Apostolate and Spiritual Life

views updated


From the Greek ποστολή, a sending, commission, or expedition. The Greek term is more indefinite than the Latin apostolatus, which refers more to the condition and office of the messenger than to his action. The Koine (NT) is of course greatly influenced by the Latin. The word came to signify in particular the active mission of the Church in the world. The normal relationship between the apostolate and the spiritual life is a mean standing between the various species of activism, on the one hand, and another extreme less easily denominated, the main feature of which would be solicitude about the "disturbances" consequent upon the exercise of the apostolate, on the other. This article provides a brief introduction to the question of how the two complement one another and how, under some conditions, the apostolate is apparently opposed to the spiritual life.

The Church has been in a mission status from the very beginning of its existence. Those who first constituted the new people of God were given the title "apostles." The community founded upon them is essentially apostolic, not merely in the sense of being in historical continuity with that small group through the apostolic succession of episcopal consecration but also in the sense of having the mission, at the present time, of preaching the gospel to the whole of creation (Mk 16.15).

The Church, however, is a community in whose members the word of the Gospel has borne fruit in various degrees, and it is also a community that is organized hierarchically. Both these factors determine the exercise of the apostolatethe former because it is assumed that apostolic works are somewhat the overflow of communion with God in the Church, the latter because the whole apostolate of the Church is under the direction of the episcopal hierarchy, who stand in place of the Apostles.

The exercise of the apostolate, by those who share in this mission of the Church, normally bears fruit in the interior life of the apostle himself. Experience witnesses to the fact, and that it should be so is to be expected because such activity is in the likeness of trinitarian life. In God, the Father unceasingly generates the Son without losing anything of Himself. Rather, the Son abides in the bosom of the Father and gives Himself to Him in love, so that from their mutual embrace proceeds the Holy Spirit. The apostle exercises, in one degree or another, a spiritual paternity, through which real relations are established between himself and those to whom he is sent. "I became your Father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel," says St. Paul (1 Cor 4.15b). This does not mean that the persons brought forth "in Christ Jesus" remain in some infantile way dependent upon the Father-Apostle, for "through the Gospel" they receive a share not in his life but in God's. Nonetheless, if the exercise of the apostolate is authentic, those who are spiritually engendered thereby, as they grow up in Christ Jesus, remain united to their apostle-father by love and piety. The communion thus established must obviously bear fruit in his interior life.

What, then, in this context, is an authentic apostolate? Reference here is not primarily to the so-called canonical mission, which gives a certain juridical authenticity to the work of the apostle who receives such a mandate, even though the canonical mission should normally be the sign and guarantee of the overall authenticity of a given work. Here the word "authentic" refers more to the moral quality of the apostolate, its genuineness as an exterior and visible expression of the apostle's interior life.

St. John provides the best possible description of this authenticity: "[T]hat which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1.3). The order is clear: seeing and hearing come first, then proclamation, and this in turn is for the sake of fellowship, i.e., deeper communion with God in the Church. An authentic apostolate, therefore, in terms of the spiritual life, is one that is based upon a measure of "seeing and hearing" and is motivated by a desire for sharing. Of course, St. John refers to an experience wherein Jesus was physically present to those whom he chose as Apostles, but the sensible contact scarcely exhausts what he means. The Apostles saw and heard by faith what the Father revealed in Jesus, especially through his "enactment" of the paschal mysteries. Living faith, then, is the heart of the apostolate, together with that work of charity called mercy. The interior life of any apostle is constituted by an acceptance and assimilation of the living truth of God's love for mankind in Christ Jesus, together with the urge to share the joy that is the normal fruit of being "in the truth." "The love of Christ urges us on" (2 Cor 5.14a).

Bibliography: j. b. chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate, tr. j. a. moran (Trappist, Ky. 1941). f. cuttaz, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, ed. m. villier et al. (Paris 1932) 1:773790. thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 32.23; 182, 188.2.

[m. b. schepers/

f. klostermann]