“Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.” — Leviticus 6:13
AINT THOMAS is fond of the axiom: “What is last in execution is first in intention.” Or as the ancients put it still more succinctly: Respice finem. One must begin any major action—such as taking care of one’s children or teaching classes each day!—with the end in mind. God, our ultimate end, is known through prayer, in which, by his grace, we enter more deeply into the union of indwelling that he gives us in baptism and all the sacraments.
Many of the Church’s liturgical prayers contain the petition that we should experience in ourselves the mystery we celebrate. Without prayer, we might (for a time at any rate) have this union objectively, but it would not be the place we dwell, the determinative content of our thoughts and desires.
If we want then to sanctify our actions, whatever they may be, we must enter consciously and lovingly into this union, to draw from God, for whom nothing is impossible, the strength to do all the work he asks of us.
When speaking of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Summa theologiae I-II, Question 68), Saint Thomas insists on the absolute necessity of special assistance by the Holy Spirit, every day, throughout the day, if we are to attain the glorious end God has in store for us, because it so far exceeds our natural abilities, and even the superadded power of the theological virtues in us. “Let your good spirit lead me into the promised land.” And he makes clear that it is not only for reaching the ultimate end but also for attaining any of the particular ends we aim at as Christians—if we want to do them as God’s children, that is, with wisdom, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, and so on. So we have to listen to the Spirit in order to be directed about our activity.
In this sense, there cannot be a genuine apostolate at all without contemplative prayer behind it, as the Acts of the Apostles so clearly shows. Prayer of all sorts, but especially quiet prayer in solitude, disposes one to be a good listener and a keen perceiver of reality. One learns how to listen to others and, at times painfully, discover the secret workings of one’s own heart.