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The Soul Of The Apostolate

Since holiness is nothing but the interior life carried to such a point that the will is in close union with the will of God, ordinarily, and short of a miracle of grace, the soul will not arrive at this point without traveling through all the stages of the purgative and illuminative lives—and that with many and grueling efforts. Let us take note of a law of the spiritual life, that all through the course of the sanctification of a soul, the activity of God and that of the soul are in inverse proportion to one another. From day to day God does more and more of the work, and the soul does less and less.

The activity of God in the souls of the perfect is something quite different from His activity in the souls of beginners. In the latter, being less obvious, it consists mostly in inciting and sustaining vigilance and suppliant prayer, thus offering them a means of obtaining grace for new efforts. But, in the perfect God acts in a much more complete fashion, and sometimes all He asks is a simple consent, that will unite the soul to His supreme action.

Beginners, even the tepid soul and the sinner, whom the Lord wants to draw close to Himself, feel themselves first of all moved to seek God, then to prove to Him more and more their desire of pleasing Him, and finally to rejoice in all providential opportunities that permit them to dislodge self-love from its throne and set up, in its place, the reign of Christ alone. In such cases, the action of God is confined to stimulation and to help.

In the saint this action is far more powerful and far more entire. In the midst of weariness and suffering, satiated with humiliations or crushed by illness, the saint has nothing to do but abandon himself to the divine action; otherwise he would be unable to bear the torments which, according to the designs of God, are intended to bring his perfection to full maturity. In him is fully realized the text: “God put all things under Him that God may be all in all.”

Deus subjicit sibi omnia ut sit Deus omnia in omnibus. (1 Cor. 15:28).

He depends so completely upon Christ for all things that he seems no longer to live by himself. Such was the testimony of the apostle, with regard to himself: “I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

Vivo autem jam non ego, vivit vero in me Christus (Gal. 2:20).

It is the spirit of Christ alone that does the thinking and the acting, and makes all the decisions. No doubt this divinization is far from achieving the intensity that it will have in glory, and yet this state already reflects the characteristics of the beatific union.

Is there any need to point out that all this is far from being the case with a beginner, or a tepid soul, or with one that is merely fervent? There exists a whole series of means adapted to their states, means which, as a matter of fact, can serve one of these types just as well as the other. But the beginner, like an apprentice, will have much trouble, will advance slowly; and, in short, will not accomplish very much. The fervent man, already a skilled workman, will do his job fast and well, and, with little difficulty, will gain much more profit.

But no matter what class of apostles we may be discussing, the intentions of Providence in regard to them are always the same. God desires that always, and in all these souls, active work should be a means of sanctification. But whereas for the soul that has arrived at sanctity the apostolate offers no serious danger, does not exhaust his strength and provides him with abundant opportunities to grow in virtue and in merit, we have seen how rapidly it brings on spiritual anemia, and consequently regression on the road to perfection, in souls only feebly united with God—souls in whom the love of prayer, the spirit of sacrifice, and above all habitual watchfulness over the heart are but poorly developed.

This habit of vigilance will never be refused by God when He sees insistent prayer and repeated proofs of fidelity. He pours it without measure upon a generous soul who, by unceasing new-beginnings, has managed to transform its power and make them supple in responding to the inspirations from above, and capable of joyfully accepting contradiction and failure, loss and deception.

Let us consider six main features of the way the interior life filters into a soul to establish it in genuine virtue.

“It is more difficult to live well, when one has care of souls, on account of the dangers from without,” says St. Thomas.

Difficilius est bene conversari cum cura animarum propter exteriora pericula (2a 2ae, q. 184. a.8).

We have spoken of these dangers in the preceding chapter.

While the active worker who has no interior spirit is unaware of the dangers arising from his work, and thus resembles an unarmed traveler passing through a forest infested with brigands, the genuine apostle, for his part, dreads them and each day he takes precautions against them by a serious examination of conscience which reveals to him his weak points.

