Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

The Soul Of The Apostolate

No results may be expected from a vague desire for the interior life, conceived after the hurried reading of some book.

This desire must take shape in a precise, fervent, and practical resolution.

Many active workers have asked us to help them on their way to carry out their project of an interior life by stating a few general resolutions.

The answer to their requests means adding a kind of appendix to the present volume.

However, we are glad to accede to their desires, since we are convinced that no active worker, priest or layman, will have truly profited by the reading of what has been said so far, unless he is fully determined to set apart a certain time, every morning, for mental prayer; and that, on the other hand, no priest who wishes to make progress in the interior life can neglect to use the liturgical life or to practice custody of the heart.

It seems to us more practical to present these three points in the form of personal resolutions.

We make no pretense of originating a new method of mental prayer, but merely attempt to extract the pith of the best methods.

Resolution on Mental Prayer

Each of these resolutions is to be slowly meditated, or rather divided up into several meditations. Merely reading through them will not be of much benefit.

I firmly resolve to practice mental prayer every morning.

Is this fidelity to mental prayer absolutely necessary?

I am a priest; I heard, on my ordination retreat, the grave words: Sacerdos alter Christus. I then understood that if I do not make Christ in a special manner the source of all my life, I will not be a priest according to His Heart, I will not be a priestly soul. As a priest I must live in intimacy with Christ. That is what He expects of me. “I will not now call you servants . . . but I have called you friends.”

Jam non dicam vos servos, vos autem dixi amicos (Joan. 15:15).

But my life with Christ—Principle, Means, and End—will develop in proportion as He is the light of my reason and of all my interior and exterior acts, the love that regulates all the affections of my heart, my strength in time of trial, in my struggles, in my work, and the food of that supernatural life which makes me share even in the life of God.

Fidelity to mental prayer will guarantee this life with Christ. Without mental prayer it is morally impossible.

Shall I dare to insult, by my refusal, the Heart of Him who offers me the means to live in friendship with Him?

Another important, though negative, aspect of the necessity for mental prayer: in the economy of the divine plan, it is a sure defense against the dangers inherent in my weakness, in my relations with the world, and in certain of my duties.

If I practice mental prayer, I am clad, as it were, in steel armor and am invulnerable to the shafts of the enemy. Without mental prayer, I will certainly be wounded. Hence, there will be many faults which I will hardly notice, if at all, and yet they will be imputed to me as their cause.

“A priest in constant contact with the world faces the choice between mental prayer or a very great risk of damnation,” said the pious and learned and prudent Fr. Desurmont, without any hesitation: and he was one of the most experienced preachers of ecclesiastical retreats.

Cardinal Lavigerie, in his turn, said: “For an apostle, there is no halfway between sanctity, if not acquired, at least desired and pursued (especially by means of daily mental prayer), and gradual corruption.”

Every priest can apply to his meditation the words with which the Holy Cross inspired the Psalmist: “Unless THY LAW had been my meditation I had then perhaps perished in my abjection.”

Nisi quod lex tua meditatio mea est, tunc forte periisem in humilitate mea (Ps. 118:92).

Now this law goes so far as to oblige the priest to reproduce the spirit of Our Lord.

A Priest Is as Good as His Mental Prayer

Two Classes of Priests

1. Priests whose resolve is so firm that they will not even allow their mental prayer to be delayed by pretexts of social niceties, business, and so on. Only a very rare case, of absolute impossibility, will make them postpone it until some other half-hour, later in the morning. Nothing more.

These true priests set their hearts on getting definite results in their mental prayer, which they insist on keeping distinct from their thanksgiving after Mass, from all spiritual reading, and, a fortiori, from the composition of a sermon.

They possess sanctity, by virtue of their efficacious desire for it. As long as they persevere in this course, their salvation is morally certain.

2.Priests who make nothing but a half-hearted resolution and who put off, and so easily omit, their mental prayer altogether, distort its object, or make no real effort to succeed in it.

What can they look forward to? Inevitable tepidity, subtle illusions, a drugged or distorted conscience—and these are steps on the slippery path to hell.

To which of these two classes do I want to belong? If I hesitate to make my choice, my retreat has been a failure.

