And it may be the last thing you'd ever consider as important...
Once upon a time in France there existed two orphanages for girls run by two different religious congregations. Each orphanage went through a period of decline. At one point, out of sixteen girls (between the two houses) who came of age and left the orphanage–all of whom entered under the same conditions and all of whom had been placed, upon leaving, in a good situation– only one could be described as a committed Christian. Five of them passed from the practice of frequent Communion to “the most degraded level of the social scale.” The other ten? Well, they would best be characterized as lukewarm.
Then two things happened. A new Mother Superior was put in charge of one of the orphanages. Some years later, the other orphanage was assigned a new chaplain. From the point of these changes, the results in each house were immediate and dramatic. Not only were none of the girls, upon coming of age, “dragged down by Satan into the gutter.” But every single one remained a good Christian.
Such is the story told by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard in his spiritual classic, Soul of the Apostolate. What is the reason Dom Chautard gives for the transformations in these two orphanages? “The reason for these results is very simple. At the head of the house, or in the confessional, the spiritual direction previously given had not been really supernatural.”
Dom Chautard continues: “The former superior in the one case and the former chaplain in the other, although sincerely pious people, had had no deep interior life and, consequently, exercised no deep or lasting influence.”
We all have projects that we want to succeed in the world. You might be looking to build a business, earn a certificate or degree, or launch a career. You might be yearning to attract souls in the New Evangelization.
And you want results. But what exactly is the quality of your impact? And to what extent do you take it to depend on your own efforts, or on the grace of God that comes through prayer?
The argument of Soul of the Apostolate boils down to this: without prayer, without a deep and richly formed interior life, we cannot achieve the deep and lasting impact we desire. It may seem counter-intuitive: to succeed we have to work! But that kind of “activism” is a snare and a delusion. The most essential ingredient for a fruitful apostolate–remembering that only God knows what precisely “fruitful” will mean for our efforts–is not action but contemplation, spiritual rather than physical or emotional energy.
Maybe it’s time to take five and enfold your efforts in prayer. You cannot bring forth what you don’t hold in store.