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The Soul Of The Apostolate

As a member of the Cistercian Order, so completely consecrated to Mary, and as a child of that great saint who was, for half a century, the apostle of Europe, St. Bernard, how can we forget that the holy abbot of Clairvaux attributed to Mary all his progress in union with Jesus, and all his success in the apostolate?

Everybody knows what tremendous effects were produced by the apostolate of this saint, who remains the most illustrious of the sons of St. Benedict: an apostolate that embraced nations and kings, Councils and even Popes.

On all sides we hear the praises of the sanctity, the genius, the deep knowledge of Holy Scripture, and the penetrating unction of the writings of this the last of the Fathers of the Church.

But one title above all others sums up all the admiration of the ages for this holy doctor: Cytharista Mariae, “the Harpist of Mary.”

This “Bard of Mary” has never been surpassed by any of those who have proclaimed the glories of the Mother of God. St. Bernardine of Siena and St. Francis of Sales, as well as Bossuet, St. Alphonsus, St. Grignon de Monfort, and so on, all draw largely upon the treasures of St. Bernard when they want to speak of her, and find arguments to support that great truth which the holy Doctor so emphasized: “Everything comes to us through Mary.”

“See, my brethren, with what sentiments of devotion God has desired us to honor Mary, He Who has placed in her the fullness of all good. If there is in us any hope, any grace, any pledge of salvation, let us admit that all this overflows upon us from her who is flowing with delights. . . . Suppose you were to take away the sun, which enlightens the world: what would become of the day? Take away Mary, that star of the sea, of our huge, vast sea, what is left but deep obscurity, the shadow of death, pitchy blackness? Therefore it is from the depths of our hearts, from the very vitals of our being, and with all our mind and will that we must honor the Virgin Mary: for such is the will of Him Who willed us to have all through Mary.”

Sermon on the Nativity of Our Lady, called “de Aquaeductu” (St. Bernard).

Strong with the strength of this doctrine we will not hesitate to lay down as a principle that no matter what the apostle may do to ensure salvation and spiritual progress and the fruitfulness of his apostolate, he runs the risk of finding that he has built on sand if his activity does not rest on a very special devotion to Our Lady.

a. For His Personal Interior Life

The apostle cannot claim to have a sufficient devotion to Our Lady if his confidence in her is not enthusiastic, and if his homage to her is almost entirely external. Like her Son, intuetur cor, she only looks at our hearts, and judges us to be her true children only by the power with which our love corresponds to hers.

She looks to find a heart that is firmly convinced of the glories and privileges and offices of her who is at the same time the Mother of God and the Mother of men:

A heart that is convinced of this truth: that the fight against faults, the acquisition of virtues, the Kingdom of Christ in souls, and consequently all guarantee of salvation and sancity, are in proportion to the degree of our devotion to Mary;

No one is saved except through thee, Mother of God. No one receives the gift of God except through thee, O full of grace! (St. Germain).

Holiness increases in proportion to the devotion that one professes for Mary (Fr. Faber).

A heart that is gripped with the thought that everything is easier, more delightful, and progresses more rapidly in the interior life when we act in union with Mary;

With Mary, we make more progress in the love of Jesus in one month than we could in years of living less united to this good Mother (St. Grignon de Montfort).

A heart full to overflowing of filial confidence, come what may, in her whose gentle tact, and wise anticipation of our needs, and whose tenderness and mercy and generosity we know by experience;

Filioli, haec mea maxima fiducia est, haec tota ratio spei meae.

My little children, she it is who is the foundation of all my trust and the whole reason for all my hope (St. Bernard).

A heart ever more and more on fire with love for her who is associated with all our joys, united with us in all our trials, and through whom all our affections pass.

