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The Pope Said What?

Sometimes I just don't get it. Not being snarky, truly. I just don't get it. Even in the context of a larger and valid point, how can a Pope utter this sentence?

“Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer,” the Pope said July 21.

In the interest of fairness, I will give the full context even though I don't think it mitigates in any way the clumsiness of this sentence.

In his Sunday Angelus message, Pope Francis told crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square to unite prayer and action in Christian life, reports Catholic News Agency.

“Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer,” the Pope said July 21. “But at the same time, when ecclesial service only attends to work, not reserving time for dialogue with God in prayer, it risks serving itself rather than God who is present in the brother in need.”
Even within the full context, I think that the sentence is simply wrong.

Prayer is action. Pure and simple. There are other forms of action and they can certainly be inspired by prayer, but prayer itself is never fruitless or incomplete in any way for lack of additional action. Hey, the Pope is human and the Sunday Angelus is certainly not ex Cathedra, but I find it strange that such a sentence could pass the lips of a Pope without immediate correction. It makes one wonder that when wackos like Leonardo Boff quote the Pope as saying things like this that perhaps, just perhaps, he is not entirely making it up.


From the Catholic encyclopedia.

The great function assumed by contemplatives, as has already been said, is the worship of God. When living in community, they perform this sacred office in a public, official way, assembling at stated hours of the day and night to offer to the Almighty "the sacrifice of Praise" (Psalm. xlix, 14, 23; see Office, Divine). Their chief work then is what St. Benedict (Rule, xliii) Call emphatically God's work (opus Dei), i.e. the solemn chanting of Divine praise, in which the tongue gives utterance to the admiration of the intellect and to the love of the heart. And this is done in the name of the Church and of all mankind. Not only does contemplation glorify God, but it is most beneficial to the soul itself. Nothing brings the soul into such close union with God, and union with God is the source of all saintliness. Never so well as when contemplating the perfections of God and the grandeur of His works does man see his own imperfections and failings, the vileness of sin, and the paltriness and futility of so many of his labours and undertakings; and thus nothing so grounds him in humility, the prop and the bulwark of every other virtue.

*subhead*I don't think this is right*subhead*

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31 comments:

Scott Woltze said...

it's very easy to mis-speak when you are talking off-the-cuff. I'm sure he doesn't think St. Clare was wasting her time in cloister and that St. Francis was "fruitless" as he spent his latter years in contemplative seclusion. It is an awkward thing to say for someone who took the name of Francis...

Scott Woltze said...

It should also be said that nearly all americans need to pray more and "act" less...

a consecrated virgin said...

The way I read this statement, I think Pope Francis was trying to echo the very traditional concept in spiritual theology that the fruitfulness of our prayer is best determined by the way we live our lives. I.e., if our prayer isn’t leading us to a greater growth in virtue (which includes, among other things, a readiness to help our neighbor), then we have to question whether or not our prayer life has turned into something like pious naval-gazing.

This isn’t the same thing as saying that prayer is somehow worthless unless we’re outwardly accomplishing a lot of things.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think the Pope is really saying that prayer must always lead to a growth in Charity; a move towards God and neighbour.

dexi said...

With all the respect, I don't think Pope had something bad on his mind. But he did not speak ex-catedra, so its not like he attacks an doctrine, or something.

Mary De Voe said...

“Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer,” Prayer for the brother brings forth the brother. If man sees himself and his neighbors as the gifts and benefits accorded to man by God, then the brother is the fruit of prayer.

sparrow said...

I think this is like that passage in James where the Apostle tells us don't just wish others to be warm and eat well but act concretely to make it possible. In context, when actions are possible they should accompany prayer. I'm pleased to read that he (the Pope) balanced the remark by pointing out that a works only focus can takes us away from God. He's doing just what a Pope should do: pointing out the rails on the left and right side of the road. On the right the love of God that grows in prayer must eventually bear fruit concretely ( we don't get to retreat entirely from the world - even the rare monastic devoted to entirely to prayer acts under the direction of the Church - not on their own - so that their devotion and sacrifices can be used as a concrete sign/public witness of faith). On the left the total focus on charity to the exclusion of prayer that seeks God risks loss of the reliance on his grace the risks self righteousness.

Deirdre Mundy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pauli said...

He's not the most careful or methodical Pope ever. The fact that he came right after Ratzinger underscores this.

Matthew A. Siekierski said...

Faith without works...

Fr. Denis Lemieux said...

I agree that what he meant is that prayer, if it is genuine prayer, yields the fruit of the Holy Spirit of love, and love disposes us to the good of our neighbour which we then seek according to the proper duties of our state of life.
But yes, it is an infelicitous choice of words, open to misinterpretation.

Michael said...

Isn't this just ora et labora from St. Benedict? I really don't think in context it has any flavor of heterodoxy. The entire reason monasticism in the West developed from the desert hermits was to assure community along with contemplation. I'm not fond of the Holy Father's meden agan approach of condemning both extremes equally, as he seems to do here, because it leads to an "equally bad" leitmotif of the errors of "right" and "left" which the press will seize upon. But that is a preudential, not theological, observation.

Matthew Roth said...

It is upsetting that darn near everything he says on liturgy and prayer is open to misinterpretation.

Patrick Archbold said...

I don't understand all the people trying to put this in context. I understand there is context. I mentioned the context. I even agree with what he was likely trying to get at. But none of that changes the fact that the sentence in question in troubling.

