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The Soul Of The Apostolate

Oh Jesus, it is my desire that my heart acquire a habitual solicitude to PRESERVE ITSELF from every stain and to BECOME MORE AND MORE UNITED to Your Heart in all my occupations conversations, recreations, and so on.

The negative, but essential element of this resolution demands that I absolutely refuse to contract any stain in my motives and in the way my acts are carried out.


Q: How is purity of intention to be acquired?

A: It is acquired by close attention to ourselves at the beginning and above all during the course of our actions.

Q: Why is this attention necessary at the beginning of our actions?

A: Because if these actions are pleasing, useful, or in harmony with our natural attractions, nature at once moves to perform them of its own accord, attracted by pleasure and self-interest alone. But we must pay great attention to ourselves, indeed we must have great command over ourselves, if we are to prevent the will from being rushed off its feet, so to speak, by the appeals of natural motives with their flattery, solicitations, and attractions.

Q: Why do you add that this attention is above all necessary during the course of our actions?

A: Because even when a person has the strength to repudiate, at the outset, every seductive appeal of sense and self-love, in order to follow in all things nothing but the direction of faith, in all purity of intention; nevertheless if he forgets, later on, to keep a close watch on himself, the actual enjoyment of the pleasure that makes itself felt, or of the advantages that accrue during the course of certain actions keep piling up new impressions and appeals, and the heart yields little by little, so that nature, although mortified by the first refusals, comes to life again and regains its ascendancy. Pretty soon, self-love subtly and almost without our being aware of it, begins to insinuate its selfish motives, and substitutes them for the good motives with which our actions were taken up and begun. From this fact, it many times happens, as St. Paul says, that what began in the spirit ends up in the flesh, that is in low and worldly and selfish views.—Fr. de Caussade, S.J.

The positive element drives my ambition on to the point of seeking to intensify the Faith, Hope, and Love with which the action was begun.

This resolution is going to be the real barometer by which to measure the practical value of my morning mental prayer and my liturgical life. For my interior life will be what my custody of the heart is. “With all watchfulness keep thy heart, because life issueth out from it.”

Omni custodia serva cor tuum, quia ex ipso vita procedit (Prov. 4:23).

Mental prayer gives me back the verve with which I run on towards divine union. But it is custody of the heart which is going to enable the traveler to gain strength from the nourishment he took before his journey began, or takes along the way, so that he will always maintain the same lively pace with which he started out.

This custody of the heart means nothing else but the HABITUAL, or at least frequent solicitude to preserve all our acts, as we perform them, from everything that might corrupt their MOTIVE or their ACCOMPLISHMENT.

This solicitude will be calm, peaceful, free of all strain, at once humble and strong, because its basis is filial recourse to God and trust in that recourse. Here my heart and my will do much more work than my mind, which must remain free to carry out my various obligations. Far from impeding my activity, custody of the heart will make it all the more perfect by bringing it into line with the Spirit of God, and adjusting it to the duties of my state.

Now this exercise is something that I want to practice at every moment of the day. It will consist in a glance from the heart, upon the present action, and a moderate attentiveness to all the various parts of the action as I perform them. It amounts to carrying out, with all exactitude, the precept: Age quod agis.

Do what you are doing—that is to say: apply yourself totally to the matter in hand.

My soul, like an alert sentinel, will keep a vigilant watch over all the movements of my heart, over everything that goes on within me, all my impressions, intentions, passions, inclinations, and, in a word, over all my interior and exterior acts, all my thoughts, actions, and words.

Obviously this custody of the heart demands a certain amount of recollection, and it cannot be practiced if my soul is dissipated.

However, the frequent practice of this exercise will help me to acquire the habit that will make self-custody easy.

Quo vadam et ad quid?

Where am I going, and for what? St. Ignatius of Loyola used frequently to ask himself this, and it is alluded to in the Spiritual Exercises.

What would Jesus do;

how would He act in my place? What would He advise? What does He ask of me at this moment? Such are the questions that will come spontaneously to my mind, hungry for interior life.