All these sentiments give us a good picture of St. Bernard, who may be taken as the model for active workers. Who does not know the words that leaped forth from the soul of this holy abbot when, in his exposition of the Gospel “Missus est,” for the benefit of his monks, he cries out:

“O you who in the ebb and flow of this age are aware that you are tossed in the midst of storms and tempests rather than walking upon the earth, keep your eyes fixed on this star, so that you may not perish in the gale. If the winds of temptations are let loose, if you are striking on the rocks of tribulation, look to the star, call upon Mary. If you are flung about by the waves of pride, of ambition, of scandal, of jealousy, look on the star, call upon Mary. If anger or avarice or evil desires attack the frail bark of your soul, lift up your eyes to Mary. If, crushed under the enormity of your sins, in confusion at the horrible wounds of your conscience, alarmed by the horror of the judgment, you begin to be drawn into the whirlpool of sadness and despair, think of Mary. In dangers, in anguish, in doubt, think of Mary, invoke Mary. Let Mary never be far from your lips, never far from your heart; and to obtain the support of her prayers, do not forget the example of her life. In following her you shall not go astray; by praying to her you shall not despair; in contemplating her you shall not go wrong. With her support you fall not; under her protection you fear not; under her guidance, you do not grow weary; if she is propitious to you, you will reach the port.”

Obliged to limit this work, and yet desirous of offering our confreres in the apostolate a sort of summary of the advice St. Bernard gives to those who would like to become true children of Mary, we believe there is no better course for us to take than to offer the suggestion that they read with attention the solid and valuable little book of Fr. Lhomeau, “The Spiritual Life as Taught by Bl. Grignon de Montfort.”

La Vie Spirituelle à l’Ecole du Bienheureux Grignon de Montfort, Librairie Oudin. Fr. Lhomeau was Superior General of the congregation which St. G. de Montfort founded.

Along with the words of St. Alphonsus and Fr. Desurmont’s commentaries, the writings of Fr. Faber and of Fr. Giraud of La Salette, this book of Fr. Lhomeau gives an unusually complete exposition of the teaching of St. Bernard, whom it quotes at every turn. It has that strong foundation of dogma, that unction and practical character, and everything else that goes to achieve the result which the abbot of Clairvaux was always striving to obtain: namely to form the hearts of his children after the image of his own and give them what was the outstanding characteristic of all the great Cistercian writers: the need for habitual recourse to Mary and to lead a life of union with her.

Let us bring this to a close with the consoling words which the great Cistercian, St. Gertrude, whom Dom Guéranger calls Gertrude the Great, heard from the lips of the Most Blessed Virgin:

“They ought not to call my sweetest Jesus my only Son, but rather my first-born Son. I conceived Him first in my womb, but after Him, or rather, through Him, I conceived every one of you to be His brothers and to be my children, adopting you in the womb of my maternal charity.” Everything in the writings of this saint, the patroness of the Trappistine nuns, reflects the spirit of her Holy Father St. Bernard with regard to the life of union with Mary.

b. For an Effective Apostolate

Whether it be the task of the active worker to rescue souls from sin or to make virtues put forth flowers in their souls, his first objective must always be, as was St. Paul’s, to bring forth Our Lord in them. Now Bossuet says that God, having once willed to give us Jesus through the Most Blessed Virgin, there is no further change in that order. It was she who brought forth the Head, and so it is she too who is to bring forth the members.

To isolate Mary from the apostolate would be to misconstrue one of the most vital parts of the divine Plan. “All the elect,” says St. Augustine, “are, in this world, hidden in the womb of the Most Blessed Virgin, where they are cherished and nourished and fostered and reared by this good Mother until such time as she brings them forth to glory after their death.”

And St. Bernardine of Siena justly concludes that, since the Incarnation, Mary has acquired a sort of jurisdiction over every temporal mission of the Holy Ghost, in such a way that no creature receives any graces but through her hands.

But the man with true devotion to Mary becomes all-powerful over the Heart of his Mother. And so, what apostle can doubt the efficacy of his Apostolate when, by his devotions, he can control the all-powerful mediation of Mary in the distribution of the merits of the Precious Blood?

Hence we observe that all great converters of souls are filled with an unusually powerful devotion for the Blessed Virgin. Are they out to free a soul from sin? What persuasive warmth is theirs, identified as they are by their horror for evil and their love of purity, with her who has applied to herself the name of the Immaculate Conception!

