The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

A Spirituality of Action: Christ’s Apostolic Model of Contemplation and Action

Authored by Philip Couture in Issue #10.3 of Catechetical Review

Praying Hands, a 30 ton 60 ft tall bronze statue at Oral Roberts University, Tulsa OK, 1/22/2008

The Church exists for the purpose of sharing the Gospel and inviting the whole world to salvation and relationship in Christ. Consequently, “a Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate,” that is, a call to mission.[1] Many are enthused to receive such a dignified call, but these sentiments are not self-sustaining. The enormity of evangelizing the whole world, which initially can provoke excitement, often degrades to discouragement amidst incessant demands for action. There is always something more to do in this fallen world, and apostles can begin to question, “What time do I have to pray with so much to do? Wouldn’t it be more generous if I dedicated myself more to doing these good things? Isn’t the Lord also present in these good things? Could it be that I’m even being lazy or selfish by prioritizing a life of prayer? Aren’t there so many souls that need to be saved? How can I allow myself to stop?” This line of questioning, however, overemphasizes the person’s action above God’s, and if unaddressed, it leaves a person destitute of faith and energy.

St. John Paul II proposes to the Church’s apostles a safeguard against this kind of breakdown: “a solid spirituality of action.”[2] As the name suggests, it is a way of living and acting built upon the spiritual life. John Paul II describes it as a unity of contemplation and action, of communion with God that inspires ardent action.[3] This call to contemplation places Christians in contact with the source and fulfillment of their action. The saintly pope explains that the Church’s universal mission is to orient humanity’s gaze, awareness, and experience “towards the mystery of God,” particularly the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ.[i4] In other words, the nature of apostolate is to draw all people to encounter God, to contemplate him and his saving work. If missionaries neglect their call to contemplation, they betray their own mission. However, when action is united to contemplation, apostles are able to see “God in all things and all things in God,” allowing “the most difficult missions to be undertaken” because they literally never lose sight of God.[5]

While the term “spirituality of action” was coined by St. John Paul II, the concept is anything but novel. Whether it is the Benedictine motto of ora et labora, prayer and work,[6] or the designation of “contemplatives of action” commonly applied to the Jesuits,[7] the unity of contemplation and action has been safeguarded by monks and missionaries alike throughout history. This spirituality, however, is not reserved solely for consecrated members of the Church. The Second Vatican Council calls the laity to inform their actions with their life in God because “their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’”[8] Put simply, there is no calling that favors contemplation or action at the expense of the other. Every Christian is called to a relationship with God that overflows into action, and the spirituality of action is the apostle’s response to this call.

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This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting [email protected]

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