The word apostolate generally means the work, the ministry that a religious person and his or her community do. The many different communities in the Church are involved in many different apostolates.
You might wonder how a particular community decides what its apostolate will be. When a community is born, is first coming together, the foundress or founder has a particular vision for the community that others are in turn attracted to. As the community grows, under the guidance of the local bishop, eventually the universal Church gives it canonical approval. When the Church sees that the work of the community is a blessing and is needed in the life of the Church, she officially ratifies this work and sends the community forth to do this apostolate in Her name. So, always, the community works under the guidance of the Church, local and universal, and is in obedience to her. The community and its members never do a ministry as an individual person or group, but always representing the Church.
In Consecrated Life, the most recent document from the Vatican on religious life, it is emphasized that the primary call of the religious is to a life of holiness, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who was always obedient, chaste, and poor. The vocation of consecrated persons to seek first the Kingdom of God is first and foremost a call to complete conversion, in self-renunciation, in order to live fully for the Lord, so that God may be all in all. · The Church has always seen in the profession of the evangelical counsels a special path to holiness. (#35) As religious live a life of holiness, their witness calls others to live that life too.
Father Thomas Dubay, S.M. in his book, What Is Religious Life? writes, In its very nature work should incarnate love, or, as the saying well puts it, work makes love visible, just as creation is God's love made visible.ä (p. 147) In his or her apostolic work, a religious makes visible the love of God and therefore draws others to that love. The way that a religious lives and works should contribute to the growth of the Kingdom of God. Active communities (versus contemplative communities) work in the world, but are not of the world, giving visible witness to God's Kingdom in the midst of the world. The Spirit we have received is not the world's spirit but God's Spirit, helping us to recognize the gifts He has given us. We speak of these, not in words of human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, thus interpreting spiritual things in spiritual terms. (1 Cor. 2:12-13)
Our community's apostolates are: giving retreats at our retreat house and elsewhere, Life in the Spirit and Growth in the Spirit Seminars, Parish Missions, Vacation Bible Schools, Evangelistic Outreaches, and Youth Ministries.
Sister Philip, DLJC