The present scandals in the Church have many
people looking for positive solutions
to the multifaceted problems which beset the Bride of Christ,
not realizing that the true solution
will only come from Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself,
His life within us and fidelity to His teachings.
The Soul of the Apostolate is a book, which not only shows how this is possible,
but the way it is to be accomplished.
No commentary on this book would be complete without a
word about its author. Jean-Baptiste Chautard was born in the
French Alps on March 12, 1858. His father was a
nominal Catholic who ran a little bookstore, but his
mother made sure that their children were
educated in the Catholic faith. Jean Baptiste eventually went
on to study economics at the
University of Marseilles where he had an experience
which would change his life forever.
While walking across the campus one day Jean Baptiste came
upon a priest praying his breviary. This priest was unaware
of the impression he was making on the economics student.
“His bearing, full of respect and religion, was a revelation to me,”
said Dom Chautard,
“and produced in me an urgent need to pray from then on, and
to pray in the way this priest was praying. The Church
appeared, concretized, so to speak, in this worthy minister,
in communion with his God.”
This incident led Jean Baptiste to change his life and become
a man of prayer. Such is the impact of a man who truly
practices the interior life. Only then can the person say
with Saint Paul, “I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
Later he joined a Catholic club on campus founded by the
saintly Father Jean-Joseph Allemand. It was in
this association that he found the supernatural brand
of Catholic Action which solidified him in the path towards a
greater union with God. One day while in prayer
at the tomb of Father Allemand, he received his calling to
the priesthood and in 1877 entered the
Trappist Abbey of Aiguebelle, north of Avignon.
Jean Baptiste did not enjoy the contemplative life of a
monk for long. Shortly after being made deacon, his
superior sent him on a very important mission to Paris to save
the community from financial ruin. His eloquence and
knowledge of economics proved useless in this undertaking.
He was forced to have recourse to a nearby shrine where
he threw himself at the feet of Our Lady of Victories.
Thirty minutes later, he emerged from the shrine to
be greeted by a total stranger. “Are you a Trappist?” the man asked.
“Can I be of any assistance to you?” The rest of the story
can be guessed. Aiguebelle was saved and
Jean Baptiste learned another valuable lesson he would later
utilize in forming his unique spirituality.
He was eventually ordained and became “Dom” or Abbot Chautard
of the motherhouse of one of the most
important abbeys of the Trappist Order, Sept-Fons.
In the first decade of the 1900’s he was faced
with another great challenge. The Church in France
was attacked by the French Government,
this time under Georges Clemenceau, who because of
his hatred for Church, closed down many religious orders in France.
Abbot Chautard however faced Clemenceau and his enemies
with such fearlessness that the order was spared.
Reflecting on the persecutions against the
Church at that time, Dom Chautard noticed a
big mistake among Catholic leaders of the time. They were
fighting against the enemies of the
Church by using worldly and political weapons:
newspapers, magazines and conventions.
The growth of the Church was measured by the amount of
new buildings being built and the amount
of money in the coffers. While these material means are
helpful and even necessary these
Catholics failed to realize that God’s Church is above all
built of living stones not just mortar and brick.
Success was measured in very materialistic terms when what the
Church really needed were saints. But saints are made
only by the grace of God.
In 1907, Dom Chautard published a little pamphlet titled
“The Apostolate of Catechism and the Interior Life.”
He pointed out that the most important ingredient
for the rebirth of zeal in a country
where the Church is being persecuted is the preaching
of the fundamentals of the Faith by
people imbued with the interior life. The arguments in
this little treatise formed the
cornerstone for The Soul of the Apostolate.
The book is quite simple, containing very
profound yet long forgotten truths. Its fundamental goal is
to convince the reader that “we must
never leave the God of works for the works of God
and that Saint Paul’s: ‘Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel’,
does not entitle us to forget:
‘What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world
and suffer the loss of his own soul?'”
Through scripture passages and the lives of the saints,
Dom Chautard shows that interior life
is neither lazy nor selfish. With an abundance of
scripture quotes and examples from lives of the saints,
Dom Chautard shows how it is possible to
preach the Gospel and save one’s own soul,
by becoming real men of interior life.
