Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges pilgrims during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 25. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Charity, social justice must be coupled with prayer, Pope says

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • April 25, 2012

VATICAN CITY - All pastoral work, including promoting social justice and providing for the poor, must be nourished by prayer, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Without contemplating and internalizing God's word daily, one risks being suffocated by too heavy a workload and one's heart risks hardening to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, he said.

"Charity and justice are not just social action but are spiritual action realized in the light of the Holy Spirit," he said during the general audience in St. Peter's Square April 25. It was attended by more than 20,000 pilgrims from all over the world, including members of the U.S. Catholic Health Association and the Ascension Health Alliance.

Continuing a series of talks on Christian prayer, the Pope highlighted Chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts how the early Christian community decided to call forth "seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom" to be dedicated to charitable action so the apostles could continue to dedicate themselves to prayer and proclaiming the word of God.

"The proclamation of the Gospel -- the primacy of God -- and (providing) concrete charity and justice were creating difficulties," and the community had to find a solution so that both would have their place in the church, the Pope said.

The apostles created a new ministry dedicated to the needy because the church is called not just to proclaim the word but to fulfill it through concrete acts of love and truth, he said.

At the same time, he said, the apostles underlined the importance of prayer so that those who carried out the church's charitable mission would do so "in the spirit of faith with the light of God."

Charity workers must be filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and not just be "good organizers who know how to do things," the Pope said.

In fact, the apostles laid their hands on those chosen for the new ministry, conferring God's grace and "consecrating them in the truth which is Jesus Christ," he said. It was not a simple act of assigning a new role or responsibility to someone as happens in secular organizations, "but is an ecclesial event."

"The difficulty that the church was going through concerning the problem of serving the poor, the question of charity, is overcome through prayer," he said. It's through prayer and reflecting on God's word that people can "respond to every challenge and situation with wisdom, understanding and fidelity to God's will."

Pope Benedict said, "We must not lose ourselves to pure activism, but always let our actions be penetrated by the light and the word of God and, that way, learn real charity."

Truly serving others means not just providing them the basic necessities, it's giving, "above all, the affection of our heart and God's light," he said.

Everything Christians do should be nourished by contemplating God, which is especially important in a world that stresses productivity and efficiency above all else, he said.

At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict called on people to drive sensibly and responsibly.

Greeting families of road-accident victims, the Pope said his prayers with "all those who have lost their lives on the road," and he said people have "the duty to always drive prudently and responsibly."

A delegation from the U.S. Catholic Health Association, led by its president and CEO, Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, was in Rome along with members of Ascension Health, a St. Louis-based alliance of Catholic health care systems.

Contacted by email, Sister Carol said the groups were taking part in an annual weeklong education program in Rome for senior leaders in management, board and sponsorship roles in the field of health care.

"Its purpose is to help them know the church universal better and what it means to lead a church ministry," she wrote.

The "Ecclesiology and Spiritual Renewal Program for Health Care Leaders" included meetings with officials of a variety of Vatican congregations and with the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

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