Summary of The Soul of the Apostolate by Fr. Jean-Baptiste Chautard

The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O., 
Tan Books, 1946.

Who should read this book

  • “This book is addressed to such active workers as are animated with a burning desire to spend themselves, but who are liable to neglect the necessary measures to keep their devoted work fruitful for souls, without wreaking havoc on their own inner life” (26). 

Who should NOT read this book?

  • It is not our object to wake up those pretended apostles who make a fetish of repose; nor to galvanize those souls whose egotism deludes them into thinking that laziness will foster piety; nor to shake up the apathy of those lazy, sleep drones who will accept certain works, in the hope of material advantage or of honour provided their quietude and ideal of tranquility are in no way disturbed” (27).

Purpose of this book

“The real burden of these pages is to deplore our lamentable incapacity, without interior life, to produce any effects except these trivial, though not altogether negligible, results” (149).

The Interior Life

The interior life, “the life of prayer is, intimately and of itself, a source of activity beyond compare” (27-28).

  • The interior life is not lazy. Anyone who has laboured in the 3 fields of physical work, intellectual toil, and the interior life, know that the interior life requires the most effort. Complete self-sacrifice in the acquisition of virtue costs a tremendous effort. Just think about how unwilling we can be to making a 3 days’ silent retreat or how inclined we can be to some exhausting physical work rather than spending 30 minutes in serious mental prayer.
  • The interior life is not selfish. God wants us to love our neighbour as ourselves, but never more than ourselves, that is, never to such an extent that we harm our own souls: “I love Jesus Christ, and that is why I am on fire with the desire to give Him souls, first of all my own, and then an incalculable number of others” (St. Alphonsus Liguori). This follows the Latin dictum, prima sibis charitas (“charity for oneself first”).
  • Develop your interior life before all else. The busier you are, the more you need the interior life. Ask yourself when you are “busy”: Do I really thirst for the interior life and seize every opportunity to perform at least its essential practices?

Jesus exemplifies the primacy of the interior life.

  • Jesus, in both His own mortal life (30 years of recollection & solitude, then 40 days of retreat & penance before His brief evangelical career) and in His teachings (“Mary has chosen the better part” (Lk 10:42)), gives witness to the priority of the interior over the active life in the eyes of God.

The interior life is the real source of fruitfulness.

  • “My efforts, by themselves, are nothing, absolutely nothing: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). They will only be useful, and blessed by God, if by means of a genuine interior life I unite them constantly to the life-giving action of Jesus. But then they will become all-powerful: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13)” (20-21).
  • “If the priest is a saint (the saying goes), the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ” (40-41). “Every cause is superior to its effect, and therefore more perfection is needed to make others perfect, than simply to perfect oneself” (Aquinas). “Only a really interior man of works will have enough life to produce other centres of fruitful life” (158).
  • For real apostles, “prayer and holiness of life remain the two chief ways of acting upon the Heart of God and on the hearts of men” (108). “All true apostolic workers expect much more from their sacrifices and prayers than from their active work” (117).
  • “Am I really one of those who depend upon their mental prayer, their visits to the Blessed Sacrament, above all upon their Mass or their Communion, to put real moving power into their preaching? If I am not, I may perhaps be a loudly “tinkling cymbal,” or even give forth the more pompous din of “sounding brass,” but I am not communicating to others any love, that love which makes the eloquence of the friends of God impossible to resist” (154).
  • “Only the interior life can sustain us in the hidden, backbreaking labour of planting the seed that seems to go on so long without fruit. Only the interior life can teach us how much active power there is to be derived from the labour of prayer and penance, and how great an increase in our efficacy in preaching to men would follow from progress in the imitation of all the virtues of Jesus Christ” (161).
  • “Preaching by example will always be the foremost instrument of conversions” (172).
  • Zeal will only get results in so far as it is united to the action of Christ himself. Christ does all the work; we are only His instruments. Our Lord only blesses activities that are in accordance with His will and sustained by His strength.

The liturgical life

The liturgical life is an essential source of the interior life.