All these things go together. If I give up my halfhour of mental prayer, even Holy Mass—and therefore my Communion—will soon give me no personal profit and may even be imputed to me as a sin. The laborious and almost mechanical recitation of my Breviary will no longer be the warm and joyous expression of my liturgical life. No vigilance, no recollection, and hence, no ejaculatory prayers. Alas! No more spiritual reading. My apostolate will be less and less fruitful. No frank and sincere examination of faults—still less any particular examen. Confession—a matter of routine, and sometimes of questionable worth. . . . The next step will be sacrilege!

The citadel, less and less well defended, lies open to the assault of a legion enemies. The walls are full of holes . . . soon the whole place will be in ruins.

Ascensio mentis in Deum.

The ascent of the mind to God.

To ascend thus,” says St. Thomas, “since it is an act not of the speculative but of the practical reason, implies acts of the will.”


Mental prayer is real hard work, especially for beginners. Work to get detached, for a few minutes, from all that is not God. Work to remain for half an hour fixed in God, and to gather yourself for a new effort to reach perfection. This work is no doubt hard, in the beginning, but I am going to accept it with generosity. Besides this work will be quickly rewarded by great consolations here on earth, by peace in friendship, and union with Jesus.

“Mental prayer,” says St. Theresa, “is nothing but a friendly conversation in which the soul speaks, heart-to-heart, with the One Who we know loves us.”

A loving conversation. It would be blasphemous to imagine that God, Who makes me feel the need and at times the attraction of this converse, and, what is more, makes it an obligation for me, should not want to make it easy for me. Even if I have long neglected it, Jesus calls me tenderly to mental prayer, and offers me special help in speaking this language of faith, hope, and love, which, as Bossuet says, is precisely what my mental prayer ought to be.

Am I going to resist this appeal of a Father Who calls even the prodigal to come and listen to His word, to talk to Him as a son; to open his heart to Him and to listen to the beatings of His own?

A simple conversation. I will be myself. I will speak to God of my tepidity, or my sins. I will speak to Him as a prodigal, or from the heat of my fervor. With the simplicity of a child, I will put my state of soul before Him, and I will only use words that express what I really am.

A practical conversation. When the smith plunges the iron into the fire, he is not just trying to make it hot and glowing; he wants to make it malleable. So too, the only reason why mental prayer is to give light to my mind and warmth to my heart is to make my soul pliant so that it can be hammered into a new shape, so that the faults and form of the old man may be hammered out, and the form and virtues of Jesus Christ imparted to it.

Thus the result of my conversation will be to elevate my soul to the level of the sanctity of Christ,

A definition, by Alvarez de Paz, of the object of mental prayer.

so that He may be able to fashion it in His own likeness. “Thou, Lord Jesus, Thou Thyself, with Thine own most gentle and most merciful, yet most powerful hand, dost FORM and MOULD my heart.”

Tu, Domine Jesu, Tu Ipse, Manu mitissima, misericordissima, sed tamen fortissima, formans ac pertractans cor meum (St. Augustine).

To make a practical application of the definition of mental prayer and the notion of its object, I will follow this logical advance. I will put my mind, especially my faith and my heart, in the presence of Our Lord teaching me a truth or a virtue. I will intensify my thirst to bring my soul into harmony with the ideal under consideration. I will deplore what is opposed to it, in me. Foreseeing the various obstacles, I will make up my mind to overcome them. But, convinced that by myself I will get nowhere, I will obtain, by my earnest prayers, the grace to succeed.

I am a traveler, exhausted, breathless; I seek to quench my thirst. At last, VIDEO:

VIDEO, I see. SITIO, I thirst. VOLO, I wish. VOLO TECUM, I wish with Thee.

I see a spring. But it is flowing from a sheer cliff. SITIO: the more I look at this limpid water that would enable me to continue my journey, the more my desire to quench my thirst increases, in spite of all the obstacles. VOLO: at all costs, I wish to reach this spring, I will to make every effort to get there. Alas! I have to admit that I am helpless. VOLO TECUM: a guide comes up. All that is required to enlist His help is that I ask Him. He carries me even where the going is hardest. Soon I am quenching my thirst in long draughts.

And that is the way it is with the living waters of grace that flow from the Heart of Jesus.

