Pastoral Issues

The Figure of the Modern Apologist according to St. Josemaria

by Alexander Farrell

You have got to be a man of God, a man of interior life, a man of prayer and sacrifice. Your apostolate must be the overflow of your life 'within'.

St. Josemaria, The Way, #961

One day during the Second Vatican Council as some visiting bishops were paying a call on Saint Josemaria Escriva, the subject of the lay apostolate came up. One bishop remarked that the role of the laity was to transform the institutions of society in a Christian way. The founder of Opus Dei responded: “Only if they have a profound interior life, your Excellency. Because if they don’t, they will not transform anything, it will rather be they who are transformed. Instead of Christianizing the world, the Christians will become worldly.”

To grasp this point is to understand a good deal about the qualities that Opus Dei's founder saw as necessary for today's apologist and apostle. By virtue of their Baptism, all Christians are called to be apostles and apologists, to help their friends and others to be better Christians. But just how can one transmit the faith, pure and undefiled, and retain and deepen one’s own faith while trying to evangelize a society that is unfriendly or indifferent?

St. Josemaria's answer to this question is reflected in the two fundamental objectives that Opus Dei seeks to attain through the formation it provides. One is the teaching of good doctrine, theological and moral. The other is the development of the interior life. The two objectives are of equal importance. An articulate defender of Catholic doctrine who has no interior life is a man subject to the blandishments of flattery, envy and greed because he is insufficiently detached from the things of this world. A man of interior life whose knowledge of doctrine is deficient is all too easily confounded and embarrassed in discussion or conversation. The intended outcome of the formation given by Opus Dei is to form people to be not only apologists for the Catholic faith to the utmost of their ability, but also exemplary exponents of that faith.

Since we know that God wishes the salvation of all men and women, the necessity for an apostolate of good doctrine must be self-evident to a Christian. We are called to spread the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Opus Dei, this is to be done through friendship, through taking advantage of every opportunity provided by our station in life to reach out to other people, to get to know them as individuals and to demonstrate a real concern for their well-being.

This apostolate is a challenge. Natural friendship is within reach of the normal human being, but our goal goes beyond natural interests and affinities. We cultivate friends in order, finally, to assist in the salvation of their souls. We know that we live in a society characterized by much hostility towards Christianity. However, we can be sure that mankind consists in the majority of people of good disposition, despite the problem of original sin. Rare is the individual who will not respond to signs of real interest in his well-being. What we as individual apostles must do is look conscientiously for other individuals to whom we can offer those signs.

How a friendship develops depends on personalities and circumstances. If it is pursued with prayer, industry and sincerity, however, it will reach the point where the new friends talk about important things such as the meaning of their lives. When it does, the apostle in this relationship must have something to say.

Opus Dei encourages those who attend its formational activities to read and study so that they may constantly be expanding their knowledge of the Church’s teachings. Familiarity with the Gospels and with the Catechism of the Catholic Church is fundamental to this.

The founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaria, spoke continually of the importance of helping others to hear and grasp the Gospel message. “We need to be vigilant,” he wrote, “our souls wide awake, our faith alive, shown with deeds, giving doctrine boldly and without fear. Each of us has the obligation to ensure that the blood of God’s children flows through our veins, so we can give this life of Christ to others. As always, but especially now in these times of confusion, there’s no other remedy but to be apostolic. If not, it means that you’re dying out, that you don’t have life in you. When an ember doesn’t set fire to its surroundings, it’s a sign that it’s cooling down, that it’s almost all ash.”

Give doctrine boldly, Saint Josemaria exhorted. He encouraged all of us who attend the activities of spiritual formation that Opus Dei provides to be cheerful and generous in all our conversation with others, no matter how great the odds against us may seem, no matter how much someone may want to provoke or ridicule us. “We are on the winning side,” he used to remind us. He urged us to look for opportunities in a climate of reasonableness and goodwill. We must acquire in our everyday human relations a sense of when the occasion is ripe for offering the message that Christ has entrusted to us.

Sometimes the occasion will thrust itself upon us. There is always some educated skeptic out there who can tell us that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, the same was in the beginning with God, all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made,” then state why he does not believe this, and finally challenge us to explain and defend it. Whatever the case, whether it be an occasion we have sought or a thunderbolt hurled at us, whether our interlocutor be the educated skeptic spoiling for an argument or a friend clearly hungering for the bread of life, we have to be prepared to do our best.

St. Josemaria always insisted that the only effective apostolate is the overflow of a strong interior life. And if there can be no apostolate without interior life, there can be no interior life without prayer. Whatever our level of knowledge, it must be infused with the Holy Spirit and we must rely on His assistance. “Let us be stubborn in prayer,” said Saint Josemaria, “convinced that if we pray in this way, all united, our Lord’s promise cannot fail to be fulfilled.”

Before there can be effective promotion of good doctrine, therefore, there has to be an interior life. In one of his letters (6-V-1945) Saint Josemaria wrote, “I want once more to remind you that the basis of all our work lies in an intense interior life, in our being truly and effectively contemplative souls.” The effect of a strong interior life is exemplary Christian behaviour, and this example is never lost on those whom we meet.

A man with a suitcase was hitchhiking once outside a village in Spain. A truck driver stopped to give him a lift. The man with the suitcase asked the truck driver whether he was alone. The driver hesitated, then said he was alone. Once in the truck, the man with the suitcase asked the driver why he had hesitated before answering. “Well, you see, in a sense I am never alone,” the truck driver said. “I have my Guardian Angel with me, and I carry Our Lord in my soul in grace.” When he said these words, the man with the suitcase pleaded with him to stop the truck. “I want to go back,” he said. “Why, what’s wrong?” asked the astonished truck driver. The man with the suitcase replied, “I’m the village priest, and I was running away.”

It is the example of faith deeply lived, of a profound interior life, that gives the most eloquent testimony to our Christian witness, and offers the surest way of reaching the hearts of others. And the means to development of a strong interior life are prayer and mortification, the habitual renunciation of things we covet that are not essential, preferably little, common things. Detachment, detachment from words and objects that flatter our egos and indulge our senses, is said to be a good measure of the interior life. A Christian who possesses an interior life is always trying to be a better Christian, the kind of Christian who can help others to be better also. Such is the essence of Opus Dei’s message about the interior life.

Living a good interior life, then, we may hope to acquire the gifts we need to be effective apostles. And being effective apostles comes down, in the end, to one thing: giving good doctrine. From the earliest days of Opus Dei Saint Josemaria urged the necessity of fighting the evil of ignorance. “Can’t you see that the worlds of science, art, agriculture and industry are being de-Christianized, along with men who work in them?” he wrote in an “Instruction” of 1935.

Trying to do an apostolate without an interior life is often the result of a misunderstanding of the problem. We are prone to think that the problem is something entirely exterior to us, something out there, such as materialism or hedonism or the New Age Movement. We fail to realize that the real problem is in the human heart. We want to change the world without changing ourselves, which can never work. We begin to change the world by striving every day to grow in personal holiness and to overcome our own pride, sensuality and laziness. We must do apostolate with a profound awareness that we are but poor and inadequate instruments, and that it is God’s grace in us that will do the work.

We are called to propagate ardently the truth of Christ, remembering what Saint Paul wrote to Timothy and believing that he was not speaking only to Timothy: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine . . . watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

Alexander Farrell
August 1, 2004


Alexander Farrell is the past editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest Canada.. Alex did his university studies in History in Germany. To learn more about Opus Dei, visit their website.