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Prayer First, Action Second

There is a common misconception today in Catholic and Christian circles that prayer is secondary, to taking direct action in helping the poor. But nothing could be further from the truth. Having a fervent prayer life ultimately does more for the good of the poor than just feeding them.

Jesus even supports this notion when he derides a crowd for criticizing a woman who washes his feet with costly oil. Their argument was understandable. They argued that the money used to spend for the costly ointment could have been used instead to help the poor. Jesus' answer is surprising and curt as he says "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me." (Mk 14:7)  Jesus was giving them the foundation of how to approach true charity. 

I have witnessed this dynamic approach with a religious order called The Franciscan Friars of The Renewal.  These monks and priests spend their entire life helping the poorest of the poor throughout the world. Interestingly though they spend hours of intense prayer each day. St. Vincent de Paul and St. Teresa of Calcutta, both great champions of the poor both did the same; they combined their charitable works with intense prayer. 

Charity without prayer is incomplete. Charity no matter how noble in it's intentions, without prayer mirrors Marxism and other utilitarian, atheistic philosophies which seek to end poverty through strictly materialistic means.  Many social justice advocates I believe have unwittingly fallen into this trap. I am not calling all social justice advocates Marxist or atheists. What I am saying instead is that it is more important to lead the poor to Christ than to merely feed them. True charity places its focus on Christ rather than on class warfare and Utopian, godless experiments.

Lastly I want to challenge the misconception that prayer is inactive. Some people go even so far as to say that spending time in extensive prayer is selfish in nature. But nothing could be further from the truth. Prayer is very active and selfless, because it nourishes those involved in helping the poor and in turn gives the poor a hopeful, supernatural meaning to their sufferings. Spending time in prayer brings peace and through this peace one's work will be more fruitful since the aim of true charity is transcendent not just materialistic.

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