An unusual event made me return to the book I shared with you last week, The Soul of The Apostolate.
I would like to tie this section of the book to this event. A weak person I know, a man who admits to me that he is weak in the spiritual life, a beginner, had to perform a duty he did not expect. This person felt stretched and stressed by the people in his work world who are not really Christians. But, he also felt threatened by the really confident and active persons around him who claimed to be Christians. As a reflective person, he realized that his lack of prayer made him vulnerable to a loss of hope, a hardening of the heart, or a turning to craven fear, as he could see he was not up to the task he was asked to do.
Being around very confident and active people, this man fell into one temptation after another, until he felt he could not fulfill his responsibilities. Then, he realized his complete dependence on God and prayer; that without prayer, he would fall into the worst sins of either presumption or despair, the twin sins of pride. He "woke up" to the fact that even the weakest member of the Church could be proud, and that all his venial sins came from this predominant fault.
How fortunate for him that he saw his weakness and finally called upon Our Lady Mary and Our Lord to help him with his task.
He has yet to complete this task, but he feels assured of help. Prayer first, action second.
How unlike this man is to the hyper-active one in his company. They both work "for the Church", but one in an unceasing pursuit of activity, and the other, my friend, in the awareness that prayer must precede action.
Here is a section from the book which illuminates what this man learned on his job.
A very active and energetic man, invited by us, at the beginning of a retreat, to look
into his conscience and seek out the principal cause of his unhappiness, gave a perfect
diagnosis in this answer which may seem at first sight incomprehensible:
“My self-sacrifice is what has ruined me! My nature and temperament make it a joy
for me to spend myself, and a pleasure to serve. What with the apparent success of my
enterprises, the devil has contrived, for long years, to make everything work together for
my deception, stirring me up to furious activity, filling me with disgust for all interior
life, and finally leading me over the edge of the abyss.”
This abnormal, not to say monstrous state of mind can be explained in one word. The
worker for God, carried away by the pleasure of giving free rein to his natural energy,
had let the divine life fade out, and thus lost the supernatural heat which had been stored
up in him to make his apostolate effective and which would have helped his soul to resist
the encroachments of the numbing ice of natural motives. He had worked, indeed, but far
from the rays of the lifegiving sun. Magnae vires et cursus celerrimus, sed praeter viarn.*
At the same time, his works, in them-selves very holy, had turned against the apostle like
a weapon dangerous to wield, a two-edged sword which wounds the man who does not
know how to use it.
St. Bernard was warning Pope Bl. Eugenius III against just such a danger as this
when he wrote: “I fear, lest in the midst of your occupations without number, you may
lose hope of ever getting through with them, and allow your heart to harden. It would be
very prudent of you to withdraw from such occupations, even if it be only for a little
while, rather than let them get the better of you, and, little by little, lead you where you
do not want to go. And where, you will ask, is that? To indifference.
“Such is the end to which these accursed tasks (hae occupationes maledictae) will
lead you; that is, if you keep on as you have begun, giving yourself entirely to diem,
keeping nothing of yourself, for yourself.” “
Is there anything more lofty and more sacred than the government of the Church? Is
there anything more useful for the glory of God and for the good of souls? And yet
“accursed task,” St. Bernard calls them, if they are going to stand in the way of the
interior life of the one who gives himself to them.
What an expression, “accursed tasks/” It calls for a whole book, so terrifying is it,
and so powerfully does it force one to think! It might arouse protest did it not flow from
the pen of one so precise as a Doctor of the Church, a St. Bernard.
2. The Active Worker Who Has No Interior Life
To sum up such a one in a word; perhaps he is not yet tepid, but he is bound to
become so. However, when a man is tepid, with a tepidity that is not merely in the
feelings, or due to weakness, but residing in the will, that man has resigned himself to
consent habitually to levity and neglect, or at any rate to cease fighting them. He has
come to terms with deliberate venial sin, and by that very fact, he has robbed his soul of
its assurance of eternal salvation. Indeed, he is disposing and even leading it on to mortal
Such also is St. Alphonsus’ teaching on tepidity, so well expounded by his disciple,
Now how is it that, without an interior life, the active worker inevitably slides into
tepidity? Inevitably, we say; and the only proof we need for this is the statement of a
missionary bishop to his priests, a statement all the more terrifying by its truth, since it
comes straight from a heart consumed with zeal for good works and filled with a spirit
that goes clean contrary to anything that smacks of quietism. “There is one thing,” said
Cardinal Lavigerie, “one thing of which you must be fully persuaded, and it is that for an
apostle there is no halfway between total sanctity, at least faithfully and courageously
desired and sought after, and absolute perversion.”
