Preparing for Catholic Apostleship

It’s, in a way, edifying to see Jehovah’s Witnesses, almost always in a pair, decently dressed, with pamphlets in multiple languages, ready to speak about their religion with anyone passing by — even though most of the time the only talking they do is with themselves. This is what conviction in your religion can lead to: a desire to share the truth with others in a dignified and polite way.

Now, we as Catholics, particularly in the Roman Rite, do not have a tradition of doing something similar. While the Legion of Mary, founded in 1921 in Ireland, did sometimes feature lay Catholics knocking on doors, in Catholicism catechesis is normally (and understandably) the domain of the clergy. More importantly, not everyone is called to the sort of challenges inherent in knocking on doors and talking to potentially hostile interlocutors about the Catholic Faith. The structure of the Legion of Mary gives us a clue as to how any modern apostolate might be structured:

  • Active members attend weekly meetings, pray a particular daily prayer, and are engaged in active apostolate.
  • Praetorians are a higher grade of active members and also pray the Rosary and Divine Office in addition to assisting at daily Mass
  • Auxiliary members pray a booklet of Legion prayers every day.
  • Adjutorians are a higher grade of auxiliary members and also pray the Office and attend daily Mass.

What is the common thread in all of these levels? Prayer. Without a deep reservoir of spirituality, replenished through mental and vocal prayer, Catholics cannot hope to convert others.

Indeed, this is the key message in St. Pius X’s bedside book, Dom Chautard’s Soul of the Apostolate: in order to pour out the effects of prayer in a soul (Dom Chautard refers to it as “filling up a chalice”) you have to actually pray first.

So, for Catholics who hope to engage in some kind of apostleship, the starting point must always be prayer. Those who spend hours as keyboard warriors, arguing on social media or consuming the latest news about Bergoglio, but cannot spare 15 minutes for mental prayer, should put down those keyboards and close those browsers and begin with the one necessary thing, or “the better part,” as our Blessed Lord put it in St. Luke 10:42.

Once that prayer is accomplished, then, and only then, can you hope to be of good to others. But even then, preparation must be made.

Do Catholics know their catechism? Do they set aside time, particularly on Sunday, to study the truths of their faith? Do they read encyclicals, short yet powerful expositions of the teachings of the Church? Do they listen to sermons or podcasts addressing aspects of Scripture? If not, how can they possibly hope to convert others to a religion they barely know themselves?

Catholic Apostleship is, unsurprisingly, a lot like Catholic religious life: prayer and work, in that order. Without prayer, one cannot possibly hope to be imbued with the spirit of charity so necessary when engaging with those penetrated by the spirit of the world. Without work, or in this particular case, the work to know one’s faith better, even should charity be present, knowledge may not be, and those potential converts won by a gentle and charitable spirit may fail to be convinced intellectually by those who profess to be part of a religion they can neither defend nor define.

But Catholic Apostleship is not solely active. Again, the structure of the Legion of Mary gives us a guide: some of us are simply called to support the work of those who are actively engaged. To that end, could we be asking our more-open minded friends to have a coffee or a meal with our priests, offering to pay for that meal? Could we pass on pamphlets, like Paul Whitcomb’s excellent short tracts The Catholic Church Has the Answer and Confession of a Roman Catholic? Could we plant green scapulars where they might do good?

The possibilities really are endless, in part because of the multiplicity of personalities and temperaments. We all have different ways we can serve the mission of the Church. What’s important is to begin, with prayer first, then study, so you can live 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy everyone that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.”