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The Soul Of The Apostolate

To sum such a one up in a word; perhaps he is not yet tepid, but he is bound to become so. However, when a man is tepid, with a tepidity that is not merely in the feelings, or due to weakness, but residing in the will, that man has resigned him-self to consent habitually to levity and neglect, or at any rate to cease fighting them. He has come to terms with deliberate venial sin, and by that very fact, he has robbed his soul of its assurance of eternal salvation. Indeed, he is disposing and even leading it on to mortal sin.

It follows from St. Thomas’ teaching on habits (1a 2ae, qq. 1iii) that when a soul in the state of grace places an act that is good in itself, but below the degree of fervor which God has a right to expect from it in its present state, that act, in a sense, tends to diminish its degree of charity. The texts, “Cursed be he who does the work of God with negligence” and “Because thou art luke-warm I will commence to vomit thee from my mouth,” are explained in this sense.

Furthermore, every venial sin, although it does not diminish the state of grace, does, as a matter of fact, diminish its fervor. And it is thus that is disposes us to mortal sin.

But where there is not an intense interior life, deliberate venial sin will abound, and there will be many venial sins that are not even recognized as such, although they will be imputed to the lax and careless soul which has ceased to “watch and pray.”

Thus we may find in St. Thomas an explanation for the phrase “accursed occupations” used above, and of all that is to he developed in the present chapter.

Cf. 1a 2ae, q. 1ii, a. 3: Si vero intensio actus proportionaliter deficiat ab intensione habitus, talis actus non disponit ad augmentum habitus sed magis ad diminutionem ipsius.

Such also is St. Alphonsus’ teaching on tepidity, so well expounded by his disciple, Fr. Desurmont.

See note on tepidity, Part I, No. 3, “sixth truth,” page 15. Cf. “Le Retour Continuel à Dieu.”

Now how is it that, without an interior life, the active worker inevitably slides into tepidity? Inevitably, we say; and the only proof we need for this is the statement of a missionary bishop to his priests, a statement all the more terrifying by its truth, since it comes straight from a heart consumed with zeal for good works and filled with a spirit that goes clean contrary to anything that smacks of quietism. “There is one thing,” said Cardinal Lavigerie, “one thing of which you must be fully persuaded, and it is that for an apostle there is no halfway between total sanctity, at least faithfully and courageously desired and sought after, and absolute perversion.”

First let us go back to the seed of corruption fostered in our nature by concupiscence, and the fight to the death that is ever waged against us by your enemies, within as well as without. Let us go back to the dangers that threaten us on every side.

With this in mind, let us consider what happens to a soul that enters upon the apostolate without being sufficiently fore-warned and forearmed against its dangers.

Fr. (or Mr.) So-and-So feels within himself a growing desire to consecrate himself to good works. He has no experience whatever. But his liking for the apostolate gives us the right to suppose that he has a certain amount of fire, some impetuosity of character, is fond of action, and also perhaps, inclined to relish a bit of a fight. Let us imagine him to be correct in his conduct, a man of piety and even to devotion; but his piety is more in the feelings than in the will, and his devotion is not the light reflected by a soul resolute in seeking nothing but the good pleasure of God, but a pious routine, the result of praiseworthy habits. Mental prayer, if indeed he practices it at all, is for him a species of day-dreaming, and his spiritual reading is governed by curiosity, without any real influence on his conduct. Perhaps the devil even eggs him on by reason of an illusory artistic sense, which the poor soul mistakes for an “inner life,” to dabble in treatises on the lofty and extraordinary paths of union with God, and these fill him with admiration and enthusiasm. All in all, there is little genuine inner life, if any at all, in this soul which still has, we grant, a certain number of good habits, many natural assets and a certain loyal desire to be faithful to God; but that desire is altogether too vague.

There you have our apostle, filled with his desire to throw himself into active works, and on the point of entering upon this ministry which is so completely new to him. It is not long before circumstances that inevitably arise from these works (as will readily be understood by anyone who has led the active life) produce a thousand-and-one occasions to draw him more and more out of himself; there are countless appeals to his naive curiosity, unnumbered occasions of falling into sin from which we may suppose he has hitherto been protected by the peaceful atmosphere of his home, his seminary, his community, or his novitiate—or at least by the guidance of an experienced director.