My friend, who does not mind that I share these thoughts and happenings and who believes his story will help others, also realized that his prayer had merely been sheer day-dreaming, a playing of his impure imagination, not a real meeting with God. What brought him to his senses was an event which brought him to the edge of a nervous breakdown.
He saw how unloving and mediocre his faith had been, but he also saw, that the rule, the measure of faith was not the amount of good works he did, but the intense quality of the work, doing his task for God alone and not men, being a true servant of Christ.
His sharing reminded me of this passage from the book:
Fr. (or Mr.) So-and-So feels within himself a growing desire to consecrate himself to
good works. He has no experience whatever. But his liking for the apostolate gives us the
right to suppose that he has a certain amount of fire, some impetuosity of character, is
fond of action, and also perhaps, inclined to relish a bit of a fight. Let us imagine him to
be correct in his conduct, a man of piety and even to devotion; but his piety is more in the
feelings than in the will, and his devotion is not the light reflected by a soul resolute in
seeking nothing but the good pleasure of God, but a pious routine, the result of
praiseworthy habits. Mental prayer, if indeed he practices it at all, is for him a species of
day-dreaming, and his spiritual reading is governed by curiosity, without any real
influence on his conduct. Perhaps the devil even eggs him on by reason of an illusory
artistic sense, which the poor soul mistakes for an “inner life,” to dabble in treatises on
the lofty and extraordinary paths of union with God, and these fill him with admiration
and enthusiasm. All in all, there is little genuine inner life, if any at all, in this soul which
still has, we grant, a certain number of good habits, many natural assets and a certain
loyal desire to be faithful to God; but that desire is altogether too vague.
There you have our apostle, filled with his desire to throw himself into active works,
and on the point of entering upon this ministry which is so completely new to him. It is
not long before circumstances that inevitably arise from these works (as will readily be
understood by anyone who has led the active life) produce a thousand-and-one occasions
to draw him more and more out of himself; there are countless appeals to his naive
curiosity, unnumbered occasions of falling into sin from which we may suppose he has
hitherto been protected by the peaceful atmosphere of his home, his seminary, his
community, or his novitiate — or at least by the guidance of an experienced director.
Not only is there an increasing dissipation-, or the ever growing danger of a curiosity
that has to find out all about everything; not only more and more displays of impatience
or injured feelings, of vanity or jealousy, presumption or dejection, partiality or
detraction, but there is also a progressive development of the weaknesses of his soul and
of all the more or less subtle forms of sensuality. And all these foes are preparing to force
an unrelenting battle upon this soul so ill-prepared for such violent and unceasing attacks.
And it therefore falls victim to frequent wounds!
Indeed, it is a wonder when there is any resistance at all on the part of a soul whose
piety is so superficial — a soul already captivated by the too natural satisfaction it takes
in pouring out its energies and exercising all its talents upon a worthy cause! Besides, the
devil is wide awake, on the look-out for his anticipated prey. And far from disturbing this
sense of satisfaction, he does all in his power to encourage it.
Yet a day comes when the soul scents danger. The .guardian angel has had
something to say: conscience has registered a protest. Now would be the time to take hold
of himself, to examine himself in the calm atmosphere of a retreat, to resolve to draw up
a schedule and follow it rigorously, even at the cost of neglecting the occasions of trouble
to which he has become so attached.
And, this is what my friend discovered, the absolute need for a schedule for prayer. But, he also saw the pit he narrowly avoided, one which many priests and laity have fallen into. Let Father Chautard continue....
