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The Soul Of The Apostolate

Just as the love of God is shown by acts of the interior life, so the love of our neighbor manifests itself by the works of the exterior life, and consequently the love of God and of our neighbor cannot be separated, and it follows that these two forms of life cannot exist without one another.

Sicut per contemplationem amandus est Deus, ita per actualem vitam diligendus est proximus, ac per hoc, sic non possumus sine utraque esse vita, sicut et sine utraque dilectione nequaquam esse possumus (St. Isidore, Different, ii:34, n. 135).

Just as God is to be loved in contemplation, we must also love our neighbor through the active life, and follows that we cannot be without both these kinds of life, just as it is absolutely necessary for us to practice both kinds of love.

And so, as Suarez points out, there cannot be any state that is properly and normally ordered to bring us to perfection, that does not at the same time share to some extent in both action and contemplation.

Concedendum est nullum esse posse vitae studium recte institutum ad perfectionem obtinendam quod non aliquid de actione et de contemplatione participet (Suarez, I, De Relig. Tract., I, c. 5, n. 5).

The great Jesuit is simply commenting on the teaching of St. Thomas on this subject. The Angelic Doctor says that those who are called to the works of the active life would be mistaken if they thought that this duty dispensed them from the contemplative life.

It may be necessary to point out that here, as everywhere else, Dom Chautard uses the terms active and contemplative life not in the sense of the active or contemplative states, such as are explicitly intended as the aim of the various active or contemplative religious orders, but merely in the sense of exterior works of virtue and of mercy on one hand, and interior union with God by prayer on the other. Every Christian is bound to practice both of these, and without them there is no Christian life.

This duty is merely added to that of contemplation without diminishing its necessity. And so these two lives, far from excluding one another, depend on one another, presuppose one another, mingle together and complete one another. And if there is a question of giving greater importance to one than to the other, it is the contemplative life that merits our preference, as being the more perfect and the more necessary.

Cum aliquis a contemplativa vita ad activam vocatur, non fit per modum substractionis, sed per modum additionis (St. Thomas, 2a 2ae, q. 182, a1, ad 3).

When a man is called from the contemplative to the active life, he does not subtract anything from, but adds to his obligations.

Action relies upon contemplation for its fruitfulness; and contemplation, in its turn, as soon as it has reached a certain degree of intensity, pours out upon our active works some of its overflow. And it is by contemplation that the soul goes to draw directly upon the Heart of God for the graces which it is the duty of the active life to distribute.

And so, in the soul of a saint, action and contemplation merge together in perfect harmony to give perfect unity to his life. Take St. Bernard, for example, the most contemplative and yet at the same time the most active man of his age. One of his contemporaries has left us this admirable portrait of him: Contemplation and action so agreed together in him that the saint appeared to be at the same time entirely devoted to external works, and yet completely absorbed in the presence and the love of his God.

Interiori quadam, quam ubique ipse circumferebat, solitudine fruebatur, totus quodammodo exterius laborabat, et totus interius Deo vacabat (Geoffrey of Auxerre, Vita Bernardi. I. 5; also III).

Commenting on the text of sacred Scripture: “Put me as a seal upon thine heart and as a seal upon thine arm,”

Pone me ut signaculum super cor tuum, ut signaculum super brachium tuum (Cant. 8:6).

Father Saint-Jure gives us a fine description of the relations of these two lives with each other. Let us, briefly, outline his thought:

The heart stands for the interior, or contemplative life: the arm for the active, or exterior life.

The sacred text speaks of them as the heart and the arm, to show how the two lives can be joined together and harmonize perfectly in the same person.

The heart is mentioned first, because as an organ it is far more noble and more necessary than the arm. In the same way contemplation is much more excellent and perfect, and deserves far greater esteem than action.

The heart goes on beating day and night. Let this all-important organ stop, even for a moment, and immediate death would result. The arm, however, merely an integral part of the human body, only moves from time to time. And thus, we ought sometimes to seek a little respite from our outward works, but never on the other hand, relax our attention to spiritual things.

The heart gives life and strength to the arm by means of the blood which it sends forth; otherwise, that member would wither up. And in the same way, the contemplative life, a life of union with God, thanks to the light and the constant assistance the soul receives from this closeness to Him, gives life to our external occupations, and it alone is able to impart to them at the same time a supernatural character and a real usefulness. But without contemplation, everything is sick and barren and full of imperfections.

Man, unfortunately, too often separates what has been united by God, and consequently this perfect union is rarely found. Besides, it depends for its realization upon a number of precautions that are too often neglected. We must not undertake anything that is beyond our strength. We must habitually, but simply, see the will of God in everything. We must never get mixed up in works that are not willed for us by God, but only when, and to the extent that, He wants to see us engaged in them, and only out of the desire to practice charity. From the very start, we must offer our work to Him, and during the course of our labors, we must often make use of holy thoughts and ardent aspiratory prayers to stir up our resolution to act only for and by Him. For the rest, no matter how much attention our work may require, we must keep ourselves always at peace, and always remain completely masters of ourselves. We must leave the successful outcome of the work entirely in the hands of God, and desire to see ourselves delivered from all care only in order that we may be, once again, alone with Jesus Christ. Such are the extremely wise counsels of the masters of the spiritual life, to those who want to reach this union.