Not only is there an increasing dissipation, or the ever growing danger of a curiosity that has to find out all about everything; not only more and more displays of impatience or injured feelings, of vanity or jealousy, presumption or dejection, partiality or detraction, but there is also a progressive development of the weaknesses of his soul and of all the more or less subtle forms of sensuality. And all these foes are preparing to force an unrelenting battle upon this soul so ill-prepared for such violent and unceasing attacks. And it therefore falls victim to frequent wounds!

Indeed, it is a wonder when there is any resistance at all on the part of a soul whose piety is so superficial—a soul already captivated by the too natural satisfaction it takes in pouring out its energies and exercising all its talents upon a worthy cause! Besides, the devil is wide awake, on the look-out for his anticipated prey. And far from disturbing this sense of satisfaction, he does all in his power to encourage it.

Yet a day comes when the soul scents danger. The guardian-angel has had something to say: conscience has registered a protest. Now would be the time to take hold of himself, to examine himself in the calm atmosphere of a retreat, to resolve to draw up a schedule and follow it rigorously, even at the cost of neglecting the occasions of trouble to which he has become so attached.

Alas! It is already late in the day! He has already tasted the pleasure of seeing his efforts crowned with the most encouraging success. “Tomorrow! tomorrow!” he mumbles. “Today, it is out of the question. There simply is no time. I have got to go on with this series of sermons, write this article, organize this committee, or that ‘charity,’ put on this play, go on that trip—or catch up with my mail.” How happy he is to reassure himself with all these pretexts! For the mere thought of being left alone, face to face with his own conscience, has become unbearable to him. The time has come when the devil can have a free hand to encompass the ruin of a soul that has shown itself disposed to be such a willing accomplice. The ground is prepared. Since activity has become a passion in his victim, he now fans it into a raging fever. Since it has become intolerable for him to even think of forgetting his urgent affairs and recollecting himself, the demon increases that loathing into sheer horror, and takes care at the same time to intoxicate the soul with fresh enterprises, skillfully colored with the attractive motives of God’s glory and the greater good of souls.

And now our friend, up to so recently a man of virtuous habits, is going from weakness to ever greater weakness, and will soon place his foot upon an incline so slippery that he will be utterly unable to keep himself from falling. Deep in his heart he is miserable, and vaguely realizes that all this agitation is not according to the Heart of God, but the only result is that he hurls himself even more blindly into the whirlpool in order to drown his remorse. His faults are piled up to a fatal degree. Things that used to trouble the upright conscience of this man are now despised as vain scruples. He is fond of proclaiming that a man ought to live with the times, meet the enemy on equal terms, and so he praises the active virtues to the skies, expressing nothing but scorn for what he disdainfully calls “the piety of a bygone day.” Anyway, his enterprises prosper more than ever. Everybody is talking about them. Each day witnesses some new success. “God is blessing our work,” exclaims the deluded man, over whom, tomorrow, perhaps the angels will be weeping for a mortal sin.

How did this soul fall into so lamentable a state? Inexperience, presumption, vanity, carelessness, and cowardice are the answer. Haphazardly, without stopping to reflect on his inadequate spiritual resources, he threw himself into the midst of dangers. When his reserves of the interior life ran out, he found himself in the position of an uncautious swimmer who has no longer the strength to fight against the current, and is being swept away to the abyss.

Let us pause a moment to look back over the road that has been traveled, and to estimate the depth of the fall.

FIRST STAGE. The soul began by progressively losing the clarity and power (if ever it had any at all) of its convictions about the supernatural life, the supernatural world, and the economy of the plan and of the action of Our Lord with regard to the relation between the inner life of the apostle and his works. He ceases to see these works except through a delusive mirage. In a subtle way, vanity comes to act as a pedestal to his supposed good intentions. “What else can I do? God has given me the gift of oratory, and I thank Him for it,” was the reply made by a certain preacher, puffed up with vain complacency, and totally extroverted, to those who are flattering him. The soul seeks itself more than it seeks God. The foreground is completely taken up by reputation, glory, and personal interests. The text, “If I pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ,”

Si adhuc hominibus placerem, Christi servus non essem (Gal. 1:10).

becomes, to him, something altogether without meaning.

