Chapter 6 – Little Apostles
Selfishness is a mean fault. It consists, you know, in keeping everything to oneself, refusing to share what we have with others. Now nothing can be more unjust; as we ourselves have so much need of the help of others; others give you the benefit of their knowledge for your instruction. Others give you their attention, or their labor to serve you, feed you, care for you. What would become of the selfish person if left without the assistance of others? He would perish miserable. A great writer says: “We must help one another; it is the law of nature.”
You must, therefore, avoid selfishness; you must avoid it in everything, you must willingly let others share, as far as you possibly can, in whatever good things you may have. But above all you must avoid selfishness, when there is a question of the goods of the soul, the grace of God, faith, goodness and virtue. These are blessings which we must not enjoy selfishly, when we possess them, we should desire to communicate them to others, and this desire is called by a beautiful name; it is called the apostolate.
An apostle! You immediately picture to yourself St. Peter and St. Paul, those sublime heroes who at the command of Jesus Christ went throughout the world, founded the primitive churches, and consummated their labors by a glorious martyrdom; or you picture to yourself those missionaries, who, tearing themselves away from their dearest relatives, go to farthest Africa or to the ends of the world preaching the Gospel to pagans at the risk of their lives, and amidst untold hardships.
And you say to yourself: This does not concern me, there is nothing of the apostle about me; later perhaps, if God should call me to the life of a missionary I would be willing to become an apostle; but now I need not think about it.
You are mistaken, for there are many ways of being an apostle. If the way of St. Peter and St. Paul, or that of the missionary is not for you, you ought nevertheless be an apostle in your own little way.
Whoever enjoys certain graces of God and does not desire to share them with others, is, indeed, a very selfish Christian. Whoever, on the contrary, renounces this ugly disposition, and is not only solicitous for those about him, but even strives to help them do good, becomes at once an apostle; a little apostle, unknown, most modest undertakings, but an apostle all the same. The question therefore is this: Are you willing to be a selfish child or an apostle? There is no middle way, take your choice. You will not hesitate in choosing. You will decide to be an apostle. You will make this choice to please god, who asks it of you. God is our Father, and from His home in heaven He regards us all as forming His large family. And so He does not wish that we should lose interest in one another. To each one of us, as Holy Scripture tells us, He has confided the care of his brother; it is His will that we should aid one another in all things and chiefly in those things which concern the interests of the souls.
You will decide to be apostles also in response to the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ who so loves souls that He sacrificed Himself unto death, for their salvation, and who has nothing so much at heart as their salvation. He wishes the salvation of your own soul, but He wishes none the less the salvation of your friends’ souls. What delight it would cause Him if you helped, no matter how slightly, in the progress or conversion of some of these souls so dear to Jesus.
Finally, you will desire to be apostles because you are generous, and there is nothing so captivating and so attractive to a generous mind as to do good to others.
It remains for me now to tell you what the conditions are for exercising this apostolate. Towards whom should you exercise it? Without doubt towards all those in general who approach you.
However, it is befitting to have in view particularly your companions, your associates, whether at play, at work, or, and particularly so, at Catechism. There is your field of apostleship! That suffices! In some families where religion is less respected, a child may now and again excite his ambition and apostolic zeal so far as to strive for the conversion of his dear parents. There have been instances where little boys, or little girls during the year of their first Communion set themselves to this great work with their whole hearts, and successfully won the victory by force of prayer, and, at times, of heroic sacrifices.
May the example of these real little apostles stir you up when the opportunity presents itself.
You ought to be apostles one towards the other, seeking the mutual welfare of your souls, their progress, their sanctification, and always their more perfect preparation for first Communion.
What means should you make use of?
In the first place good advice. Advice given in season may be of great service, and at times the advice of a companion is more efficacious than that of a superior. But to do this several conditions are necessary: First there must be question of a companion over whom you feel you have a certain influence, one who shows a liking for you, so that you have reason to hope that he will listen to you.
In second place you must use good judgment in the manner of giving advice, you must, as the saying is, always “sugar the pill” a little, ever bearing in mind that a reproof is always unpleasant in itself, and consequently it is well to mix considerable sweetness with it. It must not appear as an interference, especially between companions, neither should you assume a protecting or dictatorial manner, but rather to offer advice in the form of a reflection, a question, or of a pleasant word skilfully dropped in conversation.
The second means to do good one to another and to practice being apostles, is good example. This is a far superior way, because in the first place we can always make use of it, whilst advice is at times not agreeable. Again it is much more efficacious. The power of example is irresistible, because we are naturally inclined to do what we see others do. There is no better sermon than the sight of a really good child, very pious, modest, obedient to his teachers, and industrious. This little child, without opening his mouth, preaches the whole day long. “We will go out and preach,” said St. Francis of Assisi one day to one of his brethren, and accordingly they both set forth. They passed through the streets of Assisi, and Francis remained silent. He just lowered his eyes and prayed as he walked. After an hour’s time the two religious re-entered the convent, and the brother said to Francis: “Did you not go out to preach?” “What else did we do?” replied the saint; “every one who saw us heard the best sermon that we could have preached to them; that of example.”
Be therefore very modest, very attentive, very good, not only for your own sake, but in order to gain your companions over to the right way. Then you will be apostles.
You will be so also by prayer. You must pray one for another. Our Lord Himself taught us to say Our Father and not My Father. It is chiefly in the presence of God, that we ought to recall the ties of family which unite us, and it is particularly the asking for our daily bread that should be made in the spirit of unity. You are all about to partake of the same holy Bread. You are all about to sit at the same sacred table with hearts united. You should ask for the graces necessary to prepare for that great day.
When you pray for a good first Communion you should never exclude your companions; they should be ever present to your mind and you should recommend them to God the same as yourself.
These are the principal practices of the apostolate which we preach to you. IF you are faithful to them you will be the first to gain by them, for God delights to lavish His most precious favors upon those who by practice of zeal become His co-workers in the great work of the saving of souls.