The Apostolate of Example
Presence of God – O Lord, grant that all my actions may glorify You and may draw many souls to Your love.
In addition to prayer and sacrifice, there is another powerful arm of the apostolate which is accessible to everyone, the apostolate of a good, holy life. All cannot be preachers, all do not have the duty to admonish or exhort others, not all can attend to apostolic works, but there is no one who cannot contribute to the spiritual good of his neighbor by giving the example of a life which is integrally Christian: holding to the principles one has professed and faithfully fulfilling one’s duties. “Everyone can help his neighbor if he does his duty,” says St. John Chrysostom, and he adds: “There would be no pagans if Christians were real Christians, if they really kept the commandments. A good life sounds clearer and louder than a trumpet.” A good life speaks for itself, it has an authority and exercises an attraction greatly superior to that of words.
For a soul who seeks the truth, who seeks virtue, there is no difficulty in finding books and teachers who will present it in an attractive form, but there is much difficulty in finding persons whose lives give practical testimony to it. The modern mind, thirsting for experimental knowledge, has special need of such examples, capable of offering not only beautiful theories of the spiritual life, but, above all, of being concrete incarnations, as it were, of virtue, of the ideal of sanctity and union with God. Souls are attracted far more by thoughts and ideals that are lived than by ideas alone. Was this not the course that God Himself followed in revealing Himself to men? The eternal Word became incarnate and through the concrete reality of His human life on earth, He manifested the infinite perfections of God and His tremendous love for us. Jesus, who possessed the divine perfections, could tell us: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48); and speaking thus, He not only showed us the supreme ideal of sanctity, but He also offered Himself as our model. An apostle must follow the same path that Jesus trod, incarnating in his life the ideal of sanctity that he wishes to propose to others. Only if he does this can we say of him, as was said of Our Lord, “coepit facere et docere” (Acts 1:1), he began (first) to do and (then) to teach. By this way alone can the apostle repeat, in deeds rather than in words, the daring sentence of St. Paul: “Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:16).
“O my God, there is nothing colder than a Christian who has no interest in the salvation of others! I cannot use poverty as a pretext to dispense myself from it. Peter said, ‘silver and gold I have none’; Paul was so poor that he often suffered from hunger. I cannot allege my humble state, for neither were they of the nobility, nor were their ancestors.
“I cannot give ignorance as an excuse, Lord, because they, too, were ignorant. Even were I a fugitive slave, I could perform my task; Onesimus was such. I cannot object that I am sick, for Timothy was often ill.
“O Lord, You teach me that I can help my neighbor if I fulfill my duty. I will do this by observing Your laws, especially the law of love by which we teach goodness to those who offend us. Good example has more influence on worldly people than miracles, and You tell me that there is nothing better than charity and love of one’s neighbor. Help me, then, O Lord, to lead a holy life and to do good works, so that those who see me may praise Your Name” (cf. St. John Chrysostom).
“O Lord, grant that I may believe with my heart, profess with my mouth, and put into practice Your words, that others, seeing my good works, will glorify You, our Father who art in heaven, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Origen).
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Art for this post on the apostolate of example: Detail from Fresco of St. John Chrysostom, lower register of sanctuary in Church of the Theotokos Peribleptos in Ohrid, Macedonia, 13th century, unknown author, PD-old author’s term of life plus 50 years, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material