disfigure the truth, this interior life is a principle of devoted and self-sacrificing action.

But even if it did not reveal itself by outward manifestations, the life of prayer is, intimately and of itself, a source of activity beyond compare. Nothing could be more false than to consider it as a sort of oasis, offering itself as a refuge to those who want to let their life flow by in tranquil ease. The mere fact that it is the shortest road to the Kingdom of Heaven means that the text: “The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away,”

Regnum coelorum vim patitur, et violenti rapiunt illud (Matt. 11:12).

is applicable in a most special manner, to the life of prayer.

Dom Sebastian Wyart

Having served as an officer in the Papal zouaves defending Rome under Pius IX, he made profession as a Trappist at N. D. du Mont, in northern France. When the various Trappist congregations were united as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, Fr. Sebastian was elected first Abbot-General of the Order, and held this position for twelve years until his death in 1904.

was familiar with the labors of the ascetic as well as with the trials of army life, the cares of the student, and the responsibilities inseparable from the office of a superior, and he used to say that there were three kinds of works:

1. The almost exclusively physical work of those who live by manual labor, by a craft, or in the army. And he declares that, no matter what one may think about it, this kind of work is the easiest of the three.

2. The intellectual toil of the scholar, the thinker, in his often arduous pursuit of truth; that of the writer, of the professor, who put everything they have into the effort to communicate all they know to others; of the diplomat, the financier, the engineer and so on, as well as the intellectual labor required of a general during a battle if he is to foresee and direct everything and make the proper decisions. This labor in itself is, he said, far more difficult than the first kind, for there is a saying that “the blade wears out its sheath.”

3. Finally, there is the labor of the interior life. And he did not hesitate to declare that of the three, this kind, when it is taken seriously, is by far the most exacting.

Major labor est resistere vitiis et passionibus quam corporalibus insudare laboribus (St. Gregory the Great). Greater effort is required to resist our vices and passions than to toil in manual labor.

But at the same time, it is this kind that offers us the most satisfaction here on earth. It is likewise the most important. It goes to make up not so much a man’s profession as the man himself. How many there are who can boast of great courage in the first two types of labor, which lead to wealth and fame, but who, when it comes to the effort to acquire virtue, are totally deficient in ambition, energy, or courage.

A man who is determined to acquire an interior life must take, for his ideal, unremitting domination of self and complete control over his environment, in order to act in all things solely for the glory of God. To achieve this aim, he must strive, under all circumstances, to keep united with Jesus Christ and thus to keep his eye on the end he has in view, and to evaluate everything according to the standard of the Gospel. Quo vadam, et ad quid? he keeps saying, with St. Ignatius.

Where am I going, and for what?

And so, everything in him, intelligence and will, as well as memory, feelings, imagination, and senses, depends on principle. But to achieve this result, what an effort it will cost him! Whether he is mortifying himself or permitting himself some legitimate enjoyment, whether he is thinking or acting, at work or at rest, loving what is good or turning away in repugnance from what is evil, whether he is moved by desire or by fear, joy or sorrow, fear or hope, whether he feels indignation or is calm; in all things, and always, he endeavors to keep his course dead ahead, in the direction of God’s good pleasure. At prayer, and especially before the Blessed Sacrament, he isolates himself more completely than ever from all visible things, that he may come to converse with the invisible God as if he saw Him.

Invisibilem enim tamquam visibilem sustinuit (Heb. 11:27).

Even in the midst of his apostolic labors he will manage to realize this ideal, which St. Paul admired in Moses.

Neither the troubles of life, nor the storms aroused by passion, will succeed in turning him aside from the line of conduct, he has laid down for himself. But on the other hand, if he does weaken for a moment, he pulls himself together at once, and presses forward with even more determination than before.

What a job! And yet it is not hard to understand how God rewards, even here below, with special joys, those who do not flinch at the effort which this work demands.

“Idlers?” Dom Sebastian concludes, “Are these true religious, or these truly interior and zealous priests idlers? Nonsense! Let the busiest men of affairs in the world come and take a look at our life, and see how their labors compare with ours!”

Who does not know this from experience? There are times when we might be inclined to prefer long hours in some exhausting occupation to half an hour of serious mental prayer, to an attentive hearing of Mass, or to the careful and intelligent recitation of the Breviary.

Quotation from Dom Festugiere, O.S.B.: “Whatever the difficulties of the active life may be, only the inexperienced will deny the gruelling trials of the interior life. Many active workers, pious men, admit that what costs them the most, in their life, is not so much action as their prayers of obligation. It is a relief for them to go to work.”

