VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Faith and charity can never be separated nor opposed to each other, just as faith by itself isn’t genuine without charity, Pope Benedict XVI said.
“Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it; charity is ‘walking’ in the truth,” the pope said in his annual message for Lent, which in 2013 begins Feb. 13 for Latin-rite Catholics.”Faith is genuine only if crowned by charity.”
The text of the pope’s message was released by the Vatican Feb. 1.
“It would be too one-sided to place a strong emphasis on the priority and decisiveness of faith and to undervalue and almost despise concrete works of charity, reducing them to a vague humanitarianism,” Pope Benedict said.
“It is equally unhelpful to overstate the primacy of charity and the activity it generates, as if works could take the place of faith.”
At a news conference to present the message, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes Catholic charitable giving, told reporters that insisting on the indissoluble link between faith and charity is like “hitting a raw nerve.”
The cardinal said the pope’s message underscores how misguided it is to see faith as an abstract, intellectual endeavor and charity as the concrete or practical side of the church, or to favor one over the other.
“It’s convenient for many, inside and outside” the church, to see it as divorced from the real world, “inebriated from the scent of candles, busy putting the sacristy in order, focused on obscure theological debates and clerical quarrels rather than on the integral human person Christ spoke to,” the cardinal said.
Another mistake, he said, is seeing the church as just another large philanthropic agency for which social justice and meeting people’s physical needs are the primary concerns, “forgetting that the desire for God lies at a person’s core.”
Yet another misconception is to divide the church into “good guys” dedicated to service and charity, and “bad guys” dedicated to defending human life and universal moral truths, he said. This is what happens when the church is praised for helping the sick but vilified for trying to “awaken the human conscience,” the cardinal said.
The theme of the pope’s message, “Believing in charity calls forth charity,” was taken from the First Letter of St. John (4:16): “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.”
In the context of the Year of Faith, the pope dedicated his message to the relationship between faith and charity, which he also explored in his 2005 encyclical on charity (“Deus Caritas Est”).
All Christians, especially charity workers, need faith — that personal encounter with God in Christ and the experience of his love, the pope said.
“Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love, they are profoundly open to loving their neighbor in concrete ways,” he said.
A Christian life starts with accepting God’s gift of faith with “wonder and gratitude;” but it is a journey that continues as God seeks “to transform us” to become more like Christ and share his love with others.
“Only then does our faith become truly ‘active through love;’ only then does he abide in us” he said.
“The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love,” he said.
In fact, evangelization is the greatest form of charity and best way to promote the human person, the pope said.
“There is no action more beneficial, and therefore more charitable, towards one’s neighbor than to break the bread of the Word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God,” he said.