Written in the early twentieth century, Spiritual Handbook for Catholic Evangelists: How to Win Souls Without Losing Your Own, is an indispensable reminder of what must be at the core of evangelization: the inner life. Without an inner life, without seeking diligently for one’s own salvation and to further deepen one’s relationship with Jesus Christ, any good evangelistic works are for naught. Fruit cannot be borne unless the branch is grafted to that vine of Jesus Christ Who is life Himself (Jn 15:4).
Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, a Trappist monk, masterfully speaks of the union of the active and contemplative life; he rightfully places the contemplative life as higher, the wellspring from which the active life goes forth. Dom Chautard, quoting St. Jure, states, “the heart signifies the interior, contemplative live, and the arm, the exterior, active life…The heart beats day and night; were it to cease for a moment, death would ensue. The arm is only an integral part of the body and moves at intervals. Hence, we should sometimes cease performing external works, but should never relax from our application to spiritual things.” (p.55)
For “every apostolic work built on a human foundation is destined to perish, and that Providence blesses only those works which aim at bringing men to God by the interior life.” (p.52) His ways follow not the wise counsels of modern man, the newest methods and means, nor mountains of gold, but instead rest in lying close to Christ’s breast; to recline at table with Him and learn to rest and pray.
The aim of evangelization cannot be to get more people in the pews, to increase money in the coffers, or convince more people to enter into the Church. While all those are good things, they are but hollow and fruitless endeavors if the inner life of relationship with Christ is not shared. “The Christian religion has been propagated, not so much by long and frequent discussions and learned explanations, as by the works of a truly Christian life of the apostolic men and of the faithful, a life so contrary to the worldly spirit of selfishness and sensuality.” (p. 99)
When this is forgotten, when we claim “that we must now be up-to-date in our labors, lay aside all antiquated ways and means, make ourselves popular, and progress with times…[we] become worldly-minded and finally fall!” (p.68) We must wholeheartedly pursue our own salvation for through our sanctification and inner life, we can remain grounded in Christ and share Him fully. As Dom Chautard states, “He who devotes himself to the conversion of souls and forgets the wants of his own soul falls into a still more dangerous illusion. God wills that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, but not more than ourselves; that is, our love for our neighbor should not induce us to neglect ourselves. In practice, we are bound to take greater care of our soul than of the souls of others, for our zeal must be regulated by charity, and we should, first of all, practice charity toward ourselves.”(p.34) The apostolic man’s “self-surrender to God does not in the least diminish his ardor in his active labors. He acts as though success depended entirely on his efforts, but in fact, at the same time, he places his whole dependence solely on God.” (p. 82)
Besides being just full of sage spiritual advice, Dom Chautard’s book is replete with beautiful prayers fitting for every evangelist. Take, for example, the following prayer he recommends while meditating upon the doctrines of the faith:
“O Jesus, it is true, absolutely true; I believe it.
I will that this ray of the Sun of Revelation
should serve as my beacon on my journey.
Render my faith still more lively.
Inspire me with an earnest desire to
live according to this ideal and
to detest what is opposed to it.
I wish to assimilate this
truth as my spiritual nourishment.”
In summation, Don Chautard does exactly as promised and gives one all the initial truths necessary to begin building up one’s inner life so as to be able to actively share the Gospel of Christ and, along with St. Paul and all the saints, proclaim Jesus Christ crucified!
I recommend this to all evangelists.