My spiritual reading, in the evening—so precious an element in the spiritual life—rekindles my desire for mental prayer the following morning. Before going to bed I foresee briefly, but in a clear and forceful manner, the subject of my meditation,

A book of meditations is almost necessary to keep the mind from drifting around in a fog.

There are plenty of works, old and new, that have everything that is demanded in a true book of meditations, as distinct from spiritual reading. Each point contains some striking truth presented in a clear, forceful, and concise manner, in such a way that once we have reflected upon it, we are inevitably led on into a loving and practical conversation with God.

A single point is plenty for half an hour; it should be summed up in a biblical or liturgical text, or in some fundamental idea proper to my state. Above all, we must meditate upon the last things, and sin, at least once a month; after that on our vocation, on the duties of our state, the capital sins, the principal virtues, God’s attributes, the mysteries of the Rosary or other scenes from the Gospel, especially the Passion. The feasts of the Liturgy suggest their own subjects.

as well as the special fruit I want to draw from it, and in the presence of God I stir up my desire to profit by it.

Now it is time for my meditation.

Clauso ostio (the doors being shut) as we read in the Gospel suggests that I should prefer that place in which I shall be least likely to be disturbed—the church, my room, the garden, etc.

It is my desire to tear myself away from the earth, and compel my imagination to present a living and speaking picture, which I am to substitute for my preoccupations, distractions, and so on.

For instance, Our Lord showing His Sacred Heart and saying: “I am the Resurrection and the Life”—or “Behold this Heart which has so loved men”—or else some scene from His life, Bethlehem, Thabor, Calvary, etc. If after a sincere and brief attempt we do not succeed in visualizing the scene, drop it and pass on; God will make up for it.

This picture will be a quick sketch, in a few bold lines, but it must be striking enough to grip my attention and place me in the presence of God, Whose activity, which is all love, seeks to surround and penetrate me. Thus I come into contact with a living

The whole success of mental prayer depends often enough on how attentively we consider the fact that the One to whom we speak is actually living and present before us; we must cease to treat Him as though He were far away, and passive; that is, little more than an abstraction.

interlocutor, who commands all my adoration and love.

At once I fall into profound adoration of Him. That is obvious, inescapable. I annihilate myself. I am filled with contrition, I make every protestation of complete dependence on Him, and offer up humble and confident prayer that this conversation with my God may be blessed.

We need to be thoroughly convinced of the fact that all God asks of us, in this conversation, is good will. A soul pestered by distractions, but who patiently comes back, each day, like a good child, to talk with God is making first-rate mental prayer. God supplies all our deficiencies.


Gripped by the sense of Your living presence, Dear Lord, and so detached from the purely natural order of things, I begin to talk to You in the language of Faith. Faith is much more fruitful than all the analyzing my reason can do. And so, I carefully read over, or turn over in my memory, this point of meditation.

Jesus, You are the One Who is talking to me, in this truth. You are the One teaching it to me. I want to get a livelier and greater faith in this truth which You are presenting to me as a thing of absolute certainty, since it is based on Your own veracity.

As for you, my soul, do not cease to repeat: “I BELIEVE.” Say it again, with even greater conviction. Be like a child going over a lesson; repeat over and over again that you cling to this doctrine and to all its consequences for your eternity.

That is the way to make convictions take a firm hold on your soul and to prepare for the gifts of the spirit of lively faith and supernatural insight.

Jesus, this is true, absolutely true, I believe it. I will that this ray from the sun of revelation shall serve as the beacon of my journey. Make my faith more ardent. Fill me with a vehement desire to live this ideal, and a holy anger against all that stands in its way. I want to devour this food of truth, and make it a part of me.

But if, after I have spent several minutes in stirring up my faith, I still remain cold to the truth presented to me—no use straining. I will simply turn to You like a child, my good Master, and tell You how sorry I am for this helplessness, and beg You to make up for it.


The more frequent are my acts of faith, and above all the more power they have (and they are a true participation in the light of the Divine Intelligence), the more intense will be the response of my heart—the language of affective love.

