The Apostolate of Being Normal

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May 24, 2014 by lucieromarin

If you’ve spent any time in the conservative loop, you’ll know that most people have at least one apostolate in their lives, ‘apostolate’ meaning some sort of activity intended to make the world or the Church a better place either by converting people or supporting them – or both – or in some other way giving glory to God. Lived well and performed in the right spirit, your apostolate does, in fact, make the world and the Church a better place, not least because it stops you from becoming completely self-absorbed.

Alas! The trouble is that no activity of a supernatural theme is going to do a jot of good as far as evangelisation is concerned if you don’t possess the basic natural virtues available to all human persons irrespective of their religion or lack thereof. As my new job entails getting up at 5am on weekends and 4:50 on weekends with a 20-minute-walk to the train station added for good measure, I am very, very tired, so I shall now be to the point.

It’s fine to have hundreds of holy cards all around your desk if you want to. But don’t for a second imagine that if you are also tardy, semi-literate, and spend half your day on Facebook when you should be working, that your less conservative colleagues are in any way moved to the true faith by your devotion. In fact, the opposite is the case, because you’ve caused them to associate piety with shoddy work. Likewise, if you are a Catholic educational institution and you allow your Catholic employees to take time out of their day for choir practice, not only do you not make your non-Catholic employees wish that they too could become Catholic to enjoy these privileges, you make them repelled by a religion which appears to exercise favouritism in the workplace. You also make people like me think that you like to use your employees as a branding exercise for your institution!

If you are roadkill – that is to say, if you are a burnt-out conservative – its possible that you were burnt by a bad experience of a apostolate, whether that was being trapped in one that functioned more like a mini-Church, or being bullied by someone who thought his apostolate was the most important thing on the planet, or simply by the sort of conversation which concludes with the words, “Oh, so you’re just a run-of-the-mill Catholic, then?” or “So…are you married or anything?” (true stories.)

So! Let me tell you that I am a firm believer in the Apostolate of Being Normal, which means that, honestly, sometimes the best thing you can do for the Church is just act like an ordinary person with a bit of natural virtue. It’s true that St Josemaria Escriva did not invent the idea of sanctification through daily work, but it’s also true that he did the lay apostolate a great service when he reminded Catholics that to be a good employee is a form of apostolate, and you don’t have to have your face on a flyer before you can say you’ve evangelised. Turn up to work on time, do your work well, take your turn at emptying the dishwasher and getting the milk, don’t backstab anyone, don’t be malodorous and don’t swear. That way, if you do stick a holy card on your desk, it’s not going to become a symbol of immaturity, illiteracy or poor personal hygiene!

The Apostolate of Being Normal is also not the same as false meekness. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk seriously about serious things. It doesn’t mean that other people have the right to say hurtful or stupid things in your presence or to treat you as though you are stupid because you have faith. It is actually normal to talk about serious things sometimes, and it’s normal not only to show respect for others but to expect to receive it. The Apostolate of Being Normal also isn’t the same as compromise. It doesn’t mean watching immoral films, getting drunk, or blaspheming, just because your secular workmates consider this to be normal behaviour.

However, it does mean knowing when to choose your moment. This is the virtue of prudence, which is the right ordering of actions – and you’ll remember that this is the only virtue which is both a natural and supernatural virtue, which means, in turn, that if you don’t have the natural virtue of prudence, everyone around you can feel the pain occasioned by your imprudence.

The apostolate also means treating other people as people, and not as projects. Remember how St Peter told us always to be willing to give an answer about your faith? He said this, not only because it’s okay to wait for someone to ask a question first, but because you don’t actually need to seek out those questions. Believe me; you can just go about doing your own thing, and the questions will come to you. And the reason they’ll come to you is because the questioner won’t be afraid to ask. And the reason the questioner won’t be afraid to ask is because he or she feels safe in your company. And he or she feels safe in your company because you’ve haven’t been exhausting everyone by constantly talking about your spiritual life while you leave your dishes unwashed in the sink.

This is all especially true if you are a melancholic and susceptible to being bullied by your choleric counterparts who are saving the world with their apostolates. Not wanting to be a street preacher doesn’t make you a bad Catholic. Being too tired to work another ten hours a week on top of your day job doesn’t make you a lazy Catholic. Believe me, your scruples are just scruples. You, shy melancholic-who-always-gets-her-sums-right, are, in fact, the only reason your non-Catholic colleagues don’t hate all Catholics, and I can tell you this, because it is what they’ve told me!

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