My Advent and Christmastide spiritual reading is a return to the classic by Dom Jean Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, The Soul of the Apostolate. A favorite of Pope St. Pius X (co-patron of my Archdiocese), I first discovered this treasure in seminary. It is in the list of the top 10 books that changed my life. A few semesters later, the then current house spiritual director purchased a copy for every man in the house.
Rereading it a few years later, and in the middle of my second year of priestly ministry, it is a well needed kick in the pants.
The prolific Dr. Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College has a piece at the NLM blog with an edifying excerpt from the book, a commentary on the words "digne, attente, devote" (from the traditional prayer before the Divine Office, the Aperi :: PDF link ::), which is well worth a read. (Incidentally, Bl. Columbia Marmon, another early 20th century spiritual master, has a whole chapter on these three words of the Aperi, in his classic, Christ, the Ideal of the Priest.)
The central thesis of the book is the absolute priority of the interior life in Christian living, without which all apostolic efforts, no matter how zealous or organized, are ineffective, pointless, and even harmful.
In our times, increasingly there is talk within the Church of focusing our pastoral ministry and efforts on the promotion and fostering of discipleship, intentional discipleship. (I highly recommend Sherry Weddell's book on the topic). Pope Francis talks about missionary discipleship (Evangelii gaudium 119ff.), i.e. a discipleship that is fruitful, and oriented outward, to others, to the apostolate. At the same time, there is some controversy over these ideas, especially the term "personal relationship with Jesus" (See this article in the July issue of Homiletics & Pastoral Review, and a response the following month.). Reading through this spiritual classic again, I am struck by how the language of personal relationship pervades everything that Dom Chautaurd writes about. The whole interior life is oriented to living more fully the supernatural life of Jesus in me, to being more transparent to it, so that, ultimately, I can truly say, with St. Paul, that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. It is only this kind of transparency to the principle of divine life in us that makes the apostolate truly the work of God, and not just of my own agendas, or the fulfillment of my own human, psychological or other needs.
In Chapter One, Dom Chautaurd offers eleven truths or principles in answer to the question, "What is the Interior Life?" He is at pains to point out that these truths apply to all Christians, regardless of state of life, i.e. not just to priests and religious.
Over a few posts, I will share these eleven truths or principles of the interior life. I cannot recommend Dom Chautaurd's work highly enough. Anyone who wishes to take seriously his Christian vocation, will benefit from this indispensable work.
FIRST TRUTH. Supernatural life is the life of Jesus Christ Himself in my soul, by Faith, Hope and Charity; for Jesus is the meritorious, exemplary and final cause of sanctifying grace, and as Word, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, He is its efficient cause in our souls.
The presence of Our Lord by this supernatural life is not the real presence proper to Holy Communion, but a presence of vital action like that of the action of the head or heart upon the members of the body. This action lies deep within us, and God ordinarily hides it from the soul in order to increase the merit of our faith. And so, as a rule, my natural faculties have no feeling of this action going on within me, which, however, I am formally obliged to believe by faith. This action is divine, yet it does not interfere with my free will, and makes use of all secondary causes, events, persons, and, things, to teach me the will of God and to offer me an opportunity of acquiring or increasing my share in the divine life.
This life, begun at Baptism by the state of grace, perfected at Confirmation, recovered by Penance and enriched by the Holy Eucharist, is my Christian life.
SECOND TRUTH. By this life, Jesus Christ imparts to me His Spirit. In this way, He becomes the principle of a superior activity which raises me up, provided I do not obstruct it, to think, judge, love, will, suffer, labor with Him, by Him, in Him, and like Him. My outward acts become the manifestations of the life of Jesus in me. And thus I tend to realize the ideal of THE INTERIOR LIFE that was formulated by St. Paul when he said: "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me."
Christian life, piety, interior life, sanctity: in all these we find no essential difference. They are only different degrees of one and the same love. They are the half-light, the dawning, the rising, and the zenith of the same sun.
Whenever the expression "interior life" is used in this book, the reference is not so much to habitual interior life, which we may call the "principal" or "capital" of the divine life deposited in us, by sanctifying grace, as to the actual interior life, which invests this capital and puts it work in the activity of our soul, and in our fidelity to actual graces.
Thus I can define it as the state of activity of a soul which strives against its natural inclinations in order to REGULATE them, and endeavors to acquire the HABIT of judging and directing its movements IN ALL THINGS according to the light of the Gospel and the example of Our Lord.
Hence: a twofold movement. By the first, the soul withdraws from all this opposed to the supernatural life in created things, and seeks at all times to be recollected: aversio a creaturis. By the second, the soul tends upwards to God, and unites itself with Him: conversio ad Deum.
The soul wishes in this way to be faithful to the grace which Our Lord offers to it at every moment. In a word, it lives united to Jesus, and carries out in actuality the principle: "He liveth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit." (John 15:5)
THIRD TRUTH: I would be depriving myself of one of the most effective means of acquiring this interior life if I failed to strive after a precise and certain faith in this active presence of Jesus within me, and if I did not try to make this presence within me not merely a living but an extremely vital reality, and one which penetrated more and more into all the life of my faculties. When Jesus, in this manner, becomes my light, my ideal, my counsel, my support, my refuge, my strength, my healer, my consolation, my joy, my love, in a word, my life, I shall acquire all the virtues. Then alone will I be able to utter, with sincereity, the wonderful prayer of St. Bonaventure which the Church gives me for my thanksgiving after Mass: Transfige dulcissime Domine Jesu.
The "Soul of the Apostolate" is available in a handy paperback edition from TAN books.