Affections, in fact, spring up all by themselves, or called forth by my will, and are cast like flowers before the feet of Jesus by my childlike soul as He speaks to me. Adoration, gratitude, love, joy, attachment to the Divine Will, and detachment from everything else, aversion, hatred, fear, anger, hope, abandonment.

My heart selects one or more of these sentiments, and goes into them in all their depths, tells them to You, Jesus, repeats them to You over and over again, tenderly, with loyal trust, but in great simplicity.

If my feelings offer their assistance, I accept it. It may be useful, but it is not necessary. A calm, profound love is much better than surface emotions. These last do not depend on me, and are never a sure standard by which to tell if my prayer is genuine and faithful. But what is always in my power to accomplish and is the most important thing is the effort to shake off the torpor of my heart and to make it say: My God I want to be united to You. I want to annihilate myself before You. I want to sing my gratitude and my joy to carry out Your Will. I want it to be true, and no longer a lie, when I tell You that I love You, and that I hate what offends You, and so on.

No matter how sincerely I try, it may happen that my heart remains cold and expresses these affections with languor. In that case, Dear Lord, I will tell You in all simplicity, how I am humbled and how much I desire to do better. I will be very glad to go on for a long time lamenting my deficiency, convinced that by complaining of my dryness to You I acquire a special right to a most efficacious, though arid, cold, and dark, union with the affections of Your Divine Heart.

What a wonderful Ideal is that which I behold in You, my Jesus. But is my life in harmony with that perfect Exemplar? That is what I now set out to discover, under Your earnest gaze, O my Divine Companion. Now You are all Mercy; but when I come before You in the Particular Judgment—then at a single glance You will take in all the secret motives underlying the smallest acts of my life. Am I living according to this Ideal? Jesus, if I were to die right now, would You not find that my life is in contradiction with it?

Good Master, what are the points that You want me to correct? Help me to find out the obstacles that prevent me from imitating You and then the internal or external causes, and the near or remote occasions of my faults.

When I see all my failings and my difficulties, O my Redeemer, whom I adore, my heart cries out to You in confusion, pain, sorrow, bitter regret, and with a burning thirst to do better, and with a generous and uncompromising oblation of all that I am. Volo placere Deo in omnibus.

“I wish to please God in all things.” In these words. Suarez gives us the pith of all his ascetical treatises. These acts of sitio make the soul ready for a resolution never to refuse God anything.


I pass on into the school of willing.

Now it is the language of effective love. Affections have given me the desire to correct myself. I have seen what stands in my way. Now it is up to my will to say: “I will get them out of the road. Jesus, my ardor in saying over and over again “I will” springs from the fervor with which I repeat “I believe, I love, I regret, I detest.”

If it sometimes happens, dear Lord, that this Volo does not spring forth with all the power I would like it to have, I will deplore this weakness of my will, and far from letting this discourage me, I will tell You over and over again, never tiring, how much I would like to have part in Your generosity in serving Your Father.

Besides the general resolution to work for my salvation, and to progress in the love of God, I will also add another, to apply my prayer to the difficulties, temptations, and dangers of this day. But what I want most of all is to intensify in the fires of a more fervent love, the resolution

It is better to stick to the same resolution for months at a time, or from one retreat to the next. The particular examen, in the form of a short conversation with Our Lord, completes the meditation, and by noting our progress or regress, greatly assists our advance.

which is the object of my particular examen (in which I concern myself with some defect I need to overcome, or some virtue to be gained). I will fortify this resolution with motives drawn from the Heart of the Master. Like a true strategist, I will be very clear as to the means that will insure success, anticipate the occasion, and prepare for the fight.

If I anticipate some special occasion of dissipation, immor-tification, humiliation, temptation, or some important decision to be made, I will face the approach of this moment with vigilance, strength, and, above all, in union with Jesus, and depending on Mary.

If, in spite of all my precautions, I fall again, what a world of difference there will nevertheless be between this surprise fault and my other lapses! No more discouragement now, because I know that God receives more glory from these ever-repeated new beginnings, by which I become more resolute, more mistrustful of myself, and more dependent upon Him. Success is to be had only at this price.

Volo tecum

To make a lame man walk without a limp is less absurd than to try and succeed without Thee, my Savior” (St. Augustine). Why do my resolutions bear no fruit? It can only be because my belief that “I can do all things” is not followed by; “in Him Who strengtheneth me.”