If the interior life did nothing more than procure for us the advantage of realizing our incessant danger, it would already be contributing very much to our protection against surprises along our way; for to foresee a danger is half the battle in avoiding it. And yet the inner life has an even greater utility than merely this. It becomes, for the man engaged in the ministry, a complete set of armor. “Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil.”

Put you on the armor of God that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil . . . that you may he able to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice. And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace in all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may he able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:11–17).

It is a divine armor which permits him not only to resist the temptations and avoid the snares set before him by the devil (that you may be able to resist in the evil day), but also to sanctify his every act (and stand in all things perfect).

It girds him with purity of intention, which concentrates all his thoughts, desires, and affections upon God and keeps him from going astray and seeking his own comfort, pleasures, and distractions: “having your loins girt about with truth.”

It puts on him the breastplate of charity, which gives him a manly heart and defends him against the seductions of creatures and of the spirit of the world, as well as against the assaults of the demon: “having on the breastplate of justice.”

He is shod with discretion and reserve in order that in all that he does he may know how to combine the simplicity of the dove and the prudence of the serpent: “And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.”

Satan and the world will try to deceive his intellect with the sophisms of false doctrine, and to sap his energies with the enticements of lax principles. But the interior life faces all these lies with the shield of faith, which keeps ever before our eyes the splendor of the divine ideal: “In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one.”

The soul will find, in the knowledge of its own nothingness, in care for its own salvation, in the conviction that we can do absolutely nothing without grace, and consequently need at all times insistent, suppliant, and frequent prayer (all the more efficacious in proportion to its confidence)—in all this the soul will find a brazen helmet against which all the blows of pride are dulled: “take unto you the helmet of salvation.”

Thus armed from head to foot, the apostle can give himself without fear to good works, and his zeal, enkindled by meditation on the Gospel and fortified by the Bread of the Eucharist, will become a sword that will serve him both in combat against the enemies of his own soul and in conquest of a host of souls for Christ: “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.”

Only a saint, as we have said, is able to keep intact the interior spirit and always direct all his thoughts and intentions to God alone, in the midst of a welter of occupations, and in habitual contact with the world. In such a one, every outlay of external activity is so supernaturalized and enflamed with charity that, far from diminishing his strength, it brings with it, necessarily, an increase of grace.

In other people, even fervent souls, the supernatural life seems to suffer loss after more or less time spent in exterior occupations. Their less perfect hearts, too preoccupied with the good to be done to their neighbor, too absorbed with a compassion (for the woes to be alleviated ) that is not nearly Supernatural enough, seem to send up to God flames less pure, darkened with the smoke of numerous imperfections.

God does not punish this weakness by a decrease of His grace, and does not demand a strict account of these failings, provided there is a serious attempt at vigilance and prayer in the midst of action, and that the soul is ready, when its work is done, to return to Him and rest and regain its strength. This habit of constantly beginning over again, which is necessitated by the combination of the active with the interior life, gives joy to His paternal Heart.

Besides, in those who really put up a fight, these imperfections become less and less serious and frequent in proportion as the soul learns to return, tirelessly, to Christ, whom we will always find ready to say to us: “Come back to Me, poor panting heart, athirst with the length of the course. Come and find in these living waters the secret of new energy for other journeys. Withdraw thyself a little from the crowd that is unable to offer thee the nourishment required by thy exhausted strength. Come apart and rest a little.

Venite in locum desertum seorsum et requiescite pusillum (Marc. 6:31).

In the peace and quiet thou shalt enjoy being with Me, not only wilt thou soon recapture thy first vigor, but also wilt thou learn how to do more work with less expense of strength. Elias, disheartened, discouraged, found his strength renewed in an instant by a certain mysterious bread. Even so, My apostle, in this enviable task of co-redeemer that it has pleased Me to impose upon thee, I offer thee the chance, both by My word, which is all life, and by My grace, that is, by My Blood, to direct thy spirit once again towards the horizons of eternity and to renew the pact of friendship between thy heart and Mine. Come, I will console thee for the sorrows and deceptions of the journey. And thou shalt temper once again the steel of thy resolutions in the furnace of My love.” “Come to Me all you that labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you.”

Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis, et ego reficiam vos (Matt. 9:28). In connection with these appeals of our Lord to souls of good will we call their attention in a special manner to what is said further on page XXX about learning custody of the heart.

“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is Christ Jesus.”

Tu ergo, fili mi, confortare in gratia (2 Tim. 2:1).

Grace is a participation in the life of the man-God. The creature possesses a certain measure of strength and can, in a certain sense, be qualified and defined as a force. But Christ is power in its very essence. In Him dwells in all its fullness the power of the Father, the omnipotence of divine action, and His Spirit is called the Spirit of Power.

“O Jesus,” cries St. Gregory Nazianzen, “in Thee alone dwells all my strength.” “Outside of Christ,” says St. Jerome, in his turn, “I am powerlessness itself.”

The Seraphic Doctor, in the fourth book of his Compendium Theologiae, enumerates the five chief characteristics which the power of Christ takes on in us. The first is that it undertakes difficult things and confronts obstacles with courage: “Have courage and let your heart be strong.”

Viriliter agite et confortetur cor vestrum (Ps. 30:25).

The second is contempt for the things of this earth: “I have suffered the loss of all things and counted them but as dung that I may gain Christ.”

Omnia detrimentum feci et arbitror ut stercora ut lucrifaciam Christum (Philipp. 3:8).

The third is patience under trial: “Love is strong as death.”

Fortis ut mors dilectio (Cant. 8:6).

The fourth is resistance to temptation: “As a roaring lion he goeth about . . . whom resist ye, strong in faith.”

Tamquam leo rugiens circuit . . . cui resistite fortes in fide (1 Pet. 5:8–9).

The fifth is interior martyrdom, that, is, the testimony not of blood but of one’s very life, crying out to Christ: “I want to belong to Thee alone.” It consists in fighting the concupiscences, in overcoming vice and in working manfully for the acquisition of virtues: “I have fought a good fight.”

Bonum certamen certavi (2 Tim. 4:7).

While the exterior man counts on his own natural powers, the man of interior life, on the other hand, sees them as nothing but helps; useful helps, no doubt, but far from being everything that he needs. The sense of his weakness and his faith in the power of God give him, as they did to St. Paul, the exact limit of his strength. When he sees the obstacles that rise up one after another before him, he cries out in humble pride: “When I am weak, then am I powerful.”

Cum enim infirmor, tunc potens sum (2 Cor. 12:10).

“Without interior life,” says Pius X, “we will never have strength to persevere in sustaining all the difficulties inseparable from any apostolate, the coldness and lack of co-operation even on the part of virtuous men, the calumnies of our adversaries, and at times even the jealousy of friends and comrades in arms . . . Only a patient virtue, unshakably based upon the good, and at the same time smooth and tactful, is able to move these difficulties to one side and diminish their power.”

Encyclical of Pius X, June 11, 1905, to the Priests of Italy.

By the life of prayer, comparable to the sap flowing from the vine into the branches, the divine power comes down upon the apostle to strengthen the understanding by giving it a firmer footing in faith. The apostle makes progress because this virtue lights his path with its clear brilliance. He goes forward with resolution because he knows where he wants to go, and how to arrive at his goal.

This enlightenment is accompanied by such great supernatural energy in the will that even a weak and vacillating character becomes capable of heroic acts.

Thus it is that the principle, “abide in Me,”

Manete in me (Joan. 15:4).

union with the Immutable, with Him who is the Lion of Juda and the Bread of the strong, explains the miracle of invincible constancy and perfect firmness, which were united, in so marvelous an apostle as was St. Francis de Sales, with a humility and tact beyond compare. The mind and the will are strengthened by the interior life, because love is strengthened. Christ purifies our love and directs and increases it as we go on. He allows us to share in the movements of compassion, devotion, abnegation, and selflessness of His adorable Heart. If this love increases until it becomes a passion, then Jesus takes all the natural and supernatural powers of man, and exalts them to the limit, and uses them for Himself.

