“Missionary spirituality and eremitical spirituality have much in common”
(Blessed Paolo Manna)
The missionary before Martha and Mary: Worrying about many things is cured by the medicine of prayer
From the Gospel of Luke
“As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’ The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.’” (Lk 10:38-42)
From the Magisterium of the Catholic Church
“Imbued with a living faith and a hope that never fails, the missionary should be a man of prayer.” (Second Vatican. Council, Decree on the Mission Activity on the Church, Ad Gentes, 25)
“Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2562)
“More than in any activity, the apostolate consists in the witness of one's own complete dedication to the Lord’s saving will, a dedication nourished by the practice of prayer and of penance.” (John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, 44)
“Prayer is the soul of the apostolate, but also that the apostolate animates and inspires prayer.” (John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, 67)
“The Holy Spirit is the soul and animator of Christian spirituality; for this reason we must entrust ourselves to the Spirit's action which departs from the intimacy of hearts, manifests itself in communion and spreads itself in mission. Therefore it is necessary to adhere ever more closely to Christ, the center of consecrated life and once again take up the path of conversion and renewal which, like the initial experience of the apostles, before and after the resurrection, was a starting afresh from Christ.” (Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Starting Afresh from Christ. A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium, 20-21)
“Time is greater than space. This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. […] Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223)
From the writings of Blessed Father Paolo Manna
“The missionary spirituality and the eremitical spirituality have much in common.” (P. Manna, Esci dalla tua terra, Naples 1977, p. 20)
“Why is it that so many meetings, conferences, and congresses, so much printed material, […], so many rich liturgical functions, do not affect the religious life of the faithful in the way one would hope? [...] They begin to neglect prayer... in order to save more souls [...]. We are faced with the heresy of action: in fact, […] the external activity is a nothing, if one considers it without its divine contents.” (P. Manna, Apostolic Virtues, translated from Italian by Fr. Steve Baumbusch, PIME, New York 2009, 196-197)
“Yes, he works; and often he works for the salvation of souls and the establishment of Christianity. But, lacking a spirit of faith enlivened by prayer, he treats the ministry and work of the apostolate like an earthly occupation, with only human views and methods: he relies too much upon earthly means and his own abilities.” (P. Manna, Apostolic Virtues, translated from Italian by Fr. Steve Baumbusch, PIME, New York 2009, 205)
“The missionary is Mary in contemplation, Martha in exterior action. The missionary who wants to do only the part of Martha is reprimanded by our Lord, is not blessed, and accomplishes nothing.” (P. Manna, Apostolic Virtues, translated from Italian by Fr. Steve Baumbusch, PIME, New York 2009, 206)
“But I fear, I fear that you may also be touched by that all-modern spirit of excessive and empty worrying about many things, of great wandering which tries to penetrate even the Shrine, even in missionary activity. My dear ones, I tell everyone, the peril is grave: it is in the air, in time and in life. Let us defend ourselves against this and instead let us keep the spirit of our Lord. We therefore love recollection, we give always the first place to meditation, to include an hour of meditation in our day, we cultivate the interior life, and we are industrious in striving for holiness. [...] Prayer and work. First prayer and afterwards work.” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 265)
“The priestly [missionary] life is complex; it is called a mixed life, because it consists of various elements: contemplation and action. Unfortunately we are inclined to give more value to the material and tangible part, to the action to the detriment of the spiritual part, invisible but also substantial and essential. Hence, there is confusion by not balancing the parts. By neglecting the spiritual element and making the material and exterior one prevail, we materialize the holy mystery which loses its effectiveness and we give rise to an activity that will seem apostolic, but is a substitute of inferior nature and of little effectiveness.” (P. Manna, Chiamati alla santità, Naples 1977, p. 77)
“Woe to us if the apostolate became an end in itself and did not examine day by day whether what it does is all it can do, and the best it can do for the cause of God!” (P. Manna, Osservazioni sul metodo moderno di evangelizzazione, Bologna 1979, p. 37)
Questions for reflection
- How often do I remember in prayer the people I serve in my apostolate?
- Are homilies, catecheses, articles, conferences, preceded by prayer?
- Is there a proper balance between activity and prayer in my daily life?
Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.