When I feel myself drawn to Jesus through Mary, this custody of the heart will quickly become far more effective. My heart will soon feel, as it were, an incessant need for recourse to so good a Mother. And this is how we actualize the precept, “ABIDE in Me and I in you.”

Manete in Me et Ego in vobis (Joan. 15:4).

which sums up all the other principles of the interior life.

What You have declared, O Jesus, to be the fruit of the Eucharist, “he abideth in Me and I in him.” is what my soul is out to get, by means of custody of the heart, which will unite me with You.

He abideth in Me. Yes, I shall see myself as truly in my home, in Your divine Heart; with every right to dispose of all Your wealth, by using the unlimited treasures of sanctifying Grace, and the inexhaustible mine of Your actual Graces.

And I in him. But, thanks to my self-custody, You also, My Lord, will be truly at home in my heart. For, bending every effort to insure the continual exercise of Your sovereignty over the operation of all my faculties, not only will I be careful never to do anything without You, but my ambition will go so far as to desire to put into every one of my actions an ever increasing power of love.

The habit of interior recollection, of spiritual combat, of a busy and well regulated life, and the incalculable increase of my merits will all result from my self-custody.

And thus, O Jesus, my indirect union with You through my works, that is my relations, according to Your will, with creatures, will become the sequel to my direct union with You through mental prayer, the liturgical life, and the Sacraments. In both these cases, this union will proceed from Faith and from Charity and will be formed under the influence of Grace. In the direct union, it is You Yourself, O My God, and You alone, that I have in view. In the indirect union I apply myself to other things. But since it is in obedience to You that I do so these objects to which I have to give my attention become the means willed by You to achieve my union with You. I leave You in order to find You. It is always You that I am seeking, and with just as much love, but now I seek You in Your Will. And this divine Will of Yours is the one and only beacon light upon which self-custody fixes my constant gaze, that I may direct all that I do to Your service. And so in either case I am able to say: “It is good for me to adhere to my God.”

Mihi adhaerere Deo bonum est (Ps. 72:28).

It is therefore a great MISTAKE to imagine that in order to become united to You I must put off my active work or else wait for it to get done. It is a mistake to imagine that certain kinds of work, because of their very nature, or because of the time they involve, might so dominate my life or cramp my freedom that it would become impossible for me to be united to You. Not at all: You want me to be free. You do not want activities to imprison me beneath their weight. You want me to be the master and not the slave of activity. And to that end You offer me Your grace, on condition that I am faithful in the custody of my heart.

And so, from the moment a supernatural practical sense tells me, through the many events and circumstances and details arranged by Your Providence, that such and such activity is really bound up with Your will, I have the twofold duty of not trying to get out of it but also of not doing it merely for the pleasure it may give me. I must take on the job, and carry it out solely in order to do Your Will. Otherwise selflove might step in and corrupt its worth, and diminish my merit.

“Good actions,” says Fr. Desurmont, C.SS.R., “conceal within themselves delights, honors, glory and a certain indefinable something which human nature finds extremely tasty, and which it often likes far more than sinful pleasure. And the soul is not on its guard against this gnawing worm, this refined egoism which kills actual grace.

“The Lord, out of kindness toward us as well as out of jealousy for His glory, declares Himself to be, as far as He is concerned, indifferent to all particular goods. And He has decided that one thing alone shall be pleasing to Him, namely His own Will. In such a way that a mere nothing, performed in conformity with His Will, can merit Heaven, while wonders worked without it remain unrewarded. And consequently what we have to do is to aim, in all things, not only at what is simply good, but at the good that is willed by God, that is, His Will” (Le Retour Continuel à Dieu).

And if I find out what it is You will, Dear Lord, and see how You want it done, Quod, et quomodo Deus vult, and then go ahead and do it simply because it is Your Will, Et quia Deus vat, then my union with You, far from diminishing, will only be intensified.

My God, You are Holiness itself, and here on earth You only admit a soul to intimacy with You in the measure in which it applies itself to destroy or to avoid everything that can soil or stain it in any way.

