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The Soul Of The Apostolate

A. MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION. Our Lord categorically demands that those whom He associates with His apostolate should not only persevere in their virtue, but make progress in it. Proof will be found on any page of St. Paul’s epistles to Titus and Timothy, and the words addressed in the Apocalypse to the Bishops of Asia.

At the same time, as we proved at the outset, God wants active works.

Consequently, if we were to view works, considered in themselves, as an obstacle to sanctification, and assert that, although springing from the Divine Will, they necessarily slow down our advance towards perfection, it would be an insult, a blasphemy against the Wisdom and Goodness and Providence of God.

Hence, the following dilemma is inescapable: either the apostolate, no matter what form it takes, if it is God’s will, not only does not bring about in itself as its effect any alteration in the atmosphere of solid virtue which ought to surround a soul that has a care for salvation and for spiritual progress, but it must also, and always, provide the apostle with a means of sanctification, so long as his apostolic work keeps within the due conditions.

Or else the person whom God has chosen to work with Him, and who is therefore obliged to answer the divine call, will have every right to offer the activity, the troubles and cares undergone for the sake of the work commanded by Him, as legitimate excuses for his failure to sanctify himself.

Now it is a consequence of the economy of the divine plan that God owes it to Himself to provide His chosen apostle with graces necessary to make distracting business compatible not only with the assurance of salvation but even with the acquisition of virtues which can lead as high as sanctity itself.

God owes the kind of help He gave to His St. Bernards and St. Francis Xaviers to the humblest of his preachers of the Gospel, to the lowest teaching brother, to the most obscure nursing sister, in the measure required by each of them. Such aid is a real Debt of the Sacred Heart, owed by Him to His chosen instruments. Let us not fear to repeat it over and over again. And every apostle, provided he fulfills the due conditions, should have an absolute confidence in his inviolable right to the graces demanded by a work whose very nature gives him a mortgage on the infinite treasure of divine aid.

“A man who devotes himself to works of charity,” says Alvarez de Paz, “must not imagine that they will close the door of contemplation in his face, nor make him any less capable of practicing it. On the contrary, he must hold it as certain that they will even serve as an excellent preparation for it. This truth is vouched for not only by reason and the authority of the Fathers, but also by daily experience, for we may see certain souls engaged in works of charity for their neighbor, like hearing confessions, preaching, teaching catechism, visiting the sick, and so on, raised by God to so high a degree of contemplation that one may fairly compare them with the anchorites of old.”

Vol. III, bk. 4.

By the use of his term “degree of contemplation” the eminent Jesuit, like all the other masters of the spiritual life, is talking of the gift of the spirit of prayer which is a sign of the superabundance of charity in a soul.

The sacrifices exacted from us by active works draw so much supernatural value from the glory they give to God and from their effects in the sanctification of souls, and acquire from these sources such great wealth of merits, that a man vowed to the active life can, if he wills, rise himself each day a further degree in charity and union with God, that is to say, in sanctity.

Of course, in certain cases, where there is a grave and proximate danger of formal sin, particularly against faith and the angelic virtue, God absolutely wills that a man give up works of charity. But apart from such a case, He gives to all His workers, the interior life as a means of becoming immune to danger and of making progress in virtue. However, let us clearly define in what this progress consists. A paradox of the prudent and spiritual St. Theresa will help us to make our meaning clear: “Since I have been prioress, burdened with many duties and obliged to travel a great deal, I commit very many more faults. And yet, as I struggle generously and spend myself for God alone, I feel that I am getting closer and closer to Him.” Her weakness shows itself much more than it did in the peace and quiet of the cloister. The saint is aware of this, but does not let it cause her any worry. The completely supernatural generosity of her devotion to duty and her greatly increased efforts in the spiritual combat make up for everything by providing an opportunity for victories which largely outweigh the surprise faults of a weakness that was always there, but formerly only in a latent state. Our union with God, says St. John of the Cross, resides in the union of our will with His, and is measured entirely by that union. Instead of taking the mistaken view of spirituality which would see no possibility of progress in divine union except in tranquility and solitude, St. Theresa judges that it is rather an activity truly imposed on us by God and carried out under the conditions laid down by His will, which, by nourishing her spirit of sacrifice, her humility, her abnegation, her ardor and devotion for the Kingdom of God, serves to increase the intimate union of her soul with Our Lord, who lives in her and gives life to her work; and it is thus that she advances on the road to sanctity.

Sanctity, as a matter of fact, consists above all in charity, and any apostolic work that is worthy of the name is simply charity in action. Probatio amoris, says St. Gregory, exhibitio est operis. The proof of love is in works of self-denial, and this proof of devotion is something God demands of all His workers.

“Feed my lambs, feed my sheep,” is the form of charity which Our Lord demands of the apostle as a proof of the sincerity of his repeated protestations of love.

St. Francis of Assisi did not believe he could be a friend of Christ unless his charity devoted itself to the salvation of souls. Non se amicum Christi reputabat nisi animas foveret quas ille redemit.

He did not consider himself a friend of Christ unless he cared for the souls redeemed by Him (St. Bonaventure, Life of St. Francis, c. ix).

