Today, the feast of St. Francis Xavier, is the 165th anniversary of the founding of the Apostleship of Prayer. It wasn't formal foundation. The first members didn't gather on this day and decide to create a new organization. A Jesuit spiritual director simply gathered the seminarians under his care and challenged them to be "apostles of prayer" who offered every task and frustration, in fact every moment of their day, for the work of evangelization. Doing this, their routines and difficulties, which seemed so unrelated to the great work of spreading the Gospel, could have great meaning. They didn't draw up by-laws or elect officers. Theirs was a very simple and informal group with a very noble purpose. And so it has been ever since.
In 1985 Pope John Paul II met with national secretaries or directors of the Apostleship of Prayer and reminded them of both the simplicity and the importance this group.
He quoted Pope Pius XII who in 1956 said that the Apostleship of Prayer isn't one Church organization competing with others for the time and attention of the faithful. It doesn't promote a spirituality or devotion that takes time away from others. Rather, it's meant to be a spirit that pervades the entire Church. Pope Pius XII said that he hoped that "the Apostleship of Prayer [would] be so united to the other pious Associations that it penetrates them like a breath of fresh air through which supernatural life and apostolic activity are ever renewed and strengthened."
Why did Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II think the Apostleship of Prayer was so important that everyone should be a part of it? Because it's a Eucharistic way of living that doesn't add to what one is already doing but rather provides an awareness in the middle of all one's activities. Here's how Pope John Paul II put it in his address to the national secrectaries in 1985:
"The Apostleship of Prayer--which I have known and appreciated for many years--wants to highlight the apostolic value of prayer in the Church. ... By instilling the spirituality of 'offering' in union with Christ's oblation in the Mass, the Apostleship of Prayer is right in the line of Conciliar thinking which presents the Eucharistic sacrifice as the foundation, center and culmination of all Christian life.... The Apostleship of Prayer can bring a meaningful and concrete contribution to the diffusion, at all levels, of the great and consoling truth that all Christians can be intimately united to Christ the Redeemer by offering their own life to the Heart of Christ."
So, what constitutes membership in the Apostleship of Prayer? It's as simple as committing oneself to making a daily offering with one of the many proposed prayers or in one's own words.
With this daily offering one joins millions of people around the world who are making their own offerings and joining in a great prayer network that includes prayer for the intentions of all the other Apostles of Prayer as well as for the Holy Father's monthly intentions.
On this anniversary I am filled with gratitude for the mission I have received to be the national secretary or director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the United States. As I talk and teach about living the Eucharist with the help of the Apostleship of Prayer, I can't help being inspired to more consciously do so myself, one day at a time.