Praying With the Whole Soul

Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate is justly regarded as a modern spiritual classic. It began with a 1907 pamphlet presenting a model for the reconstruction of the French Church after a period of persecution, and gradually expanded into an essential guide for anyone doing apostolic work in the modern world.

The argument of the book is simple enough: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Ps. 126:1). Nothing we do for God will have any solidity unless we are doing his work with his help. To do his work we must know his will, and to have his help we must ask for it. Therefore the soul of every apostolate is prayer.

Praying well is difficult in an environment where even the devices are “smart,” and all the brain and circuit power on the planet is directed toward our distraction from the one thing most needful. For many today, this blogger included, even thinking about what makes prayer effective can be daunting, which may explain why finishing this little lucid book took me more than a decade.

The gems in Chautard’s treasury are many, but I would like to focus on his recommended method for morning mental prayer. I must confess that attempting to pray by formula has seldom seemed to do me much good in times past. But this time around I was finally able to grasp the conceptual clarity and practical power in Chautard’s breakdown of “how to meditate.”

Chautard describes meditation as a four-step process. First, one selects an article of faith, gleaned from scripture or the saints, and contemplates it with the mind’s eye. Then one expresses a desire to live in accordance with it. Turning to the various obstacles that interfere with this pious wish, one resolves to overcome them by harnessing the saving power of Truth. Finally, acknowledging that without Christ we can do nothing, we end by begging the Lord to grant success to our efforts.

The genius of this approach appears when we consider how it mirrors the makeup of the human soul itself. Our little logos (reason) is illuminated by a sunlike spark emanating from the Divine Mind. Our often wayward eros (desire) is harnessed to lend new strength to our feeble efforts to do good. Our thymos (fighting spirit) is conscripted to wage war against the cares, pleasures, and worries of life that may otherwise derail our best intentions.

To this natural wholeness is added an invitation for Christ to dwell in our soul, so that its elements, wounded by sins original and actual, may be healed and enabled to achieve supernatural success.

On a practical level, this method provides us with certain “marching orders,” which can be called to mind throughout the day, especially in moments of anxiety, perplexity, anger, or boredom, reminding us of the presence, power, and pleasure of our God.

In some cases, this can make the difference between a vague desire to serve the Lord, and a concrete effort to love him with one’s whole being.

For details, I recommend the book itself, which can be found here.

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