This perseverance in the interior life which, in St. Bernard of Clairvaux, was united to a very active apostolate, made a great impression on St. Francis de Sales. “St. Bernard,” he said, “lost not a whit of the progress he desired to make in holy love. . . . He moved from place to place, but did not move in his heart nor did his heart’s love change, nor did his love change in its object . . . he did not take upon himself the color of every business or of every conversation like a chameleon, taking the color of every place where it happens to be. But he remained ever united to God, ever white in his purity, ever crimson in his charity, and ever full of humility.”

Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, Part xvii, ch. 2.

At times, our duties will accumulate to such an extent that they will exhaust all our strength, not allowing us to get rid of our burden, nor even to make it any lighter. The result may possibly be that we will be deprived, for a more or less prolonged period, of the sense of our union with God, but the union itself will only suffer if we actually permit it to do so. If this condition should be prolonged, we must feel suffering on account of it, we must lament it, and we must, above all, fear that we may become used to it.

Man is weak and without constancy. If he neglects his spiritual life, he soon loses the taste for it. Absorbed in material duties, he gets to take satisfaction in them. But on the other hand, if the interior spirit gives signs of its latent vitality by pain and repugnance, the ceaseless complaints that issue from a wound that refuses to close, even in the midst of intense activity, these sufferings will themselves make up all the merit of our sacrificed contemplation. Rather, it is in this that the soul realizes the admirable and fruitful union of the interior and active lives. Maddened by the thirst for the interior life, a thirst which there is no time to quench, the soul returns as soon as possible to the life of prayer. Our Lord will never fail to make room for a few moments’ colloquy. But he demands that we be faithful to these opportunities, and gives us grace to make up, by our fervor, for the brevity of these happy moments.

St. Thomas admirably sums up this doctrine in a passage of which every word deserves to be carefully pondered: “The contemplative life is, in itself, more meritorious than the active life. Nevertheless, a man may happen to gain more merit by performing some exterior act; if, for instance, he endures, for a time, to be deprived of the sweetness of divine contemplation, in order, on account of the abundance of the love of God and for His glory, to fulfill God’s will.”

Ex suo genere contemplativa vita majoris est meriti quam activa. . . . Potest tamen contingere quod aliquis in operibus vitae activae plus mereatur quam alius in operibus vitae contemplativae; puta si propter abundantiam divini amoris, ut ejus voluntas impleatur, propter ipsius gloriam, interdum sustinet a dulcedine divinae contemplationis ad tempus separari (2a 2ae, q. 182, a. 2).

St. Thomas goes on to quote St. Chrysostom, who interpreted St. Paul’s desire to be “an anathema from Christ for his brethren” in the above sense.

We note what a great number of conditions the holy doctor lays down, to be fulfilled before active life can become more meritorious than contemplation.

The inmost cause that moves the soul to active works is nothing else but the overflow of its charity: proper abundantiam divini amoris. Therefore, it is not a matter of excitement, or caprice, nor of the craving to get out of ourself. Indeed, it is a source of suffering for the soul. Sustinet, it “endures” the privation of the sweetness of the life of prayer;

Since this “sweetness” resides principally in the “summit” of the soul, it is quite compatible with dryness: exsuperat omnem sensum. It transcends all feelings. The logic of pure faith, cold and dry in itself, is enough to allow the will to enflame the heart with supernatural fire, always with the help of grace.

Saint Jane Chantal, who was one of the souls who had most to suffer in mental prayer, left to her daughters a spiritual legacy when she was on her deathbed at Moulins. It was the principle that had led her to base her life on this argument of faith: “The greatest happiness here below is to be able to converse with God.”

a dulcedine divinae contemplationis . . . separari. Furthermore, the sacrifice is only temporary: accidere—interdum—ad tempus, and it is only for a purely supernatural end—the fulfilling of God’s will, and giving Him glory. Finally, what is sacrificed is only a part of the time to be given to prayer.

How full of wisdom and goodness God’s ways are! How wonderfully He directs souls, by means of the interior life! This deep sorrow at having to devote so much time to the works of God and so little to the God of works, this sorrow which persists in the midst of action and which, nevertheless, we generously offer up to Him, has its compensations. Thanks to this pain, we are freed from all dangers of dissipation, self-love, natural feelings of pride, etc. Far from hurting our freedom of spirit or our activity, this disposition in our souls imparts to them a more deliberate character. It is the practical way to keep in the presence of God, because now the soul, in the grace of the present moment, is able to find the living Christ, giving Himself to us, concealed in the work that we have to perform. Jesus works with us and sustains us. How many persons in responsible positions owe to this salutary suffering once it has been well understood, to this desire, persistent though sacrificed, to visit the Blessed Sacrament, to these almost incessant spiritual communions—how many owe to all this not only the splendid results of their work, but even the safety of their souls and their progress in virtue?

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