Progress in the Apostolate
Presence of God – Unite me to You, O Lord, and may the power of Your charity enkindle in my heart true apostolic fire.
St. Thomas teaches that love is like fire. It produces a flame, and the flame of love is zeal. If the fire burns intensely, then the flame will also be intense and devouring. True apostolic zeal is the spontaneous result, the normal fruit of intimate contact of the soul with God through love. The more a soul is united to God by love, the more it becomes enveloped in the flame of His charity, participating in His infinite love for men, in His eternal zeal for their salvation; thus it necessarily becomes apostolic.
It would be an exaggeration to say that one could not be an apostle before being thus intimately enraptured by divine love, but it is evident that the fullness of the apostolate, and therefore of apostolic fecundity, will not be attained without this interior flame which is born of union with God. Until we attain this, we must consider ourselves beginners in the apostolate, like apprentices who apply themselves to an art, executing this or that work without yet being sustained or led by personal inspiration. Beginners must act as such, that is, with caution, giving themselves to the apostolate with prudence and measure, because not having attained that spiritual maturity in which the flame of zeal burns spontaneously within them, they have not as yet those reserves of grace which serve to defend the soul from the dangers of a too intense external activity, and which, at the same time, have the power to make all their labor fruitful. St. Teresa asserts that
“as yet the soul is not even weaned, but is like a child beginning to suck the breast. If it be taken from its mother, what can it be expected to do but die? That, I am very much afraid will be the lot of anyone to whom God has granted this favor, if he gives up prayer; unless he does so for some very exceptional reason, or unless he returns to it quickly, he will go from bad to worse” (Interior Castle IV, 3).
Let us remark that the Saint is not speaking of souls who are taking the first steps in the interior life, but of those who have attained to the prayer of quiet and could well be called proficients; yet it is no exaggeration to say that, in respect to the apostolate, they are still beginners.
“O my God, how fervent and strong is the charity of a soul who is united with You by love! Those whom You have taken to Yourself in this way, cannot confine themselves to their personal advantage, and be satisfied with it. Nor would it suffice for them to go to heaven alone, but with solicitude and affection wholly celestial, and with utmost diligence, they endeavor to lead many others with them. Grant, O Lord, that my love for You may have this same effect on me” (cf. John of the Cross).
“O Lord, when once a soul is resolved to love You and has resigned itself into Your hands You will have nothing else save that it desire and seek to contribute to Your greater glory.
“Oh! the charity of those who truly love You! How little rest will they be able to take if they see they can do anything to help even one soul to make progress and love You better, or to give it some comfort or save it from some danger! How insupportable would their rest become for them!
“Even if I can do nothing for others by my actions, I can do a great deal by means of prayer, importuning You, O Lord, for the many souls the thought of whose ruin causes me such grief. I would lose my own comfort, and look upon it as well lost, for I am not thinking of my own pleasure but of how better to do Your will.
“O my God, as time goes on, my desires to do something for the good of some soul grows greater and greater, and I often feel like one who has a large amount of treasure in her charge and would like everyone to enjoy it, but whose hands are tied, so that she cannot distribute it…. Unable to contain myself any longer … I call upon You, O Lord, beseeching You to find me a means of gaining some soul for Your service” (Teresa of Jesus, Foundations, 5-1).
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Art for this post on “Progress in the Apostolate”: Fire, 18 April 2007, Pedroserafin, own work, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.