Besides ignorance of principles, the lack of supernatural foundations which characterizes this stage has sometimes as its cause and sometimes as its immediate result, dissipation, forgetfulness of God’s presence, giving up ejaculatory prayers and custody of the heart, want of delicacy of conscience and of regularity of life. Tepidity is close at hand, if it has not already begun.

SECOND STAGE. If the worker were a supernatural soul, being a slave of duty he would be greedy of his time, and regulate its use, living by a schedule. He would well realize that otherwise he would be living purely from morning to night.

But if he has no supernatural basis, he will soon find out about it. Since there is no spirit of faith governing his use of his time, he gives up his spiritual reading. Or else, if he still reads anything at all, he makes no studies. It was all right for the Fathers of the Church to spend the whole week preparing their Sunday sermons! For him, unless his vanity is at stake, he prefers to improvise. Yet his improvisations always hit it off with singular aptness—at least that is what he thinks! He likes to read magazines rather than books. He has no method. He flutters about from one thing to another like a butterfly. The law of work, that great law of preservation, of morality and of penance, is something he manages to escape by wasting his free time, and by the extreme pains he takes to provide himself with amusements.

Anything that would interfere with his free and easy ways, he considers tiresome, and a mere matter of theory—nothing practical. He does not have nearly enough time for all his works and social obligations, or even for what he deems the necessary care of his health, or his recreations. “Really,” says the devil to him, “you are giving too much time to pious exercises: meditation, office, Mass, work of the ministry. Something has to be cut out!” Invariably he begins by shortening the meditation, by making it only irregularly, or perhaps he even gets to the point where, bit by bit, he drops it altogether. The one indispensable requisite for remaining faithful to his meditation—namely, getting up at the right time—is all the more logically abandoned since he has so many good reasons for having gone to bed late the night before.

Now for a man in the active life to give up his meditation is tantamount to throwing down his arms at the feet of the enemy. “Short of a miracle,” says St. Alphonsus, “a man who does not practice mental prayer will end up in mortal sin.” And St. Vincent de Paul tells us: “A man without mental prayer is not good for anything; he cannot even renounce the slightest thing. ‘It is merely the life of an animal.’” Some authors quote St. Theresa as having said: “Without mental prayer a person soon becomes either a brute or a devil. If you do not practice mental prayer, you don’t need any devil to throw you into hell, you throw yourself in there of your own accord. On the contrary, give me the greatest of all sinners; if he practices mental prayer, be it only for fifteen minutes every day, he will be converted. If he perseveres in it, his eternal salvation is assured.” The experience of priests and religious vowed to active works is enough to establish that an apostolic worker who, under pretext of being too busy or too tired, or else out of repugnance, or laziness, or some illusion, is too easily brought to cut down his meditation to ten or fifteen minutes instead of binding himself to half an hour’s serious mental prayer from which he might draw plenty of energy and drive for his day’s work, will inevitably fall into tepidity of the will.

In this stage, it is no longer a matter of avoiding imperfections. His soul is crawling with venial sins. The ever growing impossibility of vigilance over his heart makes most of these faults pass unnoticed by his conscience. The soul has disposed itself in such a manner that it cannot and will not see. How will such a one fight against things which he no longer regards as defects? His lingering disease is already far advanced. Such is the consequence of the second stage, which is characterized by the giving up of mental prayer and of daily schedule.