  • The liturgical life unites me to the interior life of Christ, helps me to divinize all my acts and stay in a supernatural atmosphere throughout the day: “Mental prayer, before my Mass and Office, puts me in a supernatural atmosphere. The liturgical life makes it possible to transmit the fruits of my mental prayer to all the actions of the day” (253).
  • “If I am going to put more unity into my spiritual life, and unite myself still more to the life of the Church, I will aim at tying up all my other pious exercises with the Liturgy, as far as I possibly can. For instance, I will give preference to a subject for meditation which has a connection with the liturgical period, or feast, or cycle. In my visits to the Blessed Sacrament, I will converse more readily, according to the season, with the Child Jesus, Jesus suffering, Jesus glorified, Jesus living in His Church, and so on. Private reading on the Mystery or on the life of the Saint being honoured at the time will also contribute much to this plan for a liturgical spirituality” (227).
  • “I must never lose sight of the fact that all the resources offered by the holy Liturgy are nothing but means to arrive at the sole end of all interior life: to put to death the “old man” that You, Jesus, may reign in his place. I will, therefore, be leading a genuine liturgical life if I am so penetrated with the spirit of the Liturgy that I use my Mass, Prayers, and Official Rites to intensify my union with the Church, and thus to progress in my participation in the interior Life of Jesus Christ, and hence in His virtues, so that I will give a truer reflection of Him in the eyes of the faithful” (229).
  • “The impetratory power the Liturgy is made up of two elements: the opus operantis of the soul making use of the Great Sacramental of the Liturgy, and the opus operantis of the Church. The two actions, that of the soul and that of the Church, are like two forces that combine and leap up, in a single momentum, to God” (231)
  • “What a joy to think that, while I am sanctifying myself, I am also contributing to the increase of your beauty and working for the sanctification of all the children of the Church, my brothers, and even for all the salvation of the whole human family!” (236).
  • In the liturgy, we allow holy Mother Church to lead and form us by putting her words into my mouth in order that I may be filled with her spirit, and that her thoughts may pass into my heart (239).

The Eucharistic life is the real gauge of an interior life.

  • “The entire success of the apostolate depends on one thing: an interior life centred on the Blessed Eucharist” (192).
  • “The efficacy of an apostolate almost invariably corresponds to the degree of Eucharistic life acquired by a soul. Indeed, the sure sign of a successful apostolate is when it makes souls thirst for frequent and fruitful participation in the divine Banquet. And this result will never be obtained except in proportion as the apostle himself really makes Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament the source and centre of his life” (195).

The Active Life

The active life is very dangerous without the interior life.
  • We are bound to fall into a “heresy of good works” (10) and live a life full of “accursed tasks”, says St. Bernard.
  • Remember: “We must never leave the God of works for the works of God” (7).
  • Woe to the man who does not depend upon God during his work! Woe to the man who lives an active life without taking steps to preserve or to regain the interior life! Woe to the man how does not know how to harmonize the interior life and the active life!
  • “Short of a miracle, a man who does not practice mental prayer (have an interior life) will end up in mortal sin” (St. Alphonsus).
  • “Let those, then, who are singularly active, who think they can win the world with their preaching and exterior works, observe here that they would profit the Church and please God much more, not to mention the good example they would give, were they to spend at least half of this time with God in prayer, even though they might not have reached a prayer as sublime as this. They would then certainly accomplish more, and with less labor, by one work than they otherwise would by a thousand. For through their prayer they would merit this result, and themselves be spiritually strengthened. Without prayer they would do a great deal of hammering but accomplish little, and sometimes nothing, and even at times cause harm. God forbid that the salt should begin to lose its savour [Mt. 5:13]. However much they may appear to achieve externally, they will in substance be accomplishing nothing; it is beyond doubt that good works can be performed only by the power of God” (St. John of the Cross).

The active life should be an overflow of the interior life.

