We have a page published in the Together Magazine at the start of each month. You can always read if via the Wagga Wagga Diocese website being released at the start of each month, or catch up on it below:
Virtue Ministry and the Apostolic Soul
This September Virtue Ministry celebrates its 7th birthday. Were VM a person and not a ministry we
would say that it has reached the ‘age of reason.’
The age of reason is the term used to describe the period of human life where one is considered
capable of discerning the difference between right and wrong, or good and evil. This transition into
being considered morally responsible generally occurs around the age of seven.
But just because we’re deemed capable of reasoning doesn’t mean that we’re actually reasonable.
Without going into details from the human formation part of my life – my role as mother of 8 – I can
readily attest to this. And it’s not just the kids – mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!
Any process of growth – whether through age and experience or in the spiritual life – involves
transition and it has been the same with VM. You might recall that earlier this year our founder and
managing director announced a change to VM’s direction. Maybe this announcement surprised you
at the time. I mean, why change the direction to a focus on adult human formation after 6 years of
active youth ministry?
The answer is as clear as mud: the soul of the apostolate dictated the change.
The Apostolate’s Soul is Prayer
The practical works of the Virtue Ministry team are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The courses and
workshops – including the recent Seminary Formation Workshop, and the Wounds, Healing and
Personal Mission Course currently underway in the Cathedral Parish – are but a small part of the
overall apostolate of VM.
The real soul of the mission and ministry of this initiative – and all other apostolates – is prayer.
Without the firm foundation, the strong bedrock of prayer, there can be no success in any
apostolate. For each hour spent actively speaking to, and with, course and workshop attendees, or
recording podcast episodes, there have been more than a considerable number spent in prayer and
contemplation by all members of the Virtue Ministry community and, in particular, the team itself.
Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s wonderful book Soul of the Apostolate explains succinctly why the
focus of a ministry may change due to discernment in prayer, rather than the results of active
outreach: “The life of action ought to flow from the contemplative life, to interpret and extend it,
outside oneself, though at the same time being detached from it as little as possible.”
The tension – and link – between the contemplative and active life is portrayed in the Gospel account
of Mary and Martha. Mary representing the contemplative life and Martha, the active life.
In this simple account of two sisters in Jesus’ presence, and the parts they choose, contains a nugget
of truth that continues to resonate: ‘No matter how intense it may be, the active life has its limit
here below. Preaching, teaching, works of every sort all come to an end at the threshold of eternity.
But the interior life will never cease: “Which shall not be taken away from her.”’ (cf. Luke 10: 38-42)
Working harder in the active, or practical, aspects of any ministry, does not guarantee success. In
fact, it may well result in the opposite. In order to work smarter in apostolate of any kind, we
actually need to pray more.
“But above all, you will have to pay the price yourself, not so much by wearing yourself out
rehearsing plays or getting up football games, as by storing up in yourself the life of prayer. For you
can be sure that the extent to which you yourself are able to live on the love of Our Lord will be the
exact measure of your ability to stir it up in other people.”
Your Soul Needs Unity too
Contemplation and action are not just necessary for apostolates like Virtue Ministry. They are
necessary for all of us individually.
“The union of the two lives, contemplative and active, constitutes the true apostolate, the chief
work of Christianity” and this is a work that we are all called to by way of our Baptism.
If I want to improve myself it might appear best to go out and apply practical strategies that appear
to be a sensible approach. And then I could toil on, indefinitely, without making any headway. But if
I’m truly invested in increasing in virtue and becoming who I was created to be, then I can’t just
approach life in a haphazard way.
I need to start with prayer. I need to pray. Pray again. And again after that. I need to increase my
time in contemplation with Jesus – in His Real Presence where possible and practical – and
prayerfully discern where I need to apply my activity in an intentional way.
Then too, my sound reasoning in moral judgments will increase. Then too, I might advance upon the
narrow way. “And so, in the soul of a saint, action and contemplation merge together in perfect
harmony to give perfect unity to his life.”
So, ask yourself: how can I make better use of contemplation to propel my action? How can I
increase my own opportunities for prayer and discernment, and prioritise them over the need to feel
Start simply. Start with meditating on the story of Martha and Mary in Saint Luke’s Gospel and
reconcile those soul sisters in your own life.
Extracts taken from Chautard, Dom Jean-Baptiste. Soul of the Apostolate. TAN Books.
By Emily Shaw
Emily is a former ACPA award winning magazine editor. Emily shares 15 years of marriage with her husband, Ben, and is now stay at home mum of seven and freelance journalist. Emily’s work has been featured in a variety of media internationally, writing on all things faith, parenting and craft. She brings close to 20 years of experience in media — print, online and social — as well as several years in active youth ministry including three years as the Diocesan Coordinator.