Thus it is easy to judge what an increase of merit will flow from the multiplication of energies given by the interior life, when one remembers that merit depends less upon the difficulty that may be entailed by an action, than upon the intensity of charity with which it is carried out.

Only a burning and unchangeable love is capable of filling a whole life with sunlight, for it is love that possesses the secret of gladdening the heart even in the midst of great sorrows and crushing fatigue.

The life of an apostolic worker is a tissue of sufferings and hard work. What hours of sadness, anxiety, and gloom await the apostle who has not the conviction that he is loved by Christ—no matter how buoyant his character may be—unless perhaps the demon fowlers make the mirror of human consolations and of apparent success glitter before this simple bird, to draw him into their inextricable nets. Only the man-God can draw from a soul this superhuman cry: “I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.”

Superabundo gaudio in omni tribulatione nostra (2 Cor. 7:4).

In the midst of my inmost trials, the Apostle is saying, the summit of my being, like that of Jesus at Gethsemani, tastes a joy that, though it has nothing sensible about it, is so real that, in spite of the agony suffered by my interior self, I would not exchange it for all the joys of the world.

When trials come, or contradiction, humiliation, suffering, the loss of possessions, even the loss of those we love, the soul will accept all these crosses in a far different manner than would have been the case at the beginning of his conversion.

From day to day he grows in charity. His love has nothing spectacular about it, perhaps; the Master may give him the treatment accorded to strong souls and lead him through the ways of an ever more and more profound annihilation or by the path of expiation for himself and for the world. It matters little. Protected by his recollection, nourished by the Holy Eucharist, his love grows without ceasing, and the proof of this growth is to be found in the generosity with which he sacrifices and abandons himself; in the devotedness which urges him to press forward, careless of the difficulty, to find those souls upon whom he is to exercise his apostolate with such patience, prudence, tact, compassion, and ardor as can only be explained by the penetration of the life of Christ in him. Vivit vero in me Christus.

The Sacrament of love must be the Sacrament of Joy. There is no interior soul that is not at the same time a Eucharistic soul, and consequently, one who enjoys inwardly the gift of God, delights in His presence, and tastes the sweetness of the Beloved possessed within the soul and there adored.

The life of the apostolic man is a life of prayer. And the Saint of Ars says: “The life of prayer is the one big happiness on this earth. O marvelous life! The wonder of the union of a soul with God! Eternity will not be long enough to understand this happiness. . . . The interior life is a bath of love, into which the soul may plunge entirely. . . . And there the soul is, as it were, drowned in love. . . . God holds the interior soul the way a mother holds her baby’s head in her hand, to cover him with kisses and caresses.”

Further, our joy is nourished when we contribute to cause the object of our love to be served and honored. The apostle will know all these joys.

Using active works to increase his love, he feels, at the same time, an increase of joy and consolation. A “hunter of souls”—venator animarum—he has the joy of contributing to the salvation of beings that would have been damned, and thus he has the joy of consoling God by giving His souls from whom He would have been separated for eternity. And finally he has the joy of knowing that he thus obtains for himself one of the firmest guarantees of progress in virtue and of eternal glory.

The man of faith judges active works by quite a different light from the man who lives in outward things. What he looks at is not so much the outward appearance of things, as their place in the divine plan and their supernatural results.

And so, considering himself as a simple instrument, his soul is all the more filled with horror at any self-satisfaction in his own endowments, because he places his sole hope of success in the conviction of his own helplessness and confidence in God alone.

Thus he is confirmed in a state of abandonment. And as he passes through his various difficulties, how different is his attitude from that of the apostle who knows nothing of intimacy with Christ!

Furthermore, this abandonment does not in the least diminish his zeal for action. He acts as though success depended entirely on his own activity, but in point of fact he expects it from God alone.

St. Ignatius Loyola.

He has no trouble subordinating all his projects and hopes to the unfathomable designs of a God who often uses failure even better than success to bring about the good of souls.