And yet I can find myself SWARMING LIKE AN ANTHILL WITH VENIAL SINS or deliberate imperfections, which deprive my soul of all the abounding graces which You held in store for me from all eternity. Consider a few of these sins—like the failure through spiritual laziness, to raise up my soul to God; an inordinate love of creatures; hasty temper and impatience; nursing a grudge; being capricious and changeable; getting soft, loving whatever is easy and gives pleasure; always talking without any cause about the faults of other people; dissipation, and a lot of curiosity about things that have nothing whatever to do with the glory of God; spreading scandal, gossiping, and making rash and stupid judgments of others; vain self-complacency; contempt of others, and constant criticism of their conduct; always looking for admiration and praise, and doing things with these in view; showing off anything that is to my credit; presumption, stubbornness, jealousy, lack of respect for superiors, murmuring; no mortification in eating, drinking, and so on.

Can my mental prayer and my liturgical life be any good if they do not bring me, bit by bit, to such a state of recollection that my soul will be wakeful against even faults of plain weakness; if they do not help me to pick myself up again right away as soon as my will begins to give in; and even if they do not, in certain cases, lead me to impose certain sanctions upon myself?

What a thought, Dear Lord! If I do not watch myself, I can paralyze Your activity in me!

Masses, Communions, Confessions, my other pious exercises, the special protection of Divine Providence with my eternal salvation in view, the tender concern of my Guardian Angel, and, worse still, even your motherly watchfulness over me, Sweet Immaculate Mother, all this can be paralyzed, canceled out, by my fault!

If I am lacking in good will to impose upon myself that constraint which You were talking about, Dear Lord, when You said: “the violent bear it away,”

Violenti rapiunt illud (Matt. 11:12).

Satan will ever be trying to catch me by surprise and lead me astray, and weaken me, and he will even go so far as to pervert my whole conscience with his illusions.

O my soul! Some of those falls which you think are mere weakness are perhaps already much more than that in the eyes of God. If you do not practice custody of the heart and if you do not forge ahead in carrying out the program of keeping all the motives of my actions purely for Jesus alone, how can you escape from that conclusion?

If I do not resolve upon custody of the heart, not only will I pile up a long and fearsome debt for Purgatory, but even though I may yet avoid mortal sin, I will be on the incline that inevitably leads to it. Have you thought of that, O my soul?

O Holy Trinity, if I am in the state of Grace, and I hope I am, then You are dwelling in my heart, with all Your glory and all Your infinite perfections, just as You dwell in Heaven; but here You are hidden by the veils of Faith.

There is not a single moment when Your eyes are not upon me, seeing all that I do.

Your Justice and Your Mercy are always at work in me. In response to my infidelities, You take away Your special graces, or else You no longer dispose events with maternal care in such a way that they turn out to my advantage: at other times, to bring me back to Yourself, You load me down with fresh kindness.

If I really looked upon this indwelling in me as the most wonderful of all facts and the most worthy of my attention, would I be so often and for such long periods oblivious of it?

Is it not this failure to attend to the fundamental fact of my existence that is the reason for such poor success up to the present in all my attempts to practice self-custody?

A constant succession of ejaculatory prayers all through the day ought to be keeping this loving indwelling of God ever in my conscious thoughts. Up until now, my soul, have you really taken the trouble to fill your life with these little landmarks as you go along; have you even remembered to make these aspirations ONCE IN AN HOUR? Have you drawn enough profit from your daily meditation and from your liturgical life to enter from time to time, even if it is only a few seconds, into the inner sanctuary of your heart, there to adore the infinite Beauty, the Immensity, the All-Power, the Sanctity, the Life, and the Love, in a word, the Supreme and Perfect Good Who deigns to dwell there and Who is your Beginning and your End?

How about Spiritual Communions? What kind of a part do they play in my daily life? And yet they are right at hand, not only to remind me of the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity within me, but also to increase that indwelling by a new in pouring of the Precious Blood into my soul.

