Marian Chivalry and the Soul of the Apostolate

Updated below (6/21/10)

Since the new year I have been instructing our MIM Cenacle in Griswold on the spiritual life, on the basis of Dom Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate, a book, I have mentioned here a number of times before.   The book was not really written for laypeople, so I have been adapting it for my class.  Reflecting on this effort, I can see it also needs to be adapted to the needs of Marian Chivalry.

Dom Chautard was a Cistercian abbot, whose service of the Church took him frequently from the monastery and often placed him in circumstances less than conducive to the contemplative life. To a large extent, The Soul of the Apostolate is the fruit of his own soul searching—his effort to make sure that he remained a contemplative when he was forced to live outside of his monastery.

As anyone who is trying to live the interior life knows, there is an inherent tension between the interior and active life, and though in no way mutually exclusive, one can tend to dominate and destroy the other.  In the vast majority of cases it is the active life and encroaches on the interior life, because, in fact, it is easier to be active than prayerful.  In fact, Dom Chautard writes that nothing is more difficult than fidelity to the interior life.  It also may and does happen that certain interior souls adopt unsound habits and allow their personal devotions to impinge upon their responsibilities, for example, a mother to her children, but by far the most common problem is that we sacrifice our prayer to our work.  This problem is critical because of the primacy of prayer over action: without grace our work has no merit and prayer is our conduit to the grace of God.

When teaching the doctrine of Dom Chautard to laypeople, I have to emphasize in a particular way the great spiritual writer says that the idea that action is inherently harmful to the interior life is a heresy.  In fact, the exact opposite is true: when there is the proper ordering of the interior and active life, not only does action not harm prayer, action improves it.  In reality, there should be a reciprocal influence of prayer and action on one another.  Prayer leads us to perform our duties better, and our duty fulfilled is prayer made fruitful and sincere.

In a layman’s life, indeed, in anyone’s life, the primacy of prayer is not necessarily measured by the amount of time spent in prayer, relative to activity, but rather the fidelity with which one strives to cut out a reasonable measure of space and time for prayer, and the holy anxiety with which one gives up that time and space only to fulfill one’s duty.  For someone who strives to maintain this discipline, even a few moments respite from the din of family preoccupations can be of incalculable value.

I thought about how this might be applied to the ideals of Marian Chivalry while reading the third part of the book, where Dom Chautard expounds on the five characteristics that the power of Christ takes on in us.  (The author claims the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure as his source, which I have not been able to verify as the work cited, Compendium Theologiae, is not known to me.  It is likely a pseudo work, that is, something based on the doctrine of St. Bonaventure but not actually written by him.)

The characteristics of Christi’s strength in us are as follows:

The first is that it undertakes difficult things and confronts obstacles with courage: “Have courage and let your heart be strong” [Ps 30:25].

The second is contempt for the things of this earth: “I have suffered the loss of all things and counted them but as dung that I may gain Christ” [Phil 3:8].

The third is patience under trail: “Love is strong as death” [Cant 8:6].

The fourth is resistance to temptation: “As a roaring lion he goeth about . . . who resist ye, strong in faith” [1 Pt 5:8-9].

The fifth is interior martyrdom, that is, the testimony not of blood but of one’s very life crying out to Christ: “I want to belong to Thee alone.”  It consists in fighting the concupiscences, in overcoming vice and in working manfully for the acquistion of virtues: “I have fought the good fight” [2 Tim 4:7].

Courage, contempt of earth, patience in trial, resistance to temptation, and martyrdom are characteristics of the strength of Christ within us, first of all, but also of His strength in our actions.  Dom Chautard says that through the progress of a soul in the interior life the divine action works in inverse proportion to our own effort.  That is to say, in the beginning of our journey, we act under the influence of God’s grace, but it is we who act primarily, while God guides and often restrains us from compromising our life of prayer.  But in one who is more advanced, God’s power manifests itself more fully and directly, the apostle being moved by grace and collaborating more transparently with the Holy Spirit.

The trick here for a knight of Our Lady is to understand that the spiritual discipline of the “strength of Christ,” is a kind of surrender, trust and long-suffering, while the vigor of the active life is generosity and mercy.  The inverse proportion of God’s activity within the soul must not become a kind of quietism, where we just assume that our prayers will supply for our lack of zeal for the works of justice and mercy.  In fact the spiritual life itself is a battle and can only thrive where there is the courage to face and overcome obstacles and enemies.

This has too often been the case among religious men, who have either tried to imitate the piety of women, or who ceased being religious men altogether.  Dom Chautard makes reference to the principle of St. Ignatius, the great soldier saint, whose maxim has been popularly rendered: “Pray as though everything depends on God and work as though everything depends on you:

Let this be the first rule of your undertakings: confide in God as if the success of those undertakings depended completely upon you and not at all upon God; nonetheless give your whole self to the undertakings as if you yourself would be doing nothing in them but God alone would be doing everything.