Father Faber expresses his grief in admitting that for some people “the quarter of an hour after Communion is the weariest quarter hour of the day.” When we have to make a three days’ retreat, how unwilling some of us are! To withdraw for three days from a life which, though full of things to be done, is easy, and to live on the supernatural plane, making the supernatural sink into every detail of our existence during this retreat; to compel one’s mind to see everything, during this time, by the light of faith alone, and one’s heart to forget everything in order to seek Christ alone, and His life; to remain face to face with one’s self and lay bare the infirmities and weaknesses of one’s soul; to throw the soul into the crucible, and turn a deaf ear to all its cries of complaint: all this is a prospect which makes some people, otherwise ready to face any fatigue, turn tail and flee when there is no longer a question of an expenditure of merely natural energy.

And if only three days of such occupation may seem already so exhausting, what does nature think of the idea of an entire life to be gradually made subject to the rule of the interior life?

No doubt, in this labor of detachment, grace shoulders a great part of the difficulty, making the yoke sweet and the burden light. But still, what efforts the soul has to make! It always costs something to get back on the right road, and return to the rule that “our conversation is in heaven.”

Conversatio nostra in coelis est (Phil. 3:20).

St. Thomas explains this very well. Man, he says, is placed in between the things of this world and spiritual goods, in which eternal happiness is to be found. The more he clings to one, the more he recedes from the other and vice versa.

Est homo constitutus inter res mundi hujus et bona spiritualia, in quibus aeterna beatitudo consistit, ita quod quanto plus inhaeret uni eorum, tanto plus recedit ab altero, et e contrario (1ae 2ae, q. 108, a. 4).

When one side of the scale goes down, the other goes up just as much.

Now since the disaster of original sin has upset the whole economy of our being, it has made this double movement of adhesion and recession extremely difficult to carry out. To re-establish order and balance in this “little world,” which is man, and to preserve it by the interior life requires, since the fall, work, suffering, and sacrifice. The building has caved in, and has to be rebuilt and preserved from fresh collapse.

By constant vigilance, self-denial, and mortification, we have to tear away from thoughts of earth a heart made heavy with all the weight of a corrupted nature, gravi corde.

Psalm 4.

We have to remake our character, in detail, in all those points in which it is most unlike the physiognomy of Our Lord’s soul; for instance in its dissipation, bad temper, self-satisfaction, its hardness of heart, egoism, lack of pity and kindness, and so forth. We have to resist the allurement of pleasures that are both sensible and present, for the hope of a spiritual happiness which we shall only loose from everything that can cause us to love this world. We have to take all creatures, desires, longings, concupiscences, exterior goods, self-will, and self-judgment, and offer them up in a holocaust without reserve. What a task!

And yet this is only the negative side of the interior life. After this hand-to-hand fight that made St. Paul

Condelector enim legi Dei secundum interiorem hominem: video autem aliam legem in membris repugnantem legi mentis meae, et captivantem me in lege peccati, quae est in membris meis. Infelix ego homo; quis me liberabit de corpore mortis hujus? (Rom. 7:22–24).

groan and which Father de Ravignan expressed as follows: “You ask me what I did during my novitiate? Well, there were two of us. I threw the other fellow out the window, and then I was alone;” after this unremitting fight against an enemy always liable to rise from the dead, we must protect, against the slightest movement of return of the natural spirit, a heart which, purified by penance, is now consumed with the desire to make up for its insults to God. We must devote all our energies to keeping that heart fixed upon the invisible beauty of the virtues to be acquired, that we may imitate those of Christ. We must endeavor to maintain, even in the smallest details of life, an absolute confidence in Providence. And this is the positive side of the interior life. Anyone can guess the unlimited field of work that it opens up.

This labor is personal, steady, and constant. And yet it is precisely by this work that the soul acquires a wonderful facility and an astonishing rapidity in carrying out the duties of an apostle. This secret belongs to the interior life alone.

The immense labors accomplished, in spite of precarious health, by a St. Augustine, a St. John Chrysostom, a St. Bernard, a St. Thomas Aquinas, or a St. Vincent de Paul amaze us. But we are still more astonished to see how these men, in spite of their almost unceasing work, kept themselves in the most constant union with God. Quenching, more than others, their thirst at the source of life, by contemplation, these saints drew from it the most unlimited capacity for work.

This truth was well expressed by one of our great bishops, overburdened as he was with work, when he replied to a statesman, himself hard-pressed with his affairs, who asked him the secret of his constant serenity and of the astonishing results of his enterprises. “To all your occupations, my dear friend,” said the Bishop, “add half an hour of meditation every morning. Not only will you get through all your business, but you will find time for still more.”

Finally, do we not see St. Louis, King of France, finding in the eight or nine hours a day which he was in the habit of devoting to the exercises of the inner life, the secret and the strength to apply himself with so much attention to the affairs of state and the good of his subjects that a socialist orator admitted that never, even in our own time, had so much been done for the working class, as under the reign of this king?

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