Pope Benedict XVI continued his series on the Christian school of prayer today with a reflection on the importance of prayer and works of charity in the life of the Church. Speaking in Italian he said the Church has the “primary need” to proclaim the Word of God, but it also has “the duty of charity and justice”: between the two there is no opposition, because charity “must be permeated by the spirit of contemplation of God”, “without daily prayer our action is empty, it looses its deep soul, resulting in a simple activism that eventually leaves unsatisfied”.
The Pope was inspired by the Gospel of Luke where it is said that the number of disciples were increasing, but those of the Greek language were complaining because their widows were being neglected compared to those of Jewish origin. “Faced with this urgency that involved a fundamental aspect in the life of the community, charity towards the weak, the poor, the powerless, and justice, the Apostles summoned the entire group of disciples. In this time of pastoral emergency the Apostles discernment stands out. They are faced with the primary need to proclaim the Word of God according to the mandate of the Lord, but even if this is the primary need of the Church, they considered with equally seriousness the duty of charity and justice, that is their duty to assist widows, the poor, with love to respond to situations of need in which their brothers and sisters find themselves, to respond to Jesus’ commandment: love one another as I have loved you (cf. Jn 15,12.17) . So the two realities that have to live in the Church – preaching the Word, the primacy of God, and practical charity, justice – are creating difficulties and a solution must be found so that both can have its place, its necessary relationship . And the reflection of the Apostles is very clear. They say, as we have heard: “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word”(Acts 6.2 to 4). Two things appear: first from that moment a ministry of charity exists in the Church. The Church must not only proclaim the Word, but also realize that the word is love and truth. And the second point: these men must not only enjoy a good reputation, but they must be men filled with the Holy Ghost and wisdom. That is, they can not just be organizers who know what they are doing, but they must do so in the spirit of faith, with the light of God, in the wisdom of the heart and therefore their function, although mainly practical, however, is a spiritual function. Charity and justice are not only social actions, but they are spiritual actions made in light of the Holy Spirit.
“This decision, made after prayer and discernment, provided for the needs of the poor while freeing the Apostles to devote themselves primarily to the word of God. It is significant that the Apostles acknowledge the importance of both prayer and works of charity, yet clearly give priority to prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel”.
“So we can say that this situation is addressed, with great responsibility on the part of the Apostles, who make this a decision: seven men of good reputation are chosen, the apostles pray to ask for the strength of the Holy Spirit and then impose their own hands so that they devote themselves especially to the service of charity. Thus, in the life of the Church, in the first steps it takes, is reflected in a certain way, what happened during Jesus’ public life, at the house of Martha and Mary of Bethany. Martha was distracted by offering hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, Mary, however, is devoted to listening to the Word of the Lord (cf. Lk 10:38-42). In both cases, the moments of prayer or and listening to God and daily activities, the exercise of charity are not opposing. The call of Jesus: ” Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10.41 – 42), as well as the reflection of the Apostles: “… we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6.4), show, the priority that we must give to God. I do not want interpret this Martha-Maria pericope now: however, activity for another should not be condemned, but it must be stressed that even inwardly it must be penetrated by the spirit of contemplation. On the other hand, St. Augustine says Mary’s reality is a vision of our situation in heaven, which we can never have completely here on earth, rather a little anticipation that contemplation of God must be present in all our activities. We must not lose ourselves in pure activism, but always allow ourselves and our activities to be penetrated by the Word of God and thus learn true charity, true service to others which does not need many things: it certainly needs necessary things, but above all it also needs the affection of our heart, the light of God”.
“In every age the saints have stressed the deep vital unity between contemplation and activity. Prayer, nourished by faith and enlightened by God’s word, enables us to see things in a new way and to respond to new situations with the wisdom and insight bestowed by the Holy Spirit”.” “Every step of our lives – he said – every action, even of the Church, must be made before God in prayer, in the light of his word” “prayer to defend themselves from the dangers of a hectic life which, says St. Bernard, is likely to harden the heart”.
“When the prayer is nourished by the Word of God, we can see reality with new eyes, the eyes of faith and the Lord who speaks to the mind and heart, gives new light to our path at all times and in every situation.”
“Only through an intimate relationship with God cultivated every day is the answer to the choice of the Lord born and is entrusted to every ministry in the Church.” And the choice of the seven deacons by the apostles “indicates to us the primacy of prayer and the Word of God.”
“In our own daily lives and decisions, may we always draw fresh spiritual breath from the two lungs of prayer and the word of God; in this way, we will respond to every challenge and situation with wisdom, understanding and fidelity to God’s will”.
“If the lungs of prayer and the Word of God does not feed the breath of our spiritual life, we risk suffocating in the midst of a thousand every day things: prayer is the breath of the soul and of life”. And even when “we are in the silence of a church or in our room,” we are united in the Lord and the many brothers and sisters in faith.