This is what my friend escaped, just in time:
Alas! It is already late in the day! He has already tasted the pleasure of seeing his
efforts crowned with the most encouraging success. “Tomorrow! tomorrow!” he
mumbles. “Today, it is out of the question. There simply is no time. I have got to go on
with this series of sermons, write this article, organize this committee, or that ‘charity,’
put on this play, go on that trip — or catch up with my mail.” How happy he is to
reassure himself with all these pretexts! For the mere thought of being left alone, face to
face with his own conscience, has become unbearable to him. The time has come when
the devil can have a free hand to encompass the ruin of a soul that has shown itself
disposed to be such a willing accomplice. The ground is prepared. Since activity has
become a passion in his victim, he now fans it into a raging fever. Since it has become
intolerable for him to even think of forgetting his urgent affairs and recollecting himself,
the demon increases that loathing into sheer horror, and takes care at the same time to
intoxicate the soul with fresh enterprises, skillfully colored with the attractive motives of
God’s glory and the greater good of souls.
And now our friend, up to so recently a man of virtuous habits, is going from
weakness to ever greater weakness, and will soon place his foot upon an incline so
slippery that he will be utterly unable to keep himself from falling. Deep in his heart he is
miserable, and vaguely realizes that all this agitation is not according to the Heart of God,
but the only result is that he hurls himself even more blindly into the whirlpool in order to
drown his remorse. His faults are piled up to a fatal degree. Things that used to trouble
the upright conscience of this man are now despised as vain scruples. He is fond of
proclaiming that a man ought to live with the times, meet the enemy on equal terms, and
so he praises the active virtues to the skies, expressing nothing but scorn for what he
disdainfully calls “the piety of a bygone day.” Anyway, his enterprises prosper more than
ever. Everybody is talking about them. Each day witnesses some new success. “God is
blessing our work,” exclaims the deluded man, over whom, tomorrow, perhaps the angels
will be weeping for a mortal sin.
How did this soul fall into so lamentable a state? Inexperience, presumption, vanity,
carelessness, and cowardice are the answer. Haphazardly, without stopping to reflect on
his inadequate spiritual resources, he threw himself into the midst of dangers. When his
reserves of the interior life ran out, he found himself in the position of an uncautious
swimmer who has no longer the strength to fight against the current, and is being swept
away to the abyss.
After my friend finishes his last job at his present assignment, he is considering leaving the world and becoming either a contemplative, or a hermit. Why? He now knows he is too weak to handle the demands of the active life, a life demanding a holiness he does not have. His newly found humility brings him to rely on God alone.
He shared that he was on the brink of a complete separation from reality, when God saved him by showing him what the good father who wrote this book describes below.
“Short of a miracle,” says St. Alphonsus, “a man
who does not practice mental prayer will end up in mortal sin.” And St. Vincent de Paul
tells us: “A man without mental prayer is not good for anything; he cannot even renounce
the slightest thing. “It is merely the life of an animal.’” Some authors quote St. Theresa as
having said: “Without mental prayer a person soon becomes either a brute or a devil. If
you do not practice mental prayer, you don’t need any devil to throw you into hell, you
throw yourself in there of your own accord. On the contrary, give me the greatest of all
sinners; if he practices mental prayer, be it only for fifteen minutes every day, he will be
converted. If he perseveres in it, his eternal salvation is assured.” The experience of
priests and religious vowed to active works is enough to establish that an apostolic
worker who, under pretext of being too busy or too tired, or else out of repugnance, or
laziness, or some illusion, is too easily brought to cut down his meditation to ten or
fifteen minutes instead of binding himself to half an hour’s serious mental prayer from
which he might draw plenty of energy and drive for his day’s work, will inevitably fall
into tepidity of the will.
In this stage, it is no longer a matter of avoiding imperfections. His soul is crawling
with venial sins. The ever growing impossibility of vigilance over his heart makes most of these faults pass unnoticed by his conscience. The soul has disposed itself in such a
manner that it cannot and will not see. How will such a one fight against things which he
no longer regards as defects? His lingering disease is already far advanced. Such is the
consequence ....(of) the giving up of mental
prayer and of a daily schedule
My friend shared that he saw the absolute need for scheduling "meetings with God" and keeping to that schedule. When he came back from a trip which took him to a part of the world with which he was not familiar, he recognized that he had to rely completely on God for peace, as he no longer had any self-confidence. Now, he was ready for complete dependence on God. He told me that this trip opened his eyes to the great amount of people in the world who were impervious to the interior life, afraid of both their reason and their emotions. They lacked the vigilance over their heart explained in the book I am quoting. He noted that he now came to the great insight that he had to rely on God for all good works. And how to prove this reliance on the Almighty, was prayer and a schedule.