And if Our Lord looks upon all works of mercy, even corporal, as done to Himself, it is because He sees in each one of them the radiated light of the very same charity

As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me (Matt. 25:40).

which animates the missionary or sustains the hermit in the privations, the struggles, and the prayers of the desert.

The active life is concerned with the care of others. It treads the path of sacrifice, following Jesus, the worker and pastor, the missionary and wonderworker, the healer and physician of all, the tireless and tender provider for all the needy here below.

The active life remembers and is sustained by this word of the Master: “I am in the midst of you as he that serveth.”

Ego autem in medio vestrum sum sicut qui ministrat (Luc. 22:27).

“The Son of Man did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

Filius hominis non venit ministrari sed ministrare (Matt. 20:28).

It goes out into the byways of human misery, speaking the word that enlightens, and sowing all about it a harvest of graces that will grow up into benefits of every sort.

Thanks to the clear vision of its faith, thanks to the intuitions of its love, it discovers in the lowest of the wretched, in the most pitiful of sufferers, God, naked, sorrowful, despised by all, the great leper, the mysterious condemned criminal, pursued and beaten to the ground by the blows of eternal justice, the Man of Sorrows whom Isaias saw rising up in the frightful wealth of His wounds, in the tragic purple of His Blood, so smashed and ravaged by the nails and by the whips of the scourging that He twisted like a worm under the heel that stamps out its life.

“Thus we have seen Him,” cries the prophet, “and we have not recognized Him.”

Et vidimus eum et non erat aspectus, et desideravimus eum, despectumet novissimum virorum, virum dolorum et scientem infirmitatem: et quasi absconditus vultus ejus et despectus, unde nec reputavimus eum (Is. 53:2–3).

And we have seen Him and there was no sightliness that we should be desirous of Him: despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity: and His look was, as it were, hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not.

Yes, but thou, O active life, dost recognize Him: and falling on thy knees, with eyes full of tears, thou servest Him in the poor.

The active life improves mankind. Enriching the world with its acts of generosity, with its work and with its toil and sacrifices, it sows merits for heaven.

It is a holy life, rewarded by God, for He gives Paradise in return for a cup of cold water given by one poor man to another, just as well as for the doctor’s learned tomes or for the labors of the apostle. At the last day, He will canonize all the works of charity before the face of heaven and earth together.

Lumiere et Flamme, P. Léon, O.M.Cap. Notice that in this quotation the author is speaking of an active life full of the spirit of faith, made fruitful by charity, and, consequently. springing from an intense interior life.

B. A MENACE TO SALVATION. How often, alas, in private retreats which we have directed, have we noticed that active works, which ought to have been, for their organizers, a means of progress had turned into forces that undermined the whole edifice of their spiritual life.

A very active and energetic man, invited by us, at the beginning of a retreat, to look into his conscience and seek out the principal cause of his unhappiness, gave a perfect diagnosis in this answer which may seem at first sight incomprehensible:

My self-sacrifice is what has ruined me! My nature and temperament make it a joy for me to spend myself, and a pleasure to serve. What with the apparent success of my enterprises, the devil has contrived, for long years, to make everything work together for my deception, stirring me up to furious activity, filling me with disgust for all interior life, and finally leading me over the edge of the abyss.”

This abnormal, not to say monstrous state of mind can be explained in one word. The worker for God, carried away by the pleasure of giving free rein to his natural energy, had let the divine life fade out, and thus lost the supernatural heat which had been stored up in him to make his apostolate effective and which would have helped his soul to resist the encroachments of the numbing ice of natural motives. He had worked, indeed, but far from the rays of the lifegiving sun. Magnae vires et cursus celerrimus, sed praeter viam.

Much strength and great speed, but all off the track (St. Augustine, In Psalm 31).

At the same time, his works, in themselves very holy, had turned against the apostle like a weapon dangerous to wield, a two-edged sword which wounds the man who does not know how to use it.

St. Bernard was warning Pope Bl. Eugenius III against just such a danger as this when he wrote: “I fear, lest in the midst of your occupations without number, you may lose hope of ever getting through with them, and allow your heart to harden. It would be very prudent of you to withdraw from such occupations, even if it be only for a little while, rather than let them get the better of you, and, little by little, lead you where you do not want to go. And where, you will ask, is that? To indifference.

“Such is the end to which these accursed tasks (hae occupationes maledictae) will lead you; that is, if you keep on as you have begun, giving yourself entirely to them, keeping nothing of yourself, for yourself.”

En quo trahere te possunt hae occupationes maledictae, si tamen pergis ut coepisti, ita dare te totum illis nil tui tibi relinquens (St. Bernard, De Consideratione, II, 2).

Is there anything more lofty and more sacred than the government of the Church? Is there anything more useful for the glory of God and for the good of souls? And yet “accursed task,” St. Bernard calls them, if they are going to stand in the way of the interior life of the one who gives himself to them.

What an expression, “accursed tasks!” It calls for a whole book, so terrifying is it, and so powerfully does it force one to think! It might arouse protest did it not flow from the pen of one so precise as a Doctor of the Church, a St. Bernard.

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