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 aword about its author. Jean-Baptiste Chautard was born in theFrench Alps on March 12, 1858. His father was anominal Catholic who ran a little bookstore, but hismother made sure that their children wereeducated in the Catholic faith. Jean Baptiste eventually wenton to study economics at theUniversity of Marseilles where he had an experiencewhich would change his life forever.
While walking across the campus one day Jean Baptiste cameupon a priest praying his breviary. This priest was unawareof 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, andto pray in the way this priest was praying. The Churchappeared, concretized, so to speak, in this worthy minister,in communion with his God."
This incident led Jean Baptiste to change his life and becomea man of prayer. Such is the impact of a man who trulypractices the interior life. Only then can the person saywith Saint Paul, "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me."
Later he joined a Catholic club on campus founded by thesaintly Father Jean-Joseph Allemand. It was inthis association that he found the supernatural brandof Catholic Action which solidified him in the path towards agreater union with God. One day while in prayerat the tomb of Father Allemand, he received his calling tothe priesthood and in 1877 entered theTrappist Abbey of Aiguebelle, north of Avignon.
Jean Baptiste did not enjoy the contemplative life of amonk for long. Shortly after being made deacon, hissuperior sent him on a very important mission to Paris to savethe community from financial ruin. His eloquence andknowledge of economics proved useless in this undertaking.He was forced to have recourse to a nearby shrine wherehe threw himself at the feet of Our Lady of Victories.
Thirty minutes later, he emerged from the shrine tobe greeted by a total stranger. "Are you a Trappist?" the man asked."Can I be of any assistance to you?" The rest of the storycan be guessed. Aiguebelle was saved andJean Baptiste learned another valuable lesson he would laterutilize in forming his unique spirituality.
He was eventually ordained and became "Dom" or Abbot Chautardof the motherhouse of one of the mostimportant abbeys of the Trappist Order, Sept-Fons.
In the first decade of the 1900's he was facedwith another great challenge. The Church in Francewas attacked by the French Government,this time under Georges Clemenceau, who because ofhis hatred for Church, closed down many religious orders in France.Abbot Chautard however faced Clemenceau and his enemieswith such fearlessness that the order was spared.
Reflecting on the persecutions against theChurch at that time, Dom Chautard noticed abig mistake among Catholic leaders of the time. They werefighting against the enemies of theChurch by using worldly and political weapons:newspapers, magazines and conventions.The growth of the Church was measured by the amount ofnew buildings being built and the amountof money in the coffers. While these material means arehelpful and even necessary theseCatholics failed to realize that God's Church is above allbuilt of living stones not just mortar and brick.Success was measured in very materialistic terms when what theChurch really needed were saints. But saints are madeonly 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 ingredientfor the rebirth of zeal in a countrywhere the Church is being persecuted is the preachingof the fundamentals of the Faith bypeople imbued with the interior life. The arguments inthis little treatise formed thecornerstone for The Soul of the Apostolate.
The book is quite simple, containing veryprofound yet long forgotten truths. Its fundamental goal isto convince the reader that "we mustnever leave the God of works for the works of Godand 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 worldand suffer the loss of his own soul?'"
Through scripture passages and the lives of the saints,
Dom Chautard shows that interior lifeis neither lazy nor selfish. With an abundance ofscripture quotes and examples from lives of the saints,Dom Chautard shows how it is possible topreach the Gospel and save one's own soul,by becoming real men of interior life.He gives powerful arguments to back up this pointand proves how interior life is not lazy,selfish or detrimental to a truly fruitful apostolate donefor the salvation of souls.
To understand the effectiveness of interior life,consider the fact that, "a single burning prayer of theseraphic Saint Theresa(as learned through a highly creditable revelation)converted ten thousand heretics." Without leavingher convent, she did that which"activistic heretics," even the most eloquent ones,could never do. A bishop of Cochin-Chinaonce said to the Governor of Saigon:"Ten Carmelite nuns praying will be of greater help to methan twenty missionaries preaching."
The bottom line is there must be a harmonybetween the active life and the interior life. Saint Bernardexplains this balance using the very interestingmetaphor of the reservoir and the channel."The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain adrop. But the reservoir is first filled,and then without emptying itself, pours out its overflow,which is ever renewed. We have many channelsin the Church today,"Saint Bernard added sadly,"but very few reservoirs."
The devil however knows the value of interior lifeand will often grant the apostle"a purely superficial success" if he can only prevent himfrom making true progress in the interior life.Dom Chautard calls these "successes"sapphires then wisely points out that the devil will gladly tradea few sapphires of the active life for thediamond of interior life.
The interior life is very well defined as "the state of activityof a soul which strives against its naturalinclinations in order to REGULATE them,and endeavors to acquire the HABIT of judging and directingits movements IN ALL THINGS according to thelight of the Gospel and the example of Our Lord."
Such seriousness about spiritual matterswould be impossible without something Dom Chautard calls"custody of the heart." - the "habitual orat least frequent anxiety to preserve all my acts,as they arise, from everything that might spoil theirmotive or their execution."
To keep such a strict custody over the heartand therefore practice a solid interior life,one must absolutely avoid letting the agitation of daily lifedisquiet the soul and lead to dissipation. That is why Dom Chautardgives so much importance to rising,when possible, at the same time every morning, and beginningthe 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 abouttheir exploits, one might imagine that God Almighty,to Whom it is child's playto create worlds, and before Whom the universeis dust and nothingness, cannot get alongwithout their cooperation."
Such is the importance of morning mental prayerfor those who want to attain a vibrant interior life thatSt. Theresa of Avila said that,"he who practices mental prayer has traveled half the journey.However he who does not practiceat least fifteen minutes of mental prayera day is an animal."
This may seem like "pie-in-the-sky"considerations for all those who look upon the presentsituation in the world andChurch and yearn for action. They see prayer andcontemplation 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 theirsouls once again and no one seems ableto explain what caused such a transformation.Likewise, no one could explain how Jean Baptiste, theeconomics major, became a priest and later abbot of the mostimportant abbey of the Trappist order, facing andovercoming the obstinate Clemeceau along the way.
One cannot logically explain how such a transformationcould take place except with the doctrine so admirablylaid 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 andtribulations of the modern world. Dom Chautardaffirms this truth when he says, "No matter what my conditionmay be, if I am only willing to pray and become faithful to grace,Jesus offers me every means of returning to an inner lifewhich will restore to me that intimacy with Him."
Oh, with what sweetness does he illustratehow the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled in those who acquiresuch intimacy. "Then shall thylight break forth as the morning, and thy health shallspeedily 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 Lordwill give thee rest continually,and will fill thy soul with brightness and will deliver thy bones,and thou shalt be like a watered garden, andlike 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