Monday, April 21, 2008


“Apostolate,” from the Greek, apostolos, “one who is sent”, is almost synonymous with “Evangelization,” from eu-, “good”, and angelos, “messenger” (whence the Latin evangelium, "good news"). “Angels” and “Apostles” are all “sent”, but we use the first to refer to those servants of God who are purely spiritual creatures and the last to God’s “human” messengers (i.e., spiritual souls in material bodies). Often, “Apostles” specifically refers to the Twelve companions of our Lord and their successors, our Bishops.

Nowadays, “evangelization” is mostly used in the context of spreading the “Good News” (Old English, “good spell”), often taken to mean the Gospel proper (the four books of the “evangelists” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), hence more likely to be the preferred term among non-Catholic, Bible-only Christians. On the other hand, in propagating the Catholic faith, which is certainly richer (because it is based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and makes demands on human conduct), the more common term would be “apostolate”.

In any event, “apostolate” means helping other people come closer to their “end”, their highest good, union with God. This is the greatest expression of love, the greatest service we can do, for our fellowmen. Thus, St. Josemaria writes: “Charity with everyone means, therefore, apostolate with everyone.” (Friends of God, 230)

The call to personal holiness is also a call to do apostolate. Just as love of God is inseparable from love of others, sanctity is inseparable from apostolate. Christian life, the path to eternal happiness, is one of ora et labora, contemplation and action, building our personal relationship with God and building the kingdom of God, grace and service, “communion and mission”, interior life and apostolate.

Indeed, God created us to know, love and serve Him, and so, to share in His eternal happiness. This is our end, the ultimate purpose of human existence, which is “holiness” (sanctity, perfection, beatitude) or union with God. Our life on earth is a journey towards this end; a constant struggle for sanctification. And while this holiness can only be definitively achieved in eternity, when we have left this temporal existence, it is a reality that we experience in this life to the extent that we are united with God in our dispositions, and most especially when we eat the Body of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Then we become one with Christ, Who is “perfect God and perfect man”, perfectus Deus, perfectus homo (Athanasian Creed).

The call to holiness is a call to become more and more like Christ, to imitate Christ, to be one with Christ, to become “other Christs, Christ Himself,” alter Christus, ipse Christus. Sanctification means, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30); so that, before time ends for each of us, we should be able to say with Saint Paul, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

But to be one with Christ means obeying His commandments: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing...Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love….This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15:4-10)

The commandment to love one another “as I have loved you” is “a new commandment” (Jn 13:34) because it places love for others within the larger framework of love for God—as Christ loves us—and with a love, agape, that “seeks the good of the beloved” (Deus Caritas Est, No. 6). Thus, Christian charity must be understood precisely as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC, No. 1822) The good of our neighbor, his eternal happiness, is his own union with God, which God wants. We know we love our neighbor when we want his eternal happiness: “in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know.” (DCE, No. 18)

John Paul II teaches: “We return to the biblical image of the vine and the branches, which immediately and quite appropriately lends itself to a consideration of fruitfulness and life. Engrafted to the vine and brought to life, the branches are expected to bear fruit: ‘He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit’ [Jn 15:5]. Bearing fruit is an essential demand of life in Christ and life in the Church. The person who does not bear fruit does not remain in communion: ‘Each branch of mine that bears no fruit, he (my Father) takes away’ [Jn 15: 2].” (Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, No. 32) The fruits demanded from each of us are those of love of God and neighbor, our interior life and apostolate.

The task of doing apostolate is always urgent. We do not know the exact time any person will die. And the greatest tragedy that can befall anyone is for him to leave this life without knowing and loving God, because such a soul can no longer be united with God forever; it is (self-) condemned to eternal misery. And since love of God and love of neighbor are really inseparable, our apostolic zeal is also a gauge of our interior life.