Operatio Sequitur Esse
While many Latin phrases can be quite daunting, operatio sequitur esse is not only fun to say but easy to grasp. Literally, it means ‘operation follows upon being.’ So what does that mean? It means that a dog barks because…you guessed it…because it is a dog. A dog does not meow, or read, or pray because that (operation) does not belong to the nature (esse) of a dog. This train of thought has major consequences on the moral life but this is not the space to discuss morality. As Christians, our desire is to act like Christ. According to the phrase operatio sequitur esse, in order to act like Christ we must become Christ. The more our essence (esse) becomes like Christ the more our actions (operatio) will be like Christ. See, that was not so difficult.
Applying this to those who are active in the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel should not be much of a leap. In order to be successful in our apostolate we must intensify our effort of bringing ourselves closer to Christ. Pope Benedict XVI reflects on this very point when he says, “The believer becomes one with Christ and participates in his fruitfulness. The man who believes and loves with Christ becomes a well that gives life. That, too, is something that is wonderfully illustrated in history: The saints are oases around which life sprouts up and something of the lost paradise returns. And ultimately Christ himself is always the well-spring who pours himself forth in such abundance” (Jesus of Nazareth, pg 248). This image of the well is such a perfect description of the apostolate. We must fill ourselves from the Divine Well-spring to the point that we overflow and cause vegetation and life to develop around us.
However, how devastating would the consequences be if we ceased to draw water from the Divine Well-Spring and only poured out our water to those around us? Eventually our well would dry up and thus the life around us will die as well. As St. Francis of Assisi described, “Prayer is the source of grace. Preaching is the channel that pours out the graces we ourselves have received from heaven. The ministers of the Word of God have been chosen by the Great King to carry the people of the earth what they themselves have learned and gathered from His lips, especially before the Tabernacle” (Chautard, Soul of the Apostolate, pg 191). While St. Francis here was speaking about the ordained priesthood it is not a very difficult stretch to apply this to those in any ministry. The lesson is simply this, woe to the one who stops praying, but woe, woe to the one with an apostolate who stops praying. It would be a great mistake to “devote oneself to the conversion of souls while forgetting one’s own salvation” (Chautard, Soul of the Apostolate, pg 41).
A personal example of this is when Tony worked the Totus Tuus Summer Camps. All summer long Tony gave the Confession prep talks for the junior high or high school campers. After a summer of this he felt that he really had the talk down and somehow he had the feeling that he didn’t really did to even prepare. Towards the end of the summer Tony again gave the talk without preparation or even with praying before the talk, perhaps in his mind he had even justified that others tasks took priority over praying for the talk. Tony felt like he had nailed the talk, passion, energy, flow, he hit every point in order to make flawlessly. After that night the priest came out of the confessional and expressed that the Confessions talk needed to be revamped, the Confessions seemed to lack depth and heart. Tony couldn’t understand, after all he had the talk down perfectly and it went well so many times before, but he was obedient and went to work on a new talk. Tony started over and as always went back to pray as with any new talk, but he was coming up blank and was a little stressed. The next week when he had to give the Confession talk it was terrible. Tony came up with a stupid analogy about a fish that smokes cigars in his fish bowl and the water needed to be changed because it was so dirty from the cigar smoke but he wouldn’t let anyone change the water because it was comfortable to him, just take our word for it, it was bad. This time however the priest came out of the confessional crying and said the talk must have been great, the Holy Spirit was truly present; hearts had been changed that night. Looking back on that experience it is obvious that it wasn’t Tony or a perfect talk or a talk about a fish smoking in a fish bowl but it was the Holy Spirit. We must constantly guard against the dangerous notion that we are accomplishing something. It is God that moves hearts, we must let Him shape us into better and better instruments.