The Apostolate of the Ordinary Life

The Apostolate of the Ordinary Life December 2, 2023

Did you ever get a word stuck in your head?

That word “apostolate” has been bouncing around in my head all day long.

Of course, this is because of the meltdown at Church Militant. Everyone is saying “apostolate” to me and explaining to me why I’m wrong that Church Militant isn’t one. I hate the word “apostolate.” It’s one of those irritating stuffy Catholic words that a certain kind of Catholic repeats to try and sound a certain way, like “synod” or “fecundity.” Jargon always annoys me. Why can’t people just be simple in their speech?

I remember once, when she was driving me home from a youth group meeting, my Regnum Christi youth leader asked “what is your apostolate going to be when you grow up?” I was about fourteen, but I was supposed to have this all figured out.

She didn’t ask me “what do you want to be when you grow up” but “what is your apostolate going to be?” and it seemed so precious. Even then, I cringed.  I wasn’t allowed to want a career or a happy family, I needed an apostolate. I asked what that word meant, and she said words to the effect of “an apostolate is your special mission in the Church.”  I said I’d like to be in the pro-life movement, and God must have heard my prayer, because for better or for worse, I’m famous for my writing on the pro-life movement. Just not in the way I thought I would be.

When I went to Franciscan University, I saw many people preoccupied with having an apostolate. There were young men who were tied up in knots about whether they should get married and have some kind of lay apostolate or perhaps join a seminary. I remember once, my roommate was desperately confused when a man she’d been dating announced he was going to a Come and See Retreat at a monastery, and when he got back he kissed her on the lips before telling her the retreat had been wonderful (those two are happily married now). There was another man who was constantly starting apostolates, getting together a group of people with a mission statement to serve the Church by doing this and that, writing out their mission statement, commissioning a logo for their t-shirts, and then abandoning that apostolate to start another. Other people wanted to start religious orders. Still others wanted to start prayer cenacles. There were so many great undertakings, which amounted to little or nothing.

I’m just about done with apostolates now.

Why do you have to have an apostolate?

Why do you have to have a mission?

Why do you have to make everything into a to-do? Why do you have to have a movement? Why do you have to make a production out of everything?

Why can’t you just be a Christian?

I’ve spoken about this before. To me, it’s one of the things at the heart of what’s wrong with the Church. People think they have to have a great big noisy mission. They don’t just do their day-to-day duty. They have to do something big and loud instead of doing the small things set before them. They want to yell slogans and feel they’re part of a club instead of loving Jesus through their neighbor.

What if we all never worried about our apostolate again?

Just find a way you can pray and stick with it. Join the church choir if that’s practical. Pray a Rosary, or don’t pray the Rosary because you find you can’t concentrate. I’m going to light these Advent candles. I don’t even know if I can always consciously pray while I light them, but I’ll put the wreath in front of my icons and tell Jesus that I intend a prayer while the candle is burning.

Just receive the sacraments, if you can. I’m not one to talk about this, because my religious trauma is so severe right now that I often can’t receive the sacraments. I would like to. I’m trying to at least hug the wall in the foyer at Sunday Mass, if I can do so  without a panic attack, and I’m hoping someday to try confession again though it’s impossible at the moment. But if you don’t share my particular cross and you can go to Sunday Mass and sit in the pews and sing the hymns and pray along, do that. Go to daily Mass on your lunch break sometimes. Things like that.

Just try to be kind to people.

God enters into your life in the disguise of the people around you already. You don’t have to go and find Him. You just have to stop thinking about apostolates and look around. Welcome the neighborhood kid who drops by unexpectedly and fix him a hot chocolate. Drop some money in the beggar’s cup and give her a warm smile instead of pretending not to look. Chat with the lonely old lady on the bus. Compliment the beleaguered cashier on how quickly she helped you find and scan the coupon. Be understanding when the neighbor’s dog goes on your lawn again. Put some hand warmers in the blessing box in winter, and some electrolyte packets for dehydration in the summer. Build a blessing box if your neighborhood doesn’t have one. Remember to bake an extra batch of Christmas cookies without nuts so your nut-allergic co-worker can have a treat.

In the Latin Catholic Church, the greatest saint besides Jesus and Mary is often said to be Saint Joseph. Eastern Christians say it was John the Baptist, but in the west they say Joseph. Saint Joseph didn’t have an apostolate. He didn’t say a word or do anything extraordinary. He just worked his day job and took care of his family, whether that was easy or extremely difficult. When a teenage girl was in an odd situation, he obeyed the angel’s prompting and took her in. He taught the Son of God how to build things. That was all.

That was what God wanted.

I think He wants something similar for us.

Let that be your mission in the Church.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.


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