If prayer and the Word of God do not nourish our spiritual life, we run the risk being suffocated by the many cares and concerns of daily existence. Prayer makes us see reality with new eyes and helps us to find our way in the midst of adversity. These words were pronounced by Benedict XVI in his catechesis during this morning’s general audience, held in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of more than 20,000 faithful.
The Pope explained how prayer encouraged the early Church, though beset by difficulties, and how it can help man to live a better life today. “Ever since the beginning of her journey the Church has had to face unexpected situations, new questions and emergencies, to which she has sought to respond in the light of the faith, allowing herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit”, he said.
This was already evident at the time of the Apostles. In the Acts, Luke the Evangelist recounts “a serious problem which the first Christian community in Jerusalem had to face and resolve, … concerning the pastoral care of charity towards the isolated and the needy. It was not an unimportant issue and risked creating divisions within the Church. … What stands out is that, at that moment of pastoral emergency, the Apostles made a distinction. Their primary duty was to announce the Word of God according to the Lord’s mandate, but they considered as equally serious the task of … making loving provision for their brothers and sisters in situations of need, in order to respond to Jesus’ command: love one another as I have loved you”.
The Apostles made a clear decision: it was not right for them to neglect prayer and preaching, therefore “seven men of good standing were chosen, the Apostles prayed for the strength of the Holy Spirit, then laid their hands upon them that they might dedicate themselves to the diaconate of charity”. This decision, the Pope explained, “shows the priority we must give to God and to our relationship with Him in prayer, both as individuals and in the community. If we do not have the capacity to pause and listen to the Lord, to enter into dialogue with Him, we risk becoming ineffectually agitated by problems, difficulties and needs, even those of an ecclesial and pastoral nature”.
The saints, Pope Benedict said, “experienced profound unity between prayer and action, between total love of God and love for their fellows”. St. Bernard, a model of harmony between these two aspects, “affirmed that too many concerns … often end up by hardening our heart and causing our spirit to suffer. This is an important reminder for us today, accustomed as we are to evaluating everything with the criterion of productivity and efficiency. That passage from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the importance of work and commitment in daily activity, which must be carried out with responsibility and dedication, but also of our need for God, for His guidance and His light which give us strength and hope. If we do not pray trustingly every day, our activities become empty, they lose all profundity and are reduced to mere activism which, in the final analysis, leaves us unsatisfied. … Every step, every action in our lives, even in the Church, must be done before God, in prayer and in the light of His Word”.
When prayer is nourished with the Word of God “we see reality with new eyes, with the eyes of the faith and the Lord, Who speaks to the mind and to the heart, gives new light for the journey in all times and situations. We believe in the power of the Word of God and of prayer. … If the lungs of prayer and of the Word of God do not nourish the breath of spiritual life, we risk suffocating in the midst of a thousand daily cares. Prayer is the breath of the soul and of life”.
In conclusion, Benedict XVI noted that when we pray, “in the silence of a church or in our room, we are united in the Lord to our brothers and sisters in the faith, like so many instruments which, each in its own individuality, raise a single great symphony of intercession, thanksgiving and praise”.