Consequently this soul will remain in a state of holy indifference with respect to success or failure. He is always ready to say: “O my God, Thou dost not will that the work I have begun should be completed. It pleases Thee that I confine myself acting valiantly yet ever peacefully, to making efforts to achieve results, but that I leave to Thee alone the task of deciding whether Thou wilt receive more glory from my success, or from the act of virtue that failure will give me the opportunity to perform. Blessed a thousand times be Thy holy and adorable Will, and may I, with the help of Thy grace, know just as well how to repel the slightest symptoms of vain complacency, if Thou shouldst bless my work, as to humble myself and adore Thee if Thy Providence sees fit to wipe out everything that my labors have produced.”

The heart of the apostle bleeds, in very truth, when he beholds the sufferings of the Church, but his manner of suffering has nothing in common with that of the man animated by no supernatural spirit. This is easily seen when we consider the behavior and the feverish activity of the latter as soon as difficulties arise, and when we look at his fits of impatience and of dejection, his despair sometimes, his complete collapse in the presence of ruins beyond repair. The genuine apostle makes use of everything, success as well as failure, to increase his hope and expand his soul in confident abandonment to Providence. There is not the slightest detail of his apostolate that does not serve as the occasion for an act of faith. There is not a moment of his persevering toil that does not give him a chance to prove his love, for by practicing custody of the heart he manages to do everything with more and more perfect purity of heart, and by his abandonment he makes his ministry day by day more selfless.

Thus, every one of his acts takes on ever more and more of the character of sanctity, and his love of souls, which at the outset was mixed with many imperfections, gets purer and purer all the time; he ends up by only seeing these souls in Christ and loving them only in Christ, and thus, through Christ, he brings them forth to God. “My children of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you.”

Filioli mei quos iterum parturio. donec formetur Christus in vobis (Gal. 4:19).

Bossuet has a sentence which is beyond the comprehension of an apostle who does not realize what must be the soul of his apostolate. It runs: “When God desires a work to be wholly from His hand, he reduces all to impotence and nothingness, and then He acts.”

Nothing wounds God so much as pride. And yet when we go out for success, we can get to such a point, by our lack of purity of intention, that we set ourselves up as a sort of divinity, the principle and end of our own works. This idolatry is an abomina tion in the sight of God. And so when He sees that the activities of the apostle lack that selflessness which His glory demands from a creature, he some times leaves the field clear for secondary causes to go to work, and the building soon comes crashing down.

The workman faces his task with all the fire of his nature—active, intelligent, loyal. Perhaps he realizes brilliant success. He even rejoices in them. He takes complacency in them. It is his work. All his! Veni, vidi, vici. He has just about appropriated this famous saying to himself. But wait a little. Something hap pens, with the permission of God; a direct attack by Satan or the world is inflicted upon the work or even the person of the apostle; result, total ruin. But far more tragic is the interior upheaval in this ex-champion—the product of his sorrow and discouragement. The greater was his joy, the more profound his present state of dejection.

Something happens, with the permission of God; direct attack by Satan or the world is inflicted upon the work or even the person of the apostle; result, total ruin. But far more tragic is the interior upheaval in this ex-champion—the product of his sorrow and discouragement. The greater was his joy, the more profound his present state of dejection.

Only Our Lord is capable of raising up this wreck. “Get up,” He says to the discouraged apostle, “and instead of acting alone, take to your work again, but with Me, in Me, and by Me.” But the miserable man no longer hears this voice. He has become so lost in externals that it would take a real miracle of grace for him to hear it—a miracle upon which his repeated infidelities give him no right to count. Only a vague conviction of the Power of God and of His Providence hovers over the desolation of this benighted failure, and it is not enough to drive away the clouds of sadness which continue to envelop him.