  • The active life for a true apostle depends upon the interior life, it presupposes it, and completes it.
  • “If you are wise, you will be reservoirs and not channels… We have many channels in the Church today but very few reservoirs” (St. Bernard): “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, over the fields which it waters” (55). By contemplation, the soul is fed. By apostolic work, the soul gives itself away – but this giving is a surplus from a reservoir, not a canal.
  • “Active works must begin and end in the interior life, and, in it, find their means” (56).
  • “Action relies upon contemplation for its fruitfulness; and contemplation, in its turn, as soon as it has reached a certain degree of intensity, pours out upon our active works some of its overflow. And it is by contemplation that the soul goes to draw directly upon the Heart of God for the graces which it is the duty of the active life to distribute” (62).
  • “Thus armed from head to foot, the apostle can give himself without fear to good works, and his zeal, enkindled by meditation on the Gospel and fortified by the Bread of the Eucharist, will become a sword that will serve him both in combat against the enemies of his own soul and in conquest of a host of souls for Christ” (97).

The active life of a true apostle prepares the soul for deeper contemplation.

  • With a real interior life, the active life is simply “charity in action” (74) and thus prepares the soul for deeper union with God in contemplation.
  • “Since I have been prioress, burdened with many duties and obliged to travel a great deal, I commit very many more faults. And yet, as I struggle generously and spend myself for God alone, I feel that I am getting closer and closer to Him” (St. Teresa of Avila).

Practical Suggestions

1. Rule of Life
  • Draw up a schedule for daily interior life exercises.
  • Ask yourself: Am I habitually recollected and habitually dependent upon grace during this work?
  • Make sure all your activities are in accordance with God’s will and not just your own natural zest for activity.
2. Daily mental prayer
  • Fidelity to mental prayer will guarantee this life with Christ: “Mental prayer is nothing but a friendly conversation in which the soul speaks, heart-to-heart, with the One Who we know loves us” (St. Teresa of Avila).
  • “The person who is fully determined to make a half hour’s mental prayer every morning, cost what it may, has already traveled half his journey” (St. Teresa of Avila). A precise, fervent and practical resolution must emerge.  Without mental prayer, it is morally impossible to avoid serious sin.
  • We must be thoroughly convinced of the fact that all God asks of us, in this conversation, is goodwill. A soul pestered by distractions, but who patiently comes back, each day, like a good child, to talk with God is making first-rate mental prayer. God supplies for all of our deficiencies.
3. Faithfully perform liturgical exercises.
  • Mass, Holy Communion, and the recitation of the Breviary are liturgical functions which offer inexhaustible resources for the interior life and are the be exploited with an ever increasing faith and fervour (204).
  • To pray the Breviary from the heart slowly and carefully: “Haste kills all devotion” (St. Francis de Sales).
  • A spirit of faith — to be gripped by the importance that all liturgical acts really possess in God’s sight.
  • To be truly recollected with reverence and awe with a simple and childlike to receive from Mother Church all that she is about to give you to nourish your soul.
4. Particular & general examinations of conscience
  • Goal = to keep custody of heart and sense of God’s presence.
5. Ejaculatory prayers & spiritual Communions
  • Constant prayers appropriate to the needs of each situation that arises.
6. Custody of heart.
  • Custody of the heart = the keystone of the interior life & essential in the apostolate. 
  • Custody of heart is the habitual, or at least frequent solicitude to preserve all our acts, as we perform them, from everything that might corrupt their motive or their accomplishment.
  • In striving for utmost purity of intention in all that we do, custody of heart will be “the real barometer by which to measure the practical value of my morning mental prayer and my liturgical life” (278).
  • We continually ask: What would Jesus do; how would He act in my place? What would He advise? What does He ask of me at this moment?” (279).
  • Custody of heart begins with the practice of the presence of God: “If I really looked upon this indwelling in me as the most wonderful of all facts and the most worthy of my attention, would I be so often and for such long periods oblivious of it?” (284)
  • Tip: Make continual ejaculatory prayers throughout the day. Make the habit of returning a thousand times to your Divine Guest throughout the day. Make a spiritual retreat for 5 minutes in the midst of your work to abide with your Divine Guests.
7. Devout study of Sacred Scripture & Spiritual reading.
  • Spiritual reading at night will rekindle my desire for mental prayer in the morning.
8. Weekly confession

with sincere contrition, with true sorrow, and with an ever more loyal and more resolutely firm purpose of amendment

9. Yearly & monthly retreats.

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