Sanctification in the Apostolate
Presence of God – Give me light, O God, that I may recognize the graces You have prepared for me to lead me to sanctity; help me to correspond with them.
It is the saints who are the most efficient apostles. Must we then be saints before devoting ourselves to the apostolate? Theoretically, this is the ideal, but in practice, it is impossible. To think that the formative years—those spent in the seminary or novitiate, for example—suffice to make us saints is a misconception. It is equally wrong to exempt ourselves from apostolic work, when charity or our duty imposes it on us, under the pretext that we have not yet arrived at sanctity. We must therefore conclude that when the period allotted exclusively to preparation is over, we must combine our own personal efforts toward sanctity with the exercise of the active apostolate. In other words, apostles must sanctify themselves in the apostolate and by means of it. “To sanctify yourself in view of and by means of the apostolate: these should be the marching orders of a diocesan priest…. We would be giving the lie to the Church, to the life of Jesus, and the lives of all the saints, if we said that the exterior apostolate is incompatible with personal sanctity.” These words, spoken by the Servant of God [declared Blessed by St. John Paul II in 1999], Don Poppe [known as the Belgian “Curé d’Ars”], to priests, are equally true for all apostles, cleric or lay, religious or secular. Every apostle should be convinced that precisely in his own field of labor—and nowhere else—will he find all the graces necessary to sanctify himself, to attain intimate union with God. When a person gives himself to the apostolate, not by his own choice, nor because of a natural attraction for activity, but solely in answer to a call from God, he can be certain that, since God has willed him to engage in the apostolate, and as He also wills him to be a saint, that the apostolate will provide him with the means to become one. God cannot condemn to mediocrity one who, in order to do His will, and out of love for Him, is burdened with apostolic labors and responsibilities. “No, brethren,” Don Poppe continues, “the active life is not a night in which the light of the ideal is extinguished. If so many apostles have lost their light, you should not lose confidence, but humble yourselves profoundly because of your weakness, and then more abundant grace will surely bring you success. Do you not know that difficulties and obstacles are sometimes transformed into helps under the wonderful action of grace, and may contribute greatly to good? ‘Certus sum,’ you can say with St. Paul: I am certain that no creature in the world has the power to draw me away from the road to sanctity.” In the measure that an apostle is docile and faithful to grace, God will purify him, refine him, and sanctify him, precisely by means of his apostolic labors.
“O my God, how few saintly apostles there are! How rare are Your real friends! O Lord, I am on fire with longing for the coming of Your kingdom in the souls of apostles; I am on fire, but I am so poor that I shall be consumed before this kingdom comes!
“O Lord, make me a holy apostle, because a saint can accomplish more with one word than an ordinary worker can with a whole series of speeches. Without sanctity, I am like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, and You, O God, speak only through the mouths of the saints. Give me sanctity then, as it alone can enlighten minds, move hearts, and renew them. O my God, do not permit me to deal in tinsel or to be an empty vessel!
“It is hard to sanctify oneself in the apostolate; there are many obstacles and dangers to be encountered. Shall I then retire in discouragement? No, my God, because if my will is good, I shall always be aided by Your grace, and where there is grace, the way which leads to the end, to sanctity, will always be found! Then what have I to fear? Your grace is with me; You Yourself are with me and in me. And if You, O God, enter the battle with me, what can I call an obstacle? Would it be tribulation or sorrow, hunger or nakedness, danger, persecution, or the sword? I shall overcome all these difficulties with Your help, for You love me, and will not abandon me. Leaning on You, O Lord, I am certain that nothing in the world has the power to separate me from the way of sanctity. I am certain because You want apostles to be saints, because You are infinitely good, infinitely powerful, and faithful to Your promises, and because You are infinitely merciful” (Don Poppe).
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Art: Detail of photo of Edward Poppe Bust, Willemdd, 19 July 2004, CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.