Up to now, how much importance have I attached to these riches that I find all along my road? All I needed to do was bend down and pick up diamonds and place them in my diadem. What a far call it is from me to those souls who, in the thick of their work or their conversations return a thousand times a day to their Divine Guest! They have acquired this habit, and their hearts are fixed where their treasure is.

O my Immaculate Mother, when, on Calvary, the words of Your Son made me also a child of yours, it was in order that you might then aid me to keep my heart united, through Jesus, to the Holy Trinity.

I want my ever more frequent invocations to you, to aim above all at this custody of my heart, so that I may purify all its tendencies, intentions, affections, and desires.

I desire no longer to close my ears to your sweet voice that urges me: “Stop that, my child! Get your heart back on the right path again! Do not think that, in what you are now doing, you are seeking only God’s glory, and nothing else.” How often have you not interrupted my dissipation, my somewhat questionable occupations, with this motherly appeal! And how often, alas, have I drowned out the sound of your voice!

Sweet Mother, from now on I am going to hear YOUR HEART REMINDING ME OF THE TRUTH, and my fidelity will correspond to it by firmly and decisively putting on the brakes. Maybe it will only be a momentary halt, like a lightning flash in the course of my activity, but it will be all I shall need to ask myself one of these questions: For whom am I doing this? How would Jesus be acting in my place? Now when I acquire the habit of always putting to myself this question in the depths of my heart, I am practicing custody of the heart. And this is what is going to enable me even in the smallest details, to keep my faculties and all their impulses in an ever more perfect habit of dependence upon God living within me.

It is a torment to me, to remain out of the presence of God for long intervals during the course of my work. I am filled with sorrow by the realization that all during this time when I am pouring myself out in activities, numerous faults escape me, irrespective of the state of my soul, whether I display a mixture of fervor and imperfections, or whether I am frankly tepid. And hence I want to start to remedy matters today by practicing custody of the heart.

In the morning, when I am making my meditation, I shall determine very precisely and firmly upon a certain moment in my work when I shall attempt, even while carrying on busily the work willed by God, to live as perfect an interior life as I can, to practice self-custody, that is, to be in Your presence, dear Lord, and at the same time keep an eye on myself, always having recourse to You, acting just as if I had made the vow always to do what is most perfect.

I shall begin by doing this for five minutes, or even less, morning and evening,

This is practically the same as what Bossuet called the “moment of loving solitude which we should at all costs set aside during the day.” It is also what St. Francis de Sales so strongly recommended under the name of spiritual retreats. “Devotion’s principal work lies in this exercise of the spiritual retreat and in ejaculatory prayers. Here is an exercise that can make up for the lack of all the other forms of prayer, but the lack of this one is practically irreparable by any other means. Without it, it is impossible to lead the active life otherwise than badly . . . and work will always be an obstacle to us” (Intro. to the Dev. Life, Pt. ii, ch. 3).

and shall concern myself much more with making it perfect than with making it long. I shall also try to make it better and better all the time, and strive to have the purity of intention, the custody of my heart and of all my faculties, and the generosity, that you would expect to find in a saint, in a word: to act in all things as Christ Himself would have acted in doing the same work, and to do all this in the midst of my work, EVEN, or rather ABOVE ALL if it is very ABSORBING.

This will prove an apprenticeship for a practical interior life. It will be a protest against my habits of dissipation and my wandering mind. I want Jesus. I want His Kingdom. And when the time for external work arrives I want His Kingdom to go on just the same in myself. I do not want my soul to go on being a public hallway open to every wind, in which it becomes impossible to live united to Jesus, vigilant, suppliant, and generous.

During this brief moment, I shall keep my eyes directed, without strain, upon all the motives of my soul’s acts, and I shall forgive no fault. My good will, too, will be frevently determined to let nothing slip through that might make my living less perfect during this interval, brief as it is! And then my heart also, will be resolved to have frequent recourse to Our Lord, to keep going in this WORKOUT IN SANCTITY.