It was by the voice of Mary that the Precursor recognized the presence of Jesus, and leaped in the womb of his mother. What persuasive accents will Mary give to her true children, that they may open to Jesus hearts hitherto locked!

What words come to the minds of those who are intimately united to the Mother of Mercies when they want to prevent souls that have long abused grace, from falling into despair!

Some unfortunate man does not know Mary. The assurance with which the apostle shows her to be a true Mother and Refuge of sinners will open out new horizons to such a one!

The Holy Curé of Ars sometimes ran across sinners, blinded by delusions, who relied on some external practice of devotion to the Blessed Virgin to quiet their consciences, and let them sin with greater freedom, without fear of the everlasting flames of Hell. In such cases, his words were of tremendous effect, both in bringing the guilty one to realize the monstrosity of this presumption, so insulting to the Mother of Mercy, and to make him use that act of devotion to implore the grace to get free from the crushing coils of the infernal snake.

But in a similar situation an apostle without much devotion to Mary will only succeed, by his wounding, frigid words, in making the poor drowning wretch let go of the last straw that might have turned into a force strong enough to keep him afloat until he reached safety.

When Mary is living in the heart of her apostle, he will be guaranteed the use of the persuasive eloquence of Our Blessed Mother herself, speaking in him, and moving souls with whom all else has failed. It is apparent that Our Lord, in a most beautiful delicacy of feeling, has left to the mediation of His Mother the most difficult conquests of the apostolate desiring that they should be accorded to no one but those who live in intimate union with her. “Through thee He has reduced our enemies to nought”: Per te ad nihilum redegit inimicos nostros.

Never will the true son of Mary run out of arguments, of means or even of expedients when it becomes necessary, in almost hopeless cases, to strengthen the helpless and give consolation to those who cannot be consoled.

The Decree that added the invocation Mater Boni Consilii (Mother of Good Counsel) to Our Lady’s Litany, goes back to the titles of “Treasuress of Heavenly Graces,” and “Universal Consoler” (Coelestium gratiarum Thesauraria, Consolatrix universalis), which are Mary’s due. “Mother of Good Counsel,” she only gives to those who are truly devoted to her, as she did at Cana, the secret of obtaining from God the wine of strength and of joy to distribute to men.

But it is above all when the time comes to speak to souls of the love of God that this Ravisher of Hearts, Raptrix Cordium, as St. Bernard called her, the Spouse of Substantial Love, places upon the lips of her intimates the words of fire that enkindle love of Christ, and bring into being, through that love every other virtue.

We apostles are bound to have a passionate love for her whom Pius IX calls Virgo Sacerdos, the Priestly Virgin, and whose dignity, in every respect, outstrips that of any priest or pontiff. And this love gives us the right never to give up any work as fruitless if we have once begun it with Mary, and are ready to keep on going, in it, with her. For Mary, as a matter of fact, is at the base and at the final peak of perfection of all things that have to do with the Kingdom of God through her Son.

But let us be careful never to delude ourselves that we are working with her if all we do is to erect altars and have a few hymns sung in her honor. What she is looking for, from us, is a devotion that will allow us to affirm, in all sincerity, that we live habitually united to her, that we have recourse to her counsel, that our affections pass through her Heart and that our petitions are frequently made through her. But the thing that Mary most of all expects of our devotion is the imitation of all the virtues that we admire in her and the unreserved abandonment of ourselves into her hands that she may clothe us with her Divine Son.

On this condition of habitual recourse to Mary, we will imitate that general of the army of the people of God, who, before marching against the enemy told Deborah: “If thou wilt come with me, I will go; if thou wilt not come with me, I will not go.” Not only will she be concerned in the principal decisions of our lives, but also with every detail of their execution, even the most unforeseen.

United with her whose invocation Our Lady of the Sacred Heart sums up all her titles, we will never run the risk of ruining our works by allowing them to obstruct our interior life, to become a danger to our souls, and serve more for our own glory than for that of our God. On the contrary, we will go through our works to the interior life, and hence to an ever more and more intimate union with her who will guarantee us the possession of her Son for all eternity.

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