Is the Interior Life Selfish?

Was the interior life of Mary and Joseph selfish and sterile? What blasphemy, and what absurdity! And yet they are credited with not one external work. The mere influence upon the world of an intense inner life, the merits of prayers and sacrifices applied for the spread of the benefits of the Redemption were enough to make Mary Queen of the Apostles and Joseph Patron of the Universal Church.

“My sister hath left me alone to serve,”(in Martha’s words) the presumptuous idiot who sees nothing but his own exterior works and their result. His stupidity and lack of understanding of the ways of God do not go to such lengths as to make him suppose that God could not get along without him. And yet he still loves to repeat with Martha, incapable of understanding the excellence of the contemplation of Magdalen, “Speak to her that she help me,” and goes so far as to cry out, “To what purpose is this waste?” condemning as loss of time the moments that his apostolic colleagues, more spiritual than he, reserve for contemplation, in order to solidify their interior life with God.

“And for them do I sanctify myself that they also may be sanctified in truth,” the soul that has realized all the implications of the Master’s phrase, “that they also,” and who, knowing the value of prayer and sacrifice, unites to the tears and Blood of the Redeemer the tears of his own eyes and the blood of a heart that purifies itself more and more each day.

With Jesus, the interior soul hears the voice of the world’s crime rising up to heaven and calling down chastisement upon the guilty; and this soul delays the sentence by the omnipotence of suppliant prayer, which is able to stay the hand of God, just when He is about to let loose His thunderbolt.

“Those who pray,” said the eminent statesman Donoso Cortes, after his conversion, “do more for the world than those who fight, and if the world is going from bad to worse, it is because there are more battles than prayers.” “Hands uplifted,” said Bossuet, “rout more battalions than hands that strike.” And in the midst of their desert, the solitaries of the Thebaid often had burning in their hearts the fire that animated St. Francis Xavier. “They seemed to some,” said St. Augustine, “to have abandoned the world more than they should have.” Videntur nonnullis res humanas plus quam oportet deseruisse. But, he adds, people forget that their prayers, purified by this complete separation from the world, were all the more powerful and more NECESSARY for a depraved society.

A short but fervent prayer will usually do more to bring about a conversion than long discussions or fine speeches. He who prays is in touch with the FIRST cause. He acts directly upon it. And by that very fact he has his hand upon all the secondary causes, since they only receive their efficacy from this superior principle. And so the desired effect is obtained both more surely and more promptly.

A single burning prayer of the seraphic St. Theresa (as was learned through a highly creditable revelation) converted ten thousand heretics. And her soul, all on fire for Christ, could not conceive of a contemplative life, an interior life, which would take no interest in the Savior’s intense anxiety for the redemption of souls. “I would accept Purgatory until the Last Judgment,” she said, “to deliver but one of them. And what do I care how long I suffer, if I can thus set free a single soul, let alone many souls, for the greater glory of God?” Speaking of her nuns, she said: “Bring to bear, my children, your prayers, your disciplines, your fasts, and your desires upon this apostolic object.”

This article is taken from a chapter in The Soul of the Apostolate by Jean-Baptiste Chautard, which is available from TAN Books.

Fr. Jean-Baptiste Chautard (1858-1935) was a Trappist Abbot and religious writer. His most famous work, The Soul of the Apostolate, is a best-selling spiritual treatise published by TAN Books and recommended by numerous Popes.