Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
Interior Life Is Superior to
But what is the nature of this formation?
A distinction has been made in this regard - and rightly so - between spiritual formation, designed to endow the apostle with the necessary virtues, and the so-called "technical formation," which strives to teach the Catholic Action intern or member the means he should use for his apostolate to be efficacious.
Unfortunately, the doctrine that the so-called technical preparation is much more important than the spiritual preparation has been spread among us to such an extent that, in some circles, it occupies a preponderant or almost exclusive place. We disagree with this way of understanding. A simple focusing on the problem's real aspects shows its true solution.
While a certain distinction can no doubt be made between spiritual and technical formation, this distinction can never imply a separation. Indeed, the technical formation includes notions about the purpose, nature and structure of Catholic Action, its relations with the hierarchy and the various lay organizations, the means to expound the truth, attract and conquer souls for Jesus Christ; the dedication, enthusiasm and supernatural spirit with which apostolate must be done; knowledge of the ambience, the social problems involved, etc. Now then, without serious religious instruction, without a true Catholic sense, it is absolutely impossible to have an exact idea of all these subjects. The numerous errors we are refuting in this book prove beyond any doubt how right we are in affirming this.
Furthermore, possessing natural qualities, so useful to the apostolate, is far from being the most important factor for success. This is proven by the supernatural nature of the communication of grace, which is the essence of the apostolate. We will limit ourselves to narrating a typical episode told by Abbot Chautard.
Common sense evidently demands that the technical formation should be pursued with careful attention. But it would be an absurdity to neglect the spiritual formation, sacrificing it for the sake of the technical one. Rather, if any sacrifice is required it should necessarily be made to the detriment of the technical formation and to benefit the interior life. In other words, in the scale of values the spiritual formation must precede the technical formation.
Let us read the splendid example Abbot Chautard gives in this regard:
A Congregation of nuns, excellent catechists, was under the direction of a religious whose life has just been written. He was a man of prayer. One day he said to a local Superior, “Reverend Mother, I think it would be a good thing if Sister So-and-So were to give up teaching catechism for at least a year.”
“Father! What are you saying! Why, she's the best we have! Children come from every part of town to be in her class, she has such a marvelous knack of teaching! If we take her off, it means most of these little boys will simply desert us!”
“I followed her class from the gallery," said Father, “and it is true that she sweeps them all off their feet, but it is in all too human a way. Give her another year in the novitiate, and let her get a better foundation in the interior life; then she will sanctify both her own soul and the souls of the children by her zeal and the use of her talents. But at the present time, without being aware of it, she is standing in the way of the direct action of Our Lord upon these souls that are being prepared for First Communion. Come now, Mother, I see that my insistence in this matter makes you unhappy. Very well, I will make a bargain with you! I know a certain Sister N--, a very interior soul, but without any special talent. Ask your Superior General to send her here for a while. The other Sister can come for the first fifteen minutes and start the class off, just to calm your fears of desertion; but little by little she will drop out of the picture. Then you will see that the children will pray better and will sing their hymns with much more devotion. Their recollection and docility will reflect a more supernatural character. That will be your barometer.”
A fortnight later the Superior was able to verify this forecast. Sister N— was teaching all alone, and yet the number of children grew larger. It was really Christ that was teaching catechism through her. Her looks, her modesty, her gentleness, her kindness, her way of making the Sign of the Cross all spoke Our Lord. Sister X had been able to take the dryest topic, give it a clever exposition, and make it interesting. Sister N— did more than that. Of course, she did not neglect to prepare her explanations, and to express them in all clarity; but her secret, and the thing that was paramount in her class, was unction. And it is by this unction that souls really enter into contact with Jesus.
In Sister N—'s class there were far fewer bursts of noisy enthusiasm, or looks of astonishment, far less of that fascination that could have been equally well produced by an interesting lecture by some explorer, or by the account of a battle.
On the other hand, there was an atmosphere of recollected attention. These little boys behaved in the catechism class as they would in Church. No human methods were brought into play to dispel boredom or prevent dissipation. What, then, was the mysterious influence that dominated this group? Make no mistake, it was Christ, working directly. For a soul of interior life teaching a catechism lesson is like a harp that sounds under the fingers of the Divine Musician. And no human artistry, no matter how wonderful, can be compared to the action of Jesus on the soul. (22)
22) Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O., The Soul of the Apostolate (Trappist, Kentucky: The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1946), pp. 158-160.