Omnia possum . . . in eo qui me confortat (Phil. 4:13).

And this brings me, then, to that part of my prayer which is in certain respects the most important of all: supplication, or the language of hope.

Without Your grace, Jesus, I can do nothing. And there is absolutely nothing that entitles me to it. Yet I know that my ceaseless prayers, far from irking You, will determine the amount of help You will give me, if they reflect a thirst to belong to You, distrust in myself, and an unlimited, not to say mad, confidence in Your Sacred Heart. Like the Canaanite woman, I cast myself at Your feet, O infinite goodness. With her persistence, full of humility and hope, I ask You not for a few crumbs but a full share in this banquet of which You said: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”

Grace has made me a member of Your Mystical Body, and so I share in Your life and merits, and it is through You, O Jesus, that I pray. Father all-holy, I am praying to You by the Precious Blood that cries out for mercy; can You refuse to hear my prayer? It is the cry of a beggar, going up to You, Who are inexhaustible wealth: “Hear me, for I am needy and poor.”

Exaudi me, quoniam inops et pauper sum ego. (Ps. 85).

Clothe me in Your strength, and in my weakness glorify Your power. Your goodness, Your promises, my Jesus, and my misery and my confidence are the only titles on which I base my request that I may obtain, through union with You vigilance and strength throughout this day.

If any obstacle comes up, or any temptation, or some sacrifice to be exacted from one or other of my faculties, some text or thought which I take along with me as a spiritual bouquet, will help me breathe the fragrance of prayer which surrounded my resolution, and once again, at that time, I will renew my cries of powerful supplication. This habit, a fruit of my mental prayer, will also be the true test of its value: “By their fruits you shall know.”

When I get to the point where I LIVE BY FAITH, and in the CONSTANT THIRST FOR GOD, then alone the labor of the VIDEO stage of prayer will sometimes be omitted; SITIO and VOLO will spring from my heart at the very beginning of the meditation, which will then be spent in eliciting affections and in offering sacrifices, in strengthening my resolute will, and then in begging from Jesus, either directly or through Mary Immaculate, the angels, or the saints, a closer and more constant union with the Divine Will.

Now it is time for the Holy Sacrifice. Mental Prayer has made me ready. My participation in Calvary, in the name of the Church, and my Communion, will follow, as it were, naturally, as a kind of continuation of my meditation.

See Appendix.

In my thanksgiving I will extend my demands to all the needs of the Church, to the souls in my care, to the dead, to my work, my relatives, friends, benefactors, enemies, and so on.

The recitation of the various hours, in my beloved Breviary, in union with the Church, for her and for myself, as well as ardent ejaculatory prayers, spiritual communions, particular examen, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, Rosary, general examen, and so on, will all be friendly landmarks along my road. They will give me new strength and will preserve the initial momentum that began with the morning meditation, and will guarantee that nothing escapes the action of Our Lord. Thanks to the momentum, recourse to Jesus, frequent at first, and then habitual, either directly or through His Mother, will wipe out all the contradictions between my admiration of His teachings and my free-and-easy life; between my pious beliefs and my actual conduct.

At this point the writer must curb the desires of his heart which, in its anxiety to be of use to active workers, would like to devote a special resolution, at this point, to the particular examen.

He fears, however, that if he gives in to his notion, he will make the book over long. And yet, the reading of Cassian, and of several Fathers of the Church, as well as St. Ignatius, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Vincent de Paul, persuades us that the particular and general examinations are absolutely necessary adjuncts of mental prayer, and are closely linked with custody of the heart.

Following the guidance of the director, the soul is now resolved to take a more direct aim, in meditation and during the course of the day, at some special defect or some special virtue which is the chief source of other defects and virtues.

Many are the steeds that draw the chariot. And the eye is on them all at once, constantly. Yet in the midst of the team there is one that occupies all the care of the driver. In point of fact, if this one charger veers too much to the right or left, the whole team will be thrown off the track.

The analysis of the soul, by particular examination, to see if there has been progress, regression, or stagnation with regard to a certain specifically chosen point, is simply one of the elements of custody of the heart.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com