Catholic Company / Magazine

Behind the Book: The Soul of the Apostolate by Jean-Baptiste Chautard

Jun 26, 2013 by

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."

The Soul of the Apostolate

 *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