This practice is going to be hearty, and happy, and done with great expansion of soul. Of course vigilance and mortification will be necessary if I am going to keep in the presence of God and deny my faculties and senses everything that smacks of nature. But I am not going to be satisfied with this merely negative side. I shall try above all to put into this exercise that intensity of love which, by making me more careful in the practice of Age quod agis, first of all the purity of intention and then with an ever increasing ardor and impersonality and generosity, will give my works all their perfection and value.

In the evening, at my general examination of conscience (or at the particular examen, if I make this exercise its subject), I shall make a rigorously close analysis of the way these few minutes of strict and unreserved self-custody before Jesus turned out. Then I will impose a sanction, some little penance (cut out a few cigarettes or take a little less dessert, unnoticed by anyone else, or else pray a little while with the arms out in the form of a cross, or give myself a few smart blows on the fingers with a ruler or some hard object), if I observe that I have not been sufficiently vigilant, or fervent, or suppliant, or loving during this tryout in self-custody, that is, in the union of interior and active life.

What wonderful results can be obtained from this practice! What a school of self-custody!

What new light it will throw on sins and imperfections of whose existence I was not even aware!

These blessed moments will come gradually to exercise a VIRTUAL influence on the moments that come after. Nevertheless, I shall not prolong them until I have just about gone as far in them as I can, in holiness and perfection of execution, and intensity of love.

I am going to aim at quality rather than extent. My thirst to take more than just a few minutes at this practice will grow stronger in proportion as I see more correctly what I am and what You expect of me, Dear Lord. And thus gradually getting familiar with this salutary exercise I shall contract a real need for it, and it will become a habit, and then You will make known to my soul, thus purified, the secrets of the life of union with You.

The whole trend of my life is almost all more or less imperfect. This CONVICTION, which Satan tries to keep out of my mind, is going to be the basis of mistrust of myself and of creatures. And this element, united to my desire to belong to Jesus will necessarily produce:

Vigilance, loyal and exact, gentle, peaceful, confident in grace, and based on the repression of dissipation and of the excesses of natural enthusiasm. A frequent renewal of my resolution. Tireless new beginnings, ever full of confidence in the mercy of Christ for the soul that really puts up a fight to acquire self-custody. An ever increasing certitude that I am not fighting alone but united to Jesus living in me, to Mary His Mother, to my Guardian Angel, and to the Saints. A conviction that these powerful allies are helping me at every moment as long as I keep striving for self-custody: as long as I do not put myself out of reach of their assistance. Finally, a cordial and frequent recourse to all these divine helps, that I may be able with their aid to do quod Deus vult and do it quomodo Deus vult and quia Deus vult.

What God wants . . . the way God wants it . . . because God wants it.

Oh! what a transformation will take place in my life, Dear Lord, if I keep my heart united to You! My mind may be completely absorbed in the business in hand. And yet there is something I have observed in souls that are extremely busy, and who yet never cease to live and breathe in You: and that is what I want to arrive at, in the course of even my most absorbing work.

If I have well understood what self-custody means, far from diminishing the freedom of action required by my faculties if they are to carry out all the duties of my state, my soul, breathing in the atmosphere of love which is Yourself, Jesus, will increase that liberty and make my life serene, joyful, powerful, and full of fruit.

Instead of being the slave of my pride, of my selfishness or of my laziness; instead of groaning beneath the yoke of my passions and feelings, I shall become more and more free. And with this increase in my liberty I shall be able, O my God, to give You more and more frequent homage of dependence. Thus I shall be strengthened in true humility, the foundation without which the interior life would simply be an illusion. And so I shall develop in myself that basic spirit of submission: Submisso ad Deum,

Humility consists chiefly in the submission of man to God (St. Thomas Aquinas).

which sums up the whole inner life of Our Savior.

Participating in the flame of love which made You always so attentive and docile to Your Father’s good pleasure, Jesus, I shall merit a share, in Heaven, of the glory which Your Humanity enjoys as a reward for its wonderful dependence of humility and love: “Becoming obedient . . . for which God also hath exalted Him. . . .”

Factus oboediens . . . propter quod et Deus exaltavit ilium (Phil. 2:9).

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