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The Apostolateship of Prayer
Stands as a Sign of Contradiction
in a World Become Alienated from God

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

It must sound prosaic to talk about the Apostleship of Prayer today. It is something like talking on medicine today or the legal profession today. The subject seems at once too broad and too obvious. Why not be more specific and less commonplace? As I hope to show, it is not prosaic to discuss the essence of an association whose very existence, I believe, is being called into question.

My plan is to cover at varying length three aspects of the subject: What is the Apostleship of Prayer? How is it being questioned? Why, in spite of its being questioned, is it nevertheless needed and therefore (in the post-conciliar age) to be promoted as never before?

What is the Apostleship of Prayer? As it was originally conceived and as it has developed historically the Apostleship of Prayer is a league with three essential elements. First, the Apostleship is a league established to promote the habit of regular prayer; second, it places a special emphasis on devotion to the Sacred Heart; and third, it is directed to the extension of Christ’s Kingdom in the world.

In order to sharpen this essence and to make clearer why the Apostleship is being questioned let me briefly go over each of these elements. On a proper understanding of them will depend, perhaps the continued existence of the Apostleship of Prayer into 1980 and certainly its value as the Church’s instrument of sanctification in the years to come. In this case I don’t hesitate to say that identification may be the means of survival.

The Apostleship is nothing if it does not look to cultivating the habit of prayer among its members. This is not merely prayer but the habit of regularly and easily conversing with God. Start with talking to Him the first thing in the morning and sustain the practice at frequent or at least strategic moments throughout the day. From its early foundation, the names League of the Sacred Heart and Apostleship of Prayer have been interchangeable and ever since it was assumed that a substantive part of the Apostleship is devotion to the Heart of Christ. It would be a mistake to see this factor as anything less than concentration on the love of God, which is, after all, what constitutes devotion to the Heart of Christ.

Role of Apostleship

In other words, the role of the Apostleship is to cultivate the habit of prayer, indeed, but of that special kind of prayer which is uniquely and characteristically Christian ¾ a form of prayer unknown in its fullness even in Jewish revelation and for all practical purpose absent from the ideology and worship of the non-Christian cultures of mankind. Why? Because Christianity alone believes that God so loved the world that He became man to prove His love and because, as a consequence ¾ note, as a consequence ¾ He expects a corresponding love from His creatures in return.

For the last ten years I have been teaching comparative religion and last week flew to Ottawa to help in the examination of a young Colombian missionary from Korea who wrote his thesis on Confucian morality. One thing has become increasingly clear to me over this period of time: The concept of the love of God, as Christianity understands it and as the devotion to the Sacred Heart synthesizes it, is unique to the Christian religion.

But this is not all. The Apostleship of Prayer is not preoccupied with the individual Christian. Its end or finality is to have the Christian pray and labor for the extension of Christ's cause in the world.

Just for the record we may recall that the words apostle and missionary are perfect synonyms, one derived from the Greek and the other from Latin but both meaning "a person sent," that is, sent by Christ to bring His message of salvation to others. So far, in our definition of terms, the words prayer as a habit, a responsive love of God and a deep sense of mission from a triad. This constitutes, in my estimation, the essence of the Apostleship of Prayer.

The Challenge

We come to the second level of our reflection: the challenge. It is customary now-a-days to speak of challenge when we really mean opposition. The word "challenge" has a connotation that "opposition" does not have. Challenge implies that something is being opposed and may even be vigorously attacked but that those who are opposed or attacked rise to the occasion. They profit from the criticism or conflict and become better proponents of their cause as a result.

If I were speaking ten years ago, I wold not say what I am going to say now. Whatever troubles or, to use a mild word, whatever "malaise" the Apostleship may be suffering from, let's not confuse symptoms with cause. The cause is deep, so deep that it is nothing less than a revolution in Western society. The Apostleship today stands as a sign of contradiction in a world that has become alienated from God; that has, in large areas still nominally Christian, lost its capacity to love; that has in growing measure substituted the advancement of the kingdom of man for the Kingdom of God.

Let me say something about each of these phenomena of our times. First the alienation from God. The Second Vatican Council in its "Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" declared that the growth and spread of atheism and its pervasive influence over a large portion of mankind should be considered the gravest problem facing Christianity in our day. In atheistic Communism it takes the form of a militant Marxism which in Lenin's words is anti-religious by nature, because it considers believe in God, life after death, and a world of persons whom we cannot see as a projection of man's fanciful desires and fears. Consequently, those who peddle such dreams are enemies of the people.

Both my parents were born in Europe. My first prayer book was in Russian script. Many of the members of my family are living and suffering behind the Iron Curtain. From such occasional communications as I have from them and about them, all I can say is that the still free world has only the vaguest notion of how millions are being robbed of the last vestige of their faith in God.

In Euro-American secularism, unbelief is met under a variety of high sounding names but the practical function of God for millions of our well-fed, well-housed, and well-educated citizens is nil. A conservative estimate says that seventy million Americans never attend a church of any kind; and, as we all know, other millions who do are bored by the divine service, oblivious of God's existence, and unconscious of His presence most of their daily lives. This is borne out by my personal experience during five years on the faculty of a state university. In a recent conversation with one of my former students, I asked her if she prayed. She smiled and asked, "What for? I've got everything."