If you disagree with me, fine. But the problem is not that I misunderstood him.

Patrick Archbold said...

I understand what he 'meant' and I also understand what he 'said'

Anneg said...

"What is a Jesuit really thinking?" One of the three things known only to God.

FGA said...

As I read your article, I was fully on your side, however after reading the responses of your readers...
“I'm sure he doesn't think…”
“The way I read this statement…”
“I think the Pope is really saying…”
“I think this is like….”
“I agree that what he meant is….”

....I am ashamed that I thought so poorly of this most perfect of Popes.
It seems that we must repent of expecting the Teacher of All to speak clearly.
So, please Patrick, before you write another word you need to get reeducated - get thee hence school of mind reading and politically correct word parsing.
Might I suggest Humpty Dumpty’s words mean what I want them to mean - everything is hunky-dory -don’t look behind the curtain school of mind reading and word warping?


Sherry Antonetti said...

Think of the scene in Hamlet, where the Uncle is praying and acknowledges that prayer without repentance is not prayer. The irony being that his act of praying, buys him the grace of living longer, as Hamlet will not kill him while in the act of praying. Prayer that does not lead us to greater love of God or our neighbor, is empty, not because God refuses our prayer, but because we refuse the grace.

Martina Katholik said...

Indeed, that sentence in question is troubling.
If I pray for graces to become, for example, more patient, more humble etc., to have a greater love for God or pray for perservance until the end (last two are prayers St. Alphonsus de Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, always recommended) and God answers my prayer, and I become more virtuous, then was this prayer useless?

Sarah said...

The words of the visible head of the Catholic Church should not initiate a worldwide guessing game as to what he meant.
Regardless of what he meant, he should really think about his words and how they might be interpreted by reasonable people before he says them. But then, Pope Francis doesn't seem to think such effort is warranted.

August said...

Somehow, I doubt he'd agree with my impressions I get when I see people praying in front of an abortion clinic. There is prayer, but no willingness to action, for we must abhor violence, even if it is the violent act of just turning off the power.
No, I think I hear echoes of an ideology, a well-known disease of our Papa's generation.

Andrea said...

In light of the gospel reading last Sunday, perhaps he is touching on the Mary and Martha story. That we need to be prayerful and listening to Jesus AND actively serving him. Maybe it was phrased a little awkwardly, but I don't think he's wrong.

Amy Giglio said...

Is it possible that this is simply a poor translation? I'm sure he didn't say it in English and even if he did, my impression is that English isn't a language he speaks well.

jvc said...

The perfect post VII church leader: be as vague as possible so that everyone can interpret your words as one would prefer.

Sherry Antonetti said...

Perfect charity in truth demands that we seek to find out what the Pope meant, but also not presume any sort of deliberate spiritual sloth or willingness to be vague to mislead or falsely charm. Prayer is the opening to grace, our acts are the result of grace, if we examine all of our actions which are good from a standpoint of extreme genuine humility, we understand that whenever we have done good, we have cooperated with God's grace, illustrating that our prayers, our faith is not merely a cerebral or spiritual exercise, but an incarnational one.

veneremurcernui said...

This is not the first time this pontiff has extolled the active, natural virtues at the expense of the passive, supernatural virtues. I find it incredible that anyone, let alone a Pope, would draw such a false, unnecessary dichotomy.

But this dichotomy has a long history in the Church. See my blog to find out how long.

Wine in the Water said...

This is only troubling if you take a proof-texting approach to the words of the Pope. Everything the Pope said, especially everything he says to the Church, must be understood in the light of all Catholic teaching. The "context" isn't just the other things he said in this particular address, it is everything the Church has ever taught.

With all that context, what he said really isn't troubling at all. Prayer is an action. But if we only pray for our brothers but do nothing besides pray, then our prayer rings hollow. Even contemplatives act, not even the least "active" of paths is not corporally sedentary.

Now, I completely understand being concerned with the way the Holy Father expressed it. It is open to misinterpretation, especially by those ignorant and willfully ignorant of the Catholic foundation that supports such a statement. But I think that if we have more "WTH" for the Pope than we do for an ignorant and malicious world that seeks to misinterpret his words, we have a misplaced reaction.

eric barr said...

Good heavens aren't we all getting a little puffed up with our own hubris. I find it curious and troubling that people who condemned those who questioned previous pontiffs now feel inspired to question the present pope and nitpick for orthodoxy. Patrick, the Pope is saying exactly the same thing as is in the letter of James in the Bible. the Pope's remarks are not inelegant nor are James'. please point out what you perceive to be his unfaithful misreading of the Bible or his departure from 2000 years of Catholic teaching. the Pope deserves more respect than this.

David Werling said...

Eric, chapter and verse, please.

Unknown said...

We cannot give what we don't have! Action is the overflow of Prayer, ie; action proceeds from prayer, and action leads back to prayer, as Prayer replenishes the Soul and make ready more action....Ora et Labora! Action in and of itself cannot be Prayer, as Prayer makes Actions fruitful. Empty prayer improves nothing.

Frederick Dempsey said...

The Pope said what he said. It is not for anyone to recast his words to our way of thinking, or to the Church's teachings for that matter. When this great man of "humility" learns that not every word that drops out of his mouth is infallible, he will begin to proceed with caution.

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