Everything is now ripe for the—

THIRD STAGE, of which the symptom is neglect in the recitation of the BREVIARY. The prayer of the Church, which ought to give the soldier of Christ joy and strength to lift himself up, from time to time, and let God carry him in a flight high above the visible world, has now become a very tiring duty to be borne with patience. The liturgical life, source of light, joy, strength, merit and grace for himself and for the faithful, is now nothing more than the occasion of a distasteful task, grudgingly discharged. The interior virtue of religion is more than affected by the disease. The fever for active works is beginning to dry it up altogether. The soul no longer sees the worship of God except insofar as it can be tied up with striking exterior display. The obscure and personal but heartfelt sacrifice of praise, of supplication, of thanksgiving, of reparation, no longer means anything to such a man. In the old days, when he was reciting his vocal prayers, he used to say with legitimate pride, as though to enter into rivalry with a choir of monks: I too “shall sing to Thee in the sight of angels.” In conspectu angelorum psallam tibi.

Ps. 137:2.

The sanctuary of this soul, once fragrant with the liturgical life, has become a public thoroughfare where noise and disorder reign. Exaggerated worry over business and habitual dissipation are enough to multiply his distractions tenfold. And, for the rest, he fights these distractions with less and less vigor. “The Lord is not in noise.”

Non in commotione Dominus (3 Reg. 19:11).

Genuine prayer is no longer to be found in this soul. He prays in a rush, with interruptions that have not the slightest justification; all is done neglectfully, sleepily, with many delays, putting it off until the last minute, at the risk of being finally overcome by sleep. And, perhaps, now and again, he skips parts of the office and leaves them out. All of this transforms what should be a medicine into a poison. The sacrifice of praise becomes a long litany of sins, and sins which may end up by being more than venial.

FOURTH STAGE. Everything links up. Deep calls to deep. Now it is the SACRAMENTS. They are received and administered, no doubt, as something worthy of respect; but there is no longer any sense of the vital energy contained in them. The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle or in the holy tribunal of Penance is no longer able to make the springs of faith shudder even to the depths of his soul. Even the Mass, the Sacrifice of Calvary, has become a closed garden. Of course, the soul is still far from sacrilege—let us at least believe that much! But there is no longer any reaction to the warmth of the Precious Blood. His Consecrations are cold; his Communions tepid, distracted, superficial. A familiarity without respect, routine, maybe even repugnance, are lying in wait for him now.

Thus deformed, the apostle lives outside of Christ, and as for the confidential words spoken by Jesus to His true friends: they are no longer for him.

And yet, at long intervals, the heavenly Friend manages to reach him with a movement of remorse, a light, an appeal. He waits. He knocks. He ask to be let in. “Come to Me, poor wounded soul, won’t you come to Me? I will heal you.” Venite ad me omnes . . . et ego reficiam vos.

Matt. 11:28.

For I am your salvation: salus tua ego sum.

Psalm 34:3.

I came to save that which was lost: Venit Filius hominis quaerere et salvum facere quod perierat.”

Luc. 19:10.

So gentle, so kind, so discreet, so urgent, this voice brings moments of emotion, and sentimental, evanescent urges to do better. But the door of the heart is only slightly ajar. Jesus cannot get in. These good movements in the tepid soul come to nothing at all. Grace goes by in vain, and will turn against the soul. Perhaps Jesus, in His mercy, to avoid piling up a huge store of wrath, will even cease His appeals. “Fear Jesus passing by, and never returning.”

Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem.

Now, let us go further and penetrate even into the depths of this soul whose features we are sketching.

Thoughts play a most important part in the Supernatural, as well as in the moral and intellectual life. Now what are the thoughts that occupy this man, and what direction do they take? Human, earthly, vain, superficial, and egotistical, they converge more and more upon self or upon creatures, and that, sometimes, with every appearance of devotion to duty and of sacrifice.

This disorder in the mind brings with it a corresponding unruliness in the imagination. Of all our powers, this one is the most in need of being repressed at this stage. And yet it never even occurs to him to put on the brakes! Therefore, having free rein, it runs wild. No exaggeration, no madness, is too much for it. And the progressive suppression of all mortification of the eyes soon gives this crazy tenant of his soul opportunities to forage wherever it wills, in lush pastures!