Lost Capacity

The second form of this challenge is the lost capacity for love. Along with the alienation form, God has come alienation from one's fellowman. Let us look at the record of the United States-- an escalating crime rate everywhere and last year four hundred unsolved murders in the city of Chicago along; abortion laws which legalize the murder of unborn children and make the word "law" the inverse of what civilized society has always believed it should be. Last year in the United States there were six hundred thousand divorces to two million marriages, with millions of broken children stranded by the broken families. Hundreds of priests and (by now) several thousand religious who had vowed their lives to the service of God turned their back on these promises. Then some of them write books to defend their conduct and tell millions on television that they broke with the Church because, in their words, it stood in the way of their self-fulfillment or of their being relevant to the times.

Kingdom of Man

The third level of challenge is the advancement of the kingdom of man to a degree never conceived by Augustine when he wrote The City of God. The modern world seems bent on the unique development of man's life on earth. For the best of reasons: if this is the only life we certainly have, and if progress is not measured by the growth and extension of God's Kingdom of Spirit.

Christianity also believes in progress, but how differently it understands what this means. That mankind is truly improving only if it grows in the knowledge and love of God. That along with feeding men's bodies with food their souls must be nourished on God's truth. That along with building skyscrapers of commerce and industry men have to build monuments of faith in churches preaching the gospel, in schools teaching God, in hospitals and welfare institutions staffed not by career people earning a lot of money but by those who tend the needy because they love the Christ who went about healing the sick and curing those in want. That true riches are not measured in dollars and cents but in deep faith, in docility to God's grace, and in the peace of mind that comes from being at peace with one's passions, at peace with those whom I live, and at peace with God because I am honestly trying to do His will.

I am not being naive nor am I playing with the facts when I say that it is precisely the three essential elements of the Apostleship of Prayer that are the three areas of maximum contradiction to Christianity in the Western world today. (And the only mistake we can make is to suppose that I neatly juxtaposed the essentials of the Apostleship with the gravest crises of our society.) Instead of prayer there is massive estrangement form God. Instead of love there is such indifference to human needs that a whole generation of youth is rising in our nation, many of whom have not even tasted the sweetness of a stable family in childhood. Instead of a sense of mission to bring Christ into more hearts and make His gospel known, there is a frenetic zeal to improve man's physical well-being on earth at any cost to human liberty and, in fact, at the cost of millions of human lives born and unborn, sanctioned now by the heavy hand of man's laws.

To return to the Apostleship of Prayer, I honestly believe the single best way to work for its continued progress is to be convinced that what the Apostleship offers is what the faithful today most need. All else is peripheral.

Today people need to pray. By all the evidence of Christian revelation, man's true welfare not only in the next life but also here depends on divine grace; and the normal, indispensable source of grace is daily ¾ and not just once-a-day-- prayer. People need grace for themselves individually and for society collectively. On both counts the Apostleship offers the means of obtaining God’s help. It stands as the answer to two forms of Pelagianism ¾ the individualist type familiar from the old monk Pelagius in the fifth century and the social Pelagianism which has infected modern society.

Persons and societies need grace. Man must pray and men collectively as a group must pray. Members of the Apostleship pray indeed separately but not dividedly. They thus satisfy both levels of the iron law of grace, “Ask and you shall receive” (where the word “you” is both one person and human society), so that by implication if people do not ask they will not receive.

People need to love. Again Christianity teaches as no other religion dares that love is not merely a verb relative to the deity but a noun. God is love.

He revealed Himself as love in freely giving all that man is and hopes to be, from the first cell of existence to the endless riches of eternity. He showed the depth of His love by the one criterion we best understand, the exercise of liberty. Instinctively we sense that love is greatest when it is freest, when a person is not compelled but gives just because he wants to.

Essence of Love

In God, therefore, we see the essence of authentic love, because whatever He gives is given with perfect freedom. He created not because He had to nor to profit from creation, but only because He sought to benefit the creatures whom He brought into being out of nothing. So, too, He freely became man, with no compulsive necessity on His part for the Incarnation.

Why did He become man? That He might have a human heart like ours and thus remain man-though-God forever. That He might show His love is freely instituting the Eucharist, where He lives as the God-man among us in sacrament and liturgy. That He might make it possible for us to share in His own divine life, begun now and destined to be fully experienced when we enter the heavenly family of the Trinity.

Love Begets Love

Love begets love. If the Apostleship is rightly taught, the faithful will be brought to love selflessly, once they realize how generously God has been loving them.

Finally, people need a sense of mission. They are bored with themselves. They are sick of feeding themselves. They want to give themselves to a cause above them, beyond them, to one that is greater than they. As I understand a demonic movement like Communism, this is somewhere near the central reason for its incredible success.

The Apostleship offers people the prospect of participation in the grandest enterprise of all, that of propagating themselves. I prefer this to any other term. They can generate themselves by a parenthood of spirit which is no less real than procreation of the body. It means the multiplication of God’s children and the increase of their possession of His grace. While hidden to those who cannot see, it is the source of great joy to all who believe that a true Christian, by living and professing his faith, reproduces himself in others.

All of this and more is open to the Apostleship of Prayer, but on one condition. We must recognize or, if need be, rediscover that we have here a providential means of bringing the awareness of God back to a world that has forgotten His existence, of restoring His charity to a world that talks love but often lives indifference and even hate, and of regaining zeal for divine glory in a world that has made idols of its own achievements but is desperately hungry to extend the Kingdom of God.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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