We continue our reading from a 100-year-old book I felt motivated to buy some months ago. Soon, I will reveal its author and the reasons why it has touched such a chord with me … and I would love the sharing of those reasons to be a source for discussion and dialogue here on the Wind Farm. In the meantime, enjoy Chapter 4 …
IV. Useless Lives
We have seen how the necessity, advantages and duties of the two ministries, active and contemplative may be deduced from our Lord’s own words. The world in its feverish activity now understands but half of God’s design. It appreciates action, but not contemplation. Men know and perceive and acknowledge the need of action, and they esteem highly whatever acts and agitates, and nothing else. In so doing they are only being consistent with human nature, but they are mistaken.
Activity is indeed necessary, and cannot be too highly esteemed, but it alone is not enough, or rather if it suffices in the bustle of everyday life, it does not suffice for that of a Christian, which is a union of divine and human elements. In our present century, when faith is departing, as soon as a generous soul flees from the world and seeks refuge in the solitude of the cloister, men speak of it as a cowardly act, not in keeping with the age in which we live. They assume that this outwardly inactive existence was a beautiful outgrowth, a luxury produced by faith in the days when faith reigned supreme.
But now that we have to defend every foot of our stronghold, and are losing ground day by day, we need active combatants, and have not too many or even enough of them. Under such circumstances, how can we view with approval those souls which are filled with faith and yet quit the field of battle? This is what people say, though they do not know what they are saying. They talk of battle, with out seeing what sort of battle it is; and they speak of a battle field, and do not perceive where the contest rages most fiercely. They accuse the most generous souls of abandoning the fray, when they are really engaging in the hottest part of the struggle.
It does indeed behove us to fight, and whosoever deserts God’s standard in order to indulge in selfish indolence is a traitor. We must struggle for God and the Church, for our faith and for the souls of men, and we must do so with energy and with undaunted courage, but at the same time we must avail ourselves of favourable opportunities and places, and use good weapons and wise tallies. It is not everything to go forth to fight, not all who go forth shall come back victorious, and anyone who is not well equipped will do well to stay quietly at home, and not let himself be killed to no purpose.
But is the conflict with the powers of evil, one of active warfare? Our Divine Leader has taught us that they can be overcome only by prayer and penance, so how can we venture to say that the most generous and devoted souls, most eager for the holy warfare, are deserting the battle, when we see them have recourse to these weapons?
Should they be called cowardly, selfish and useless? Can we so utterly fail to understand our Lord’s words, and our own faith and hope, or to recognize our standards and our own party? Only madmen fire on their own troops, and try to remove the best soldiers from the most vital point that they are defending with all their devotion.
Let us once more consider our Lord’s words. He tells us that there is an abundant harvest and that the workers are few. One might fancy that He would go on to bid His apostles hasten to gather in the harvest. As the harvest is abundant and the workers are too few, the natural conclusion, at which we should arrive, would be: “Hasten, therefore, and busy yourselves about the harvest.” But God’s conclusion is: “Pray therefore, pray the lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matt 9:38)
There is much work to be done, and for that reason there is great need of prayer, such is the divine argument. And for what are we to pray? That the Lord may send forth labourers. Our Lord does not tell us to have recourse to prayer in order to find peace in it, to fold our arms quietly and not trouble about the harvest, to secure our personal salvation comfortably, being sheltered from sun and rain. No indeed. He means prayer to be a work of apostolic devotion, the first and foremost of such works, inasmuch as it precedes and procures the sending-forth of the labourers. Two things are needful, prayer and labourers; prayer comes first, and the labourers follow, and they will not come at all if there has been no prayer; and, in the same way, if prayer does not call forth labourers, it has failed in its object.
Here then we have an indication of the union of the two ministries and of their co-operation in the great task of gathering in a harvest of souls. They ought never to be separated, as, when deprived of mutual support, one loses its life and the other its object. If those leading the contemplative life do not pray for men of action, they are in danger of being mere dreamers with no practical aim. If apostolic activity does not derive its life from contemplation and prayer, it quickly degenerates into morbid excitement, and falls into decay, without achieving any result.