My friend was one step away from this description of a lost soul:
Genuine prayer is no longer to be found in this soul. He prays in a rush, with
interruptions that have not the slightest justification; all is done neglectfully, sleepily,
with many delays, putting it off until the last minute, at the risk of being finally overcome
by sleep. And, perhaps, now and again, he skips parts of the office and leaves them out.
All of this transforms what should be a medicine into a poison. The sacrifice of praise
becomes a long litany of sins, and sins which may end up by being more than venial.
This good man was on the verge of complete insanity. And why? Here is more of the description of what he was about to become.
This disorder in the mind brings with it a corresponding unruliness in the
imagination. Of all our powers, this one is the most in need of being repressed at this
stage. And yet it never even occurs to him to put on the brakes! Therefore, having free
rein, it runs wild. No exaggeration, no madness, is too much for it. And the progressive
suppression of all mortification of the eyes soon gives this crazy tenant of his soul
opportunities to forage wherever it wills, in lush pastures!
The disorder pursues its course. From the mind and the imagination it gets down into
the affections. The heart is filled with nothing but will-o’-the-wisps. What is going to
become of this dissipated heart, scarcely concerned anymore with the Kingdom of God
within itself? It has become insensible to the joys of intimacy with Christ, to the
marvelous poetry of the Mysteries, to the severe beauty of the Liturgy, to the appeals and
attractions of God in the Blessed Eucharist. It is, in a word, insensible to the influences of
the supernatural world. What will become of it? Shall it concentrate upon itself? Suicide!
No. It must have affection. No longer finding happiness in God, it will love creatures. It
is at the mercy of the first occasion for such love. It flings itself without prudence or
control into the breach, without a care perhaps even for the most sacred of vows, nor for
the highest interests of the Church, nor even for its own reputation. Let us suppose that
such a heart would still be upset by the thought of apostasy—and profoundly so. But still,
it feels far less fear at the thought of scandalizing souls.
Thanks be to God, it is doubtless the exception for anyone to follow this course to
the very limit. But is there anyone incapable of seeing that this getting tired of God, and
accepting forbidden pleasures, can drag the heart down to the worst of disasters? Starting
from the fact that “the sensual man perceiveth not the things that are of the Spirit of
God,” 1!l we must necessarily end up with: “He who was reared in the purple has
embraced dung.” 20 Obstinate clinging to illusion, blindness of mind, hardness of heart
all follow one another in progressive stages. We can expect anything.
To crown his misfortunes, the will is now found to be, though not destroyed, reduced
to’ such a state of weakness and flabbiness that it is practically impotent. Do not ask him
to fight back with vigor; that would make a simple effort, and all you will get will be the
despairing answer, “I can’t.” Now a man who is no longer capable of making any effort,
at this stage, is on the way to dreadful calamities.
And, here comes the great insight of this friend of mine--that the reason there is so much homosexuality in the priesthood even at the level of the bishops, is that the imagination of these men spun out of control because of the setting aside of the discipline of prayer and the keeping of a schedule.
How can such a serious sin follow something which seems merely like "time management" problems? The hyper-active priests forgot the one thing necessary--the bridal love for Christ. Here is yet one more selection from the book. The lack of silence and prayer allowed the imagination to go wild and want more and more involvement with humans instead of with God. Pride and homosexuality grew together in the soul and in the body. He believes that the sin of the action is not a great rebellion, but a great deception of the imagination seeking gods rather than God. In other words, one falls into idolatry.
That admirable Jesuit, Fr. Lallemant, takes us right back to the first cause of these
disasters when he says: “There are many apostolic workers who never do anything purely
for God. In all things, they seek themselves, and they are always secretly mingling their
own interests with the glory of God in the best of their work. And so they spend their life
in this intermingling of nature and grace. Finally death comes along, and then alone do
they open their eyes, behold their deception, and tremble at the approach of the
formidable judgment of God.” 21
Here it is in a nutshell--self-love instead of self-denial; activity without grace; imagination without purification; the lack of humility.
The event to which I referred was this man's awakening to the fact of his complete and utter dependence on God and the fact that he could do no good without prayer. He is a recovering workaholic and a beginner in true prayer.
His story is why I returned today to The Soul of The Apostolate. He noted that until he comes into the illuminative state, he will remain hidden and ask God for a new 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, 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
maybe to be continued....one more paragraph from Father Chautard:
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.”‘” 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.” 2S 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