On April 25, Pope Benedict XVI told over 20,000 pilgrims that they must commit themselves to works of charity, without neglecting prayer as a source of spiritual life.
“Without daily prayer,” Pope Benedict said in his Wednesday morning general audience in St. Peter's Square, “our action is empty” and “loses its deep soul, resulting in a simple activism that eventually leaves (us) unsatisfied.”
As he continued his series of talks on prayer, the Pope reflected on the institution of the ministry of deacons in the book of Acts. While the decision was taken to allow the Apostles to focus on prayer and the Eucharist, the Pope said it also showed the spiritual value of the charitable services to which the first deacons were called.
For the Church, Pope Benedict said, “charity and justice are not only social actions,” but also “spiritual actions” done “in light of the Holy Spirit.”
The Apostles' choice of seven deacons, including the first Christian martyr Saint Stephen, came in response to a crisis between Jewish and Gentile believers in the early Church. Tensions arose between widows from both groups, who relied on the Church for their daily provisions.
To resolve the dilemma without neglecting their ministry of preaching and liturgical worship, the Apostles ordained deacons – choosing men who could attend to the work of charity in its practical and spiritual dimensions.
“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,” the Pope observed.
He pointed out 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.”
But the priority of evangelization, he said, does not diminish the need for charity – since the Church “must not only proclaim the Word, but also realize that the word is love and truth.”
Meanwhile, the Apostles' choice of deacons offers a broader lesson about the Church's harmony of preaching, prayer, and service. The Apostles knew that their deacons could “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.”
For both clergy and laypersons, Pope Benedict indicated that prayer and work should have a harmonious relationship, in which “activity for another” is “penetrated by the spirit of contemplation.”
“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.”
Before he concluded with the singing of the Our Father and his apostolic blessing, Pope Benedict cautioned pilgrims to give priority to prayer amid their lives of work.
Without prayer as “the breath of the soul and of life,” he said, the faithful “risk suffocating in the midst of a thousand everyday things.”
“In our own daily lives and decisions,” Pope Benedict urged his listeners, “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.”