Various Forms of the Apostolate
Presence of God – O Jesus, teach me to pray, suffer, and work with You for the salvation of souls.
When we speak of the apostolate, we think almost exclusively of external activity; this is certainly necessary, but it is not the only kind of apostolate. We must always bear in mind that Jesus saved us not only by the activity of the last three years of His life, which were dedicated to the evangelization of the multitudes and the formation of the first nucleus of the Church, but also by prayer, suffering, vigils—by His whole life. Jesus was always an apostle, always the one sent by the Father for our salvation. His apostolate began at Bethlehem in the dreariness of a cave; as a tiny Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was already suffering for us; it continued during the thirty years spent at Nazareth in prayer, in retirement, in the hidden life; it took an external form in His direct contact with souls during His public life, and reached its culmination in His agony in the Garden of Olives and His death on the Cross. Jesus was an apostle in the stable of Bethlehem, in the shop of St. Joseph, in His anguish in Gethsemane and on Calvary no less than when He was going through Palestine, teaching the multitudes or disputing with the doctors of the law.
Our apostolate consists in associating ourselves with what Jesus has done for the redemption of mankind; therefore, it is not limited to external activity, but it also consists, and essentially so, in prayer and sacrifice.
Thus, one clearly sees that there are two fundamental forms of apostolate:
- the interior apostolate of prayer and immolation, which is a prolongation of the hidden life and of the Passion of Jesus;
- and the exterior apostolate of word and of work, which is a prolongation of His public life.
Both are a participation in the redemptive work of Jesus, but there is a great difference between them. The interior apostolate is the indispensable foundation of the exterior apostolate; no one, in fact, can hope to save souls by exterior works which are not sustained by prayer and sacrifice. On the other hand, there are cases where external works can be dispensed with, without, on that account, lessening the interior apostolate of prayer and sacrifice, which can still be very intense and fruitful. Every Christian is an apostle, not only in virtue of the activity in which he engages, but principally because of his participation in the prayer and sacrifice by which Jesus has redeemed the world.
“What can I do, O Jesus, to save souls? You answer me with the words You once addressed to Your disciples, pointing to the fields of ripened corn: ‘Lift up your eyes and see the countries; for they are already white for the harvest…. The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few. Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest that He send forth laborers.’
“How mysterious it is! O Jesus, are You not all powerful? Do not creatures belong to You who made them? Why then do You say, ‘Pray ye the Lord of the harvest to send laborers?’ Why? O Jesus, because You have so incomprehensible a love for us that You want us to have a share with You in the salvation of souls, You want to do nothing without us. You, the Creator of the universe, wait for the prayer of a poor little soul to save other souls redeemed like it at the price of Your blood.
“My vocation is not to go harvesting in the fields of ripe corn; You do not say to me: ‘Lower your eyes, look at the fields, and go and reap them’; my mission is still loftier. You tell me: ‘Lift up your eyes and see…. See how in heaven there are places empty; it is for you to fill them … you are to be My Moses praying on the mountain; ask Me for laborers and I shall send them, I await only a prayer, a sigh from your heart!’
“Behold, O Lord, the mission You have entrusted to me, to contribute by prayer and sacrifice to the formation of evangelical workers who will save millions of souls whose mother I shall be” (cf. Thérèse of the Child Jesus Letters 114).
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Art for this post on the various forms of the apostolate: Partial restoration of Tomb of Thérèse de Lisieux [Statue], artist unknown, photographed by Renardieu, 2005-07-03, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.