What St. Ignatius actually says is considerably more nuanced than the way it has been popularized.  St. Ignatius’ longer statement does more to integrate the active and interior.  He is not really speaking about the interior and active separately. His statement is about how the active life is to be conducted in a contemplative way. He says we must entrust the active life to God so as to be fully cognizant of how much our efforts make a difference and yet be docile enough in the actual doing to realize that our success depends entirely our union with God.

[The following insertion is from my email answer to a reader who had a concern about my lack of sourcing for the above quote allegedly from St. Ignatius and who notes that the CCC [2834] quotes St. Ignatius in a way that seems to him to be at odds with the quote I have used:

I will update the post to reflect the fact that I have not found a primary source. My source was a Jesuit blog. I have seen the passage quoted in a number of places without documentation. The particular site that I used is authored by more than one Jesuit priest, so I considered it safe enough. One may argue whether it meets an acceptable standard for a blog. In any case, I should make the lack sourcing clear.

In addition, I think several things are worthy of note. Maxims by their nature, truncate the truth into a slogan that can be easily remembered. They are by nature, statements of the truth (if they are true) that require some clarification. In this regard, it is a matter completely consistent with Church doctrine and the science of the saints that prayer and action are so integrally related, with the primacy of the former, that they must interpenetrate in order to survive and grow. Grace is always primary and free will always essential. So, there is a sense in which both prayer and action depend entirely upon God’ grace, but at the same time, there is a sense in which progress takes place only to the extent that we are heroically invested in the prayer or work, or better, in both.

So should we pray as though everything depends on God or pray as though everything depends on us?  Should we work as though everything depends on God or work as though everything depends on us?  The fact is that we can do nothing without God.  No prayer or action can happen without grace. Yet every good act also depends on the relative investment of our free will.

The catechism quotes the more well-known and shorter version of St. Ignatius’ words, but also without sourcing the quote. In fact the note says “attributed to St. Ignatius.” As I say, and in part, this is the point of the post in which I used the quote, it is helpful, especially for men, to see both sides of this.]

I have always said that a truly Catholic approach to spirituality that is suited for men will help translate the life of prayer into a plan of action.  But the inverse is true as well, the active knighthood of Christ will also make us men of deeper prayer.

Guarding Hearts

The Kingdom of God is both an internal and external reality, the walls and ramparts of which need to be watched and guarded.  Internally that kingdom is the heart of man.  Externally it is the Church, the Christian family and, hopefully, an evangelized society.  The protection of that larger external kingdom, however, depends on the transformation of individual hearts.

Holes are torn into the walls of the Church only because the sanctuaries of individual hearts have been breached. Even though the Church is a social, external reality that communicates supernatural life to individual souls, it has no life at all unless it is animated by the interior life of the Savior.  During the itinerary of this life, the paradox remains that we cannot live without the grace of the Church, but the Church will not thrive unless we guard the grace within us.  All of this depends on our connection with the Heart of Christ.

Heart to Heart Talk

We speak of the heart as though it was the whole person.  For example, we personify Our Blessed Lord and His Mother in terms of their Hearts when we say:  “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!  Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.”  The heart represents the moral and spiritual center, source of unity, and principle of organization and life.  It is, again, an internal reality.  Just as the physical organ is literally at the center of the body, so as a symbol the heart represents all that is central to supernatural life, the interior life of prayer and union with God.  It represents the highest part of man’s spirit that is most completely “transubstantiated” into the Trinitarian Communion by means of his cooperation with grace.

We freely personify the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, because the heart is also symbolic of an enclosed vessel in which all the treasure of life and grace are contained.  The abundance of life, promised to us by the Lord himself, is nothing other than the fullness of His own life (cf. Jn 10:10).  The fullness of grace by which the angel Gabriel names the Blessed Virgin is poured out for us in the mystery of the Incarnation and our own rebirth as children of God (Lk 1:28).  At Fatima, for instance, Our Lady makes grace-filled promise to Lucia: “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that leads you to God.”

By means of the Church that Christ established, there is an open path from the fullness of grace in Christ through Mary to the vessel of our own hearts.  For those who have not yet found that grace, or who perchance, have lost it, the task is to make room, by casting out from the heart the refuse deposited there by the world, the flesh and the devil.  This is the necessary prerequisite for receiving the sacraments worthily and fruitfully.  For those have experienced that grace and seen it grown, unworthy though they are, their work is by no means over, for the Kingdom of God, which is the heart of man, is under constant attack.