The disorder pursues its course. From the mind and the imagination it gets down into the affections. The heart is filled with nothing but will-o’-the-wisps. What is going to become of this dissipated heart, scarcely concerned any more with the Kingdom of God within itself? It has become insensible to the joys of intimacy with Christ, to the marvelous poetry of the Mysteries, to the severe beauty of the Liturgy, to the appeals and attractions of God in the Blessed Eucharist. It is, in a word, insensible to the influences of the supernatural world. What will become of it? Shall it concentrate upon itself? Suicide! No. It must have affection. No longer finding happiness in God, it will love creatures. It is at the mercy of the first occasion for such love. It flings itself without prudence or control into the breach, without a care perhaps even for the most sacred of vows, nor for the highest interests of the Church, nor even for its own reputation. Let us suppose that such a heart would still be upset by the thought of apostasy—and profoundly so. But still, it feels far less fear at the thought of scandalizing souls.

Thanks be to God, it is doubtless the exception for anyone to follow this course to the very limit. But is there anyone incapable of seeing that this getting tired of God, and accepting forbidden pleasures, can drag the heart down to the worst of disasters? Starting from the fact that “the sensual man perceiveth not the things that are of the Spirit of God,”

Animalis homo non intelligit quae sunt Spiritus Dei (1 Cor. 2:14).

we must necessarily end up with: “He who was reared in the purple has embraced dung.”

Qui nutriebantur in croceis amplexati sunt stercora (Lam. Jerem. 4:5).

Obstinate clinging to illusion, blindness of mind, hardness of heart all follow one another in progressive stages. We can expect anything.

To crown his misfortunes, the will is now found to be, though not destroyed, reduced to such a state of weakness and flabbiness that it is practically impotent. Do not ask him to fight back with vigor; that would make a simple effort, and all you will get will be the despairing answer, “I can’t.” Now a man who is no longer capable of making any effort, at this stage, is on the way to dreadful calamities.

A well-known enemy of the Church dared to say that he was unable to believe in the fidelity of certain persons to their vows and obligations, since they were forced by their works to mix freely in the life of the world. “They are walking a tightrope,” he said, “they are bound to fall.” We must answer this insult to God and His Church by replying, without hesitation, these falls can be MOST CERTAINLY avoided when one knows how to use the precious balancing pole of the interior life. It is only the abandonment of this INFALLIBLE instrument that brings dizziness and the fatal false step into space.

That admirable Jesuit, Fr. Lallemant, takes us right back to the first cause of these disasters when he says: “There are many apostolic workers who never do anything purely for God. In all things, they seek themselves, and they are always secretly mingling their own interests with the glory of God in the best of their work. And so they spend their life in this intermingling of nature and grace. Finally death comes along, and then alone do they open their eyes, behold their deception, and tremble at the approach of the formidable judgment of God.”

P. Lallemant, Doct. Spirit.

Far be it from us, of course, to include among these self-preaching apostles so zealous and powerful a missionary as was the famous Fr. Combalot. But surely it is not out of place at this point to quote what he said at the approach of death. The priest who had just administered the last Sacraments said to him: “Have confidence, dear friend. You have preserved all your priestly integrity, and your thousands of sermons will argue in your behalf before God, to excuse this lack of inner life of which you speak.” “My sermons!” cried the dying man, “Oh what a light I see them in now! My sermons! If Our Lord is not the first in bringing up the subject of them, you can be sure that I won’t mention it!” In the light of eternity, this venerable priest saw, in the very best of his good works, imperfections that filled his conscience with alarm, and which he attributed to a lack of interior life.

Cardinal du Perron, at the hour of his death, expressed his sorrow at having been more devoted, during his life, to perfecting his intellect by science than his will by the exercises of the interior life.

O Jesus, Thou Apostle above all others, did anyone ever spend himself as much as Thou, when Thou didst live among us? Today Thou dost give Thyself more generously still by Thy Eucharistic life, without, for all that, ever leaving the bosom of Thy Father. Would we were unable to forget that Thou dost not want to know our works unless they be animated by a truly Supernatural principle; unless they be rooted deep in Thy adorable Heart.

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