A Book Reading .. Chapter 3

ImageFinally we are able to return to reading the antique book I acquired a few months ago. In this chapter there will be a few “bones” for you pick from the meat and perhaps discard, particularly in relation to church government, but you are mature enough to do that. However, I want to encourage you, when reading these chapters, to read with an eye and a heart searching for principle and wisdom rather than detail. If you will “read beneath the surface” and listen with the ear of your heart, I believe you will find a treasure trove of riches.

III.   The Two Kinds of Ministry

Our Lord sent His apostles into the villages, bidding them practise works of divine goodness, they were to preach, to heal the sick and to cast out devils. And the disciples went forth and returned with joy, saying: “Lord, the devils also are subject to us in Thy Name” (St. Luke 10:1-17).

This was the ordinary and exterior ministry of action, and it is both necessary and fertile in results; it is fundamental in the organization of the Church, and the usual means of its growth. But it alone does not suffice, for it breaks down in face of certain difficulties, and then we must have recourse to another ministry with spiritual powers and instruments, which may be called the ministry of divine union. I call it a ministry, for in every organic body there must be a special organism for the performance of each organic function. The Church is the mystical body of Christ, and if the active functions require active organs, no less do the contemplative functions require contemplative organs, and these organs and their functions make up the ministry of divine union, for their aim is to remain close to God, and to derive from Him the treasures of the divine life.

In the social organization of the Church this two-fold ministry corresponds to the two-fold grace which bestows the divine life in its fulness upon each individual soul. There is an active grace, setting in motion the activities of the soul, and determining and maintaining them; this is called actual grace. But there is another kind of grace, higher and more spiritual, which binds the soul to God, and raises it to an ever closer union with Him, and this is sanctifying grace. Likewise in the Church there is the two-fold ministry of action and of union; the former refers more directly to men, acts upon them and exercises over them the influence of God’s power; the other refers more directly to God, and is in more immediate communication with Him, so as to derive from Him what it is the task of the active ministry to distribute.

Is this not the principle governing every living organism? In each man’s body are two classes of organs, those of nutrition and those of relation; the action of the former is interior and that of the latter is exterior. The fundamental law is life; the body is made to live, and when it ceases to live, it decays. Life must be nourished, supported and increased from within; it must defend and recruit itself, act and be propagated without. Therefore the very law of life requires there to be some organs destined to discharge the interior functions and others to discharge the exterior functions of life. Both are necessary to life, and together they compose the body, and their combined functions secure sustenance and activity to life.

The Church, too, is a body, a living body, and its life too must be nourished within and propagated without. There are accordingly both internal and external vital functions and organs destined to perform both these classes of functions. The Church in Heaven possesses the double ministry of angels present before the throne of God and angels who carry out His bidding, and in the same way the Church on earth possesses the ministry of contemplation and that of action.

Both are public ministries, officially organized for the general wellbeing of the Church as a whole, and the justification for their existence is independent of the personal necessities of those who participate in them.

An apostle is not an apostle primarily or chiefly for his own sake, but in order to labour for the sanctification of others. If he is called to this ministry, it is for the good of the Church. In the same way it is not primarily or chiefly for its own sake that a soul is called to join a contemplative order, when it is so called, but it is to perform the higher service of prayer and penance, which has power to drive out evil spirits. Both alike are forms of public ministry.

When I say that the contemplative life is no less a public ministry than the active life, I am speaking of their relative functions, both aiming at the general welfare of the Church, but I do not mean that the special organizations, in which they are incorporated, belong to the essential constitution of the Church in the same degree and manner. The hierarchical organization of the ministry of the Church, consisting of bishops, priests and the lower clergy, alone forms the graduated foundation of the whole body. The religious orders are complementary and providential organizations. I shall explain later how and why the double function, concentrated originally in the apostles, was subsequently assigned to distinct organizations, but although this has taken place, both functions remain public in their nature, object and aim.

No doubt one who leads the contemplative life sanctifies himself in contemplation, just as one who leads the apostolic life sanctifies himself in action. Both attain to holiness, and if they did not, they would have no personal power to sanctify others.

The life-giving action of the divine sacraments does not, of course, depend upon the sanctity of the men who administer them, for their efficacy is derived from God and not from man. Moreover, God has not fettered Himself to such a degree as that His action should depend solely and absolutely upon the manner in which His ministers conform to His will. He can act for Himself, and make even obstacles promote the sanctification of His elect. Still it is true that, in the usual course ordained by Providence, He prefers to make use of the personal help of the men whom He chooses for Himself, and history teaches us how much the influence of the Saints has done to increase the growth of holiness, and how quickly evil is multiplied by the carelessness of those who are false to their trust. Christ, the great teacher of holiness, said ” And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

No part of the body can perform its particular function beneficially, except in proportion to its health; it must be healthy if it is to do any good work. Yet health is not the reason for its existence, which is to discharge in and for the whole body the particular function assigned to it.

There is, in the case of each part of the body, a close relation between its health and its function. If it be not healthy, it cannot do its work; if it fail in doing its work, it cannot remain in health. Health renders work possible, and work renders health vigorous.

Neither work nor health can be neglected without causing suffering to both, for they are inseparable. A member of a body cannot forget itself and be careless as to its own health, without inflicting injury on the body as a whole. Nor can it lose sight of its own particular work and disregard the body, except under pain of losing its own health. It has to live, and therefore it is bound to take thought for its health, but as it has to live in and for the body, its health is no less intimately connected with its work, than the member itself is with the body. How can a member be severed from a body without perishing itself and injuring the whole body? In this way the welfare of the whole body is inseparably connected with that of each individual part, the one being ordered with reference to the other, and resulting in its turn from the other. The member spends its life in the service of the body, and the body bestows upon it in return a higher perfection of life. The gift is reciprocal, enriching both. We should never shrink from giving, even from giving ourselves, for it is through giving that we receive, and what we receive is proportionate to what we give. Happy are the souls that know how to give, and do not forbear to give themselves; they receive much in return! It is more blessed to give than to receive, for he that gives receives, and he who begins by receiving, and gives nothing, ends by receiving nothing at all.

To give oneself, wholly and without reserve, to God is the ideal of every religious, his impulse, his necessity, his life; and Christians recognize this fact, for we often hear it said of one who has embraced the religious life: ” He has given himself to God.” O God, raise up amongst us men capable of giving themselves to Thee; men capable of living for their own good and for that of Thy Church, men who can value their own souls and Thy Church, and will never separate one from the other !

O Lord Jesus, grant that we may become true members of Thy mystical body, sound and vigorous in ourselves and full of active devotion to the service of Thy body, the Church.


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