Heart Attack

Spiritually, the enclosed space of our hearts is not protected by flesh and bone, but by the heavenly host and by the sword of the spirit (cf. Ep. 6:17).  Our Lord warns us:  Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt. 10:28).  At the Cross, the enemy of hearts mockingly executes the transfixion of the Heart of Christ and the Soul of His Mother, believing falsely that in so doing he violated the very sanctum of the House of God.  But in reality what he did was to open the floodgates of grace.

One of the paradoxes of the Cross is that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary secure the Kingdom of God by suffering and seemingly succumb to the assault of the enemy.  But in reality to suffer is not to be conquered.  For the enemy, death, shall be destroyed last (1 Cor 15:26), and even now in the death of Christ we are brought to life.  The heart of man is protected, then, by incorporation into the mystery of the sacrificial love of Christ and the coredemptive love of the Immaculate.

Custody of the Heart

In The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard (1858– 1935), we are counseled to practice custody of the heart, that is, to guard our hearts, by means of cultivating purity of intention and the practice of the presence of God.  Religious people often find themselves “swarming like an anthill with venial sins,” or justifying their own tepidity with the righteous outrage about the state of the Church, society and “sinners,” because their deep motives for practicing religion are tainted by so much self-love and self-deception (part 5, section 4).  How often do we need to stop and center ourselves on the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, begging for the strength to stay focused solely on them, to remain in their presence and to shut out every other voice to the contrary.

It is this vigilance of the heart, and only it, that brings about the rebuilding of the larger Kingdom of God.  Dom Chautard makes little of grand schemes and apostolic gimmicks as means of appealing to the masses of modern men. Together with the Church he says that “God is a hidden God, Deus absconditus,” and that deep transformations among men take place by means of the revelation of that hidden supernatural character of holiness through those already so transformed.    “How does this diffusion of the supernatural come about?” asks Dom Chautard:

It is the visible brilliance of sanctity, the shining-forth of that divine influx which theology commonly calls sanctifying grace; or, better still perhaps, we may say it is the result of the unutterable presence of the Divine Persons within those who They sanctify (part 4, section c.).


Dom Chautard calls this effulgence of holiness “supernatural radiation.”  By means of its blast wave, the enemies of the heart and of the Church are flung back to hell.  Thus, real and effective vigilance on behalf of Christ’s Church and all the souls entrusted to Her care will always depend on the defenses of our own individual hearts.

Dom Chautard was a contemplative monk, who, at the behest of Holy Mother Church, left his monastery in order to conduct Church’s work of saving souls, but he was always so wary of allowing the ego to supplant the grace of Christ.  May we never fall into that trap.  May we, rather, remain vigilant in the custody of our hearts, which is the only way to place the fortification of grace around the larger, external Kingdom of God.

Standing Fast Widget

Ave Maria!

You will notice in the side bar a new widget which will allow you to watch Standing Fast without my turning the videos into individual posts here on MaryVictrix. You see, my commitment to vlogging belongs to AirMaria, so all my videos get posted there and then uploaded to various share sights. I am grabbing the videos from our YouTube account so that they can be played in the side bar.

I am sorry the formatting of the widget is not the greatest.  I will work on it when I have a chance.

The most recent video is “Guarding the Heart,” and expands on what I wrote in my latest post.

The Armor of God and Guarding the Heart


I have been reflecting lately on the notion of Dom Chautard concerning that aspect of the interior life that is Englished in his book “custody of the heart.”  Perhaps a more militant way of translating this notion in modern English would be “guarding the heart.”

It is the duty of a knight to guard and protect, and we often associate this role with his perennial preoccupation with the Damsel in Distress.  Elsewhere I have noted that the Blessed Virgin is the personification of the Damsel in Distress–not so much because She is helpless, which She is not, nor is that an essential quality of any such damsel, but because She personifies everything true, good and beautiful.  She does this precisely at the foot of the cross as the personification of the Bride of Christ and as Mother and exemplar of the Church.  Ultimately the Christian Knight must be at Her service.

But the curious fact is that the knight, while an image of Christ, the Bridegroom and Savior, is first of all a sinner and one who must identify with the needy Bride as much as any woman should.  This is not to say that the knight must become a woman spiritually, but that his masculinity need not be threatened by whole-hearted honesty about his dependence on God.

In fact, nothing could be more important.  In order to stand fast in the breach that has been blasted in the wall of the City of God, Our Lady’s knight must first repair the breach in his own heart.  How can a knight defend the City of God, how can he fight for the honor of the Immaculate Heart and guard it from the dishonor of the heathens, if he has not first mastered the art of guarding his own heart?  In fact, there is nothing more urgent than the attention we pay to our own vulnerabilities.

To this end, I would like to associate the notion of Dom Chautard with that of St. Paul concerning the Armor of God.


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