He gives powerful arguments to back up this point
and proves how interior life is not lazy,
selfish or detrimental to a truly fruitful apostolate done
for the salvation of souls.
To understand the effectiveness of interior life,
consider the fact that, “a single burning prayer of the
seraphic Saint Theresa
(as learned through a highly creditable revelation)
converted ten thousand heretics.” Without leaving
her convent, she did that which
“activistic heretics,” even the most eloquent ones,
could never do. A bishop of Cochin-China
once said to the Governor of Saigon:
“Ten Carmelite nuns praying will be of greater help to me
than twenty missionaries preaching.”
The bottom line is there must be a harmony
between the active life and the interior life. Saint Bernard
explains this balance using the very interesting
metaphor of the reservoir and the channel.
“The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a
drop. But the reservoir is first filled,
and then without emptying itself, pours out its overflow,
which is ever renewed. We have many channels
in the Church today,”
Saint Bernard added sadly,”but very few reservoirs.”
The devil however knows the value of interior life
and will often grant the apostle
“a purely superficial success” if he can only prevent him
from making true progress in the interior life.
Dom Chautard calls these “successes”
sapphires then wisely points out that the devil will gladly trade
a few sapphires of the active life for the
diamond of interior life.
The interior life is very well defined as “the state of activity
of a soul which strives against its natural
inclinations in order to REGULATE them,
and endeavors to acquire the HABIT of judging and directing
its movements IN ALL THINGS according to the
light of the Gospel and the example of Our Lord.”
Such seriousness about spiritual matters
would be impossible without something Dom Chautard calls
“custody of the heart.” – the “habitual or
at least frequent anxiety to preserve all my acts,
as they arise, from everything that might spoil their
motive or their execution.”
To keep such a strict custody over the heart
and therefore practice a solid interior life,
one must absolutely avoid letting the agitation of daily life
disquiet the soul and lead to dissipation. That is why Dom Chautard
gives so much importance to rising,
when possible, at the same time every morning, and beginning
the day with morning mental prayer.
He who faces the day by hitting the floor running,
really does not believe in his fundamental contingency on God.
Dom Chautard rebukes such people saying,
“To hear these mighty men of works talking about
their exploits, one might imagine that God Almighty,
to Whom it is child’s play
to create worlds, and before Whom the universe
is dust and nothingness, cannot get along
without their cooperation.”
Such is the importance of morning mental prayer
for those who want to attain a vibrant interior life that
St. Theresa of Avila said that,
“he who practices mental prayer has traveled half the journey.
However he who does not practice
at least fifteen minutes of mental prayer
a day is an animal.”
This may seem like “pie-in-the-sky”
considerations for all those who look upon the present
situation in the world and
Church and yearn for action. They see prayer and
contemplation as a waste of good time.
This is not true. The power of the interior life is impressive.
Is it not true that tepid souls suddenly become fervent?
The mysterious wind of supernatural life fills the sails of their
souls once again and no one seems able
to explain what caused such a transformation.
Likewise, no one could explain how Jean Baptiste, the
economics major, became a priest and later abbot of the most
important abbey of the Trappist order, facing and
overcoming the obstinate Clemeceau along the way.
One cannot logically explain how such a transformation
could take place except with the doctrine so admirably
laid out in his book The Soul of the Apostolate.
Such spiritual change is open to all men,
even those most weighed down by the trials and
tribulations of the modern world. Dom Chautard
affirms this truth when he says, “No matter what my condition
may be, if I am only willing to pray and become faithful to grace,
Jesus offers me every means of returning to an inner life
which will restore to me that intimacy with Him.”
Oh, with what sweetness does he illustrate
how the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled in those who acquire
such intimacy. “Then shall thy
light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall
speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face,
and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.
Thou shalt call, and the Lord shall hear,
thou shalt cry and He shall say: ‘Here I am.’ And the Lord
will give thee rest continually,
and will fill thy soul with brightness and will deliver thy bones,
and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and
like a fountain of water whose waters do not fail.”
*This text is taken from an online review of The Soul of the Apostolate written by Norman Fulkerson, author of An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley USMC