What a different sight is the real priest, whose ideal it is to reproduce Our Lord! For him, prayer and holiness of life remain the two chief ways of acting upon the Heart of God and on the hearts of men. Yes, he has spent himself, and generously too. But the mirage of success seemed to him to be something unworthy of the undivided attention of a real apostle. Let storms come if they will, the secondary cause that produced them is of no importance. In the midst of a heap of ruins, since he has worked only with Our Lord, he hears clearly in the depths of his heart the “Fear not”—nolitimere—which gave back to the disciples, in the storm, their peace and confidence.

He runs to renew his love of the Blessed Sacrament, his deep, personal devotion to the Sorrows of Our Lady; and that is the first result of the trial.

His soul, instead of being crushed by failure, comes out of the wine press with its youth renewed. His youth will be renewed like an eagle.

Sicut aquilae juventus renovabitur (Psalm 102).

Where does he get this attitude of humble triumph in the midst of defeat? Seek the secret of it nowhere else but in that union with Christ and in that unshakable confidence in His omnipotence which made St. Ignatius say: “If the Company were to be suppressed, without any fault on my part, a quarter of an hour alone with God would be enough to give me back my calm and peace.” “The heart of an interior soul,” says the Curé d’Ars, “stands in the middle of humiliations and sufferings like a rock in the midst of the sea.”

We wonder if most active workers are capable of applying to their own lives the idea expressed by General de Sonis in this wonderful daily prayer related by the author of his life?

“My God, here I am before You, poor, little, stripped of everything.

“Here I am at Your feet, sunk in the depths of my own nothingness.

“I wish I had something to offer You, but I am nothing but wretchedness! You, You are everything. You are my wealth.

“My God, I thank You for having willed that I should be nothing in Your sight. I love my humiliation and my nothingness. I thank You for having taken away from me a few satisfactions of self-love, a few consolations of the heart. I thank You for every deception that has befallen me, every ingratitude, every humiliation. I see that they were necessary: the goods of which they deprived me might have kept me far from You.

“O my God, I bless You when You give me trials. I love to be used up, broken to pieces, destroyed by You. Crush me more and more. Let me be in the building not as a stone worked and polished by the hand of the mason, but like an insignificant grain of sand, gathered from the dust of the road.

“My God, I thank You for having let me catch a glimpse of the sweetness of Your consolations, and I thank You for having taken that glimpse away. Everything that You do is just and good. I bless You in my abject poverty, I regret nothing except that I have not loved You enough. I desire nothing but that Your will be done.

“You are my Owner, I am Your property. Turn me this way or that way. Break me up, work on me however You like. I want to be reduced to nothing for love of You.

“O Jesus, how good is Your hand, even at the most terrible intensity of my trial. Let me be crucified, but crucified by You. Amen.”

The apostle does indeed suffer. Perhaps the event that has just frustrated his efforts and ruined his work will result in the loss of several of his flock. A bitter sorrow for this true pastor—but it will not be able to dampen the ardor that will make him start over again. He knows that all redemption, be it merely that of a single soul, is a great work, accomplished above all by suffering. He is certain that generosity in supporting trial increases his progress in virtue, and procures greater glory for God; and this certainty is enough to sustain him.

Besides, he knows that often God wants from him nothing more than the seeds of success. Others will come, who will reap rich harvests, and perhaps they will think themselves entitled to all the credit. But heaven will be able to see the cause of it all in the thankless and seemingly sterile work that went before “I have sent you to reap that which you did not labor; others have labored and you have entered into their labors.”

Misi vos metere quod vos non laborastis; alii laboraverunt et vos in labores eorum introistis (Joan. 4:38).

Our Lord, Author of the success of the Apostles after Pentecost, willed that, in the course of His public life, He should only sow the seed of that success by teaching and example, and He predicted to His apostles that it would be given them to do works greater than His own: “The works I do, he also shall do, and greater than these shall he do.”

Opera quae ego facio, et ipse faciet, et majora horum faciet (Joan. 14:12).

What! A true apostle lose courage! He allow himself to be shaken by the words of cowards! He condemn himself to go into retirement just because of some failure! To say such a thing is to lack all understanding either of his interior life or his faith in Christ. A tireless bee, he sets about joyfully building up new honeycombs in his plundered hive.

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