Contemplative Life and Social Service (Matthew 25:41-46)

I have been feeling very spiritually anxious for quite some time about one of Lord Jesus’s teachings, concerning his seemingly very explicit commandment to serve the less fortunate among us who need help, on pain of eternal punishment if we do not do so. I love Jesus with all my heart and soul and I want nothing more than to serve him and love him and be near to him and that my life should be pleasing to him. I am not questioning his goodness remotely. He is Lord and God and his word is truth, so if I am struggling to accept it, then maybe it is really just my problem and I need to grow as a person in his grace (yes, I’m praying a lot for direction in this).

What I am questioning is how this teaching squares up with the long hermitic tradition of withdrawing from the world to seek holy contemplation and intimacy with God (saints in convents, caves, etc) without being caught up in society. I long for the sacred quiet life more than anything, even if it means not being involved in social service of any kind.

Are there saints who were really just contemplatives and did not especially seek to serve the poor?

I am struggling with this teaching because I am a contemplative soul and I feel very drawn to the quiet, prayerful, reflective, monastic, nearly hermitic life (even though I am just a layperson). I feel very intimidated at, overwhelmed by, and nearly incapable of serving the desperate and needy, precisely because it is so draining and it is energetically the polar opposite of what I feel called to. And besides, even among other Catholics, I feel repulsed by how social services have very nearly become the idol of modern Christianity, as if working in a soup kitchen is more important than direct worship and prayer. Please keep in mind that I am an ex-Unitarian Universalist and escaping the cult of social justice has been a painful point for me.

Also, I am not asking anyone for advice on what vocation I should have. I am engaged.

I just want to know if I can truly be pleasing to our Lord as a quiet, contemplative soul who seeks his face inwardly, in the beauty of his word and in prayer, without going to an overwhelming smelly soup kitchen when I also have a day job and a marriage and future kids on the way.

Here is the excerpt from Matthew 25:
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Prayer is no less a service of the needy. Without the prayerful support of the contemplatives, how in the world will the active servants ever suceed?

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Its about prayer, contemplatives pray and do penance for the rest of us

Yes I understand that praying on behalf of the world is a big part of the contemplative life, but that isn’t answering the question: are we not also commanded to nevertheless serve the poor, on pain of eternal punishment? I am asking seriously. I am concerned.

And again.

The prayer of the contemplatives is their vocation. Through prayer they ARE fulfilling the commandment to feed the hungry, etc. The prayer of the contemplatives IS their service of the poor. And it’s not easy. All-day contemplative prayer is not for everyone, but only for those who receive that special calling.

If you are “concerned” then perhaps you are not as ready for the contemplative life as you might think.

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I answered you seriously. I belong to a Contemplative community. Our charism is prayer.

I have read a few of your theeads, That you might be discerning religious life as compared to married life. I am not sure if you are male or female, but have you spoken with your vocations director ? He or she will put you in touch with some religious communities in your Diocese to go visit and ask questions like this.

A truly hermetic life is that of the Carthusuan Monks. My Bishop had a big chat with me about this when I was discerning. He showed me that I am really a social person who best expresses God in the world through interaction with others. So I am contemplative in a community that is in the world. We pray. We also do whatever the Lord calls us to do. Where I live ‘in the hood’ so to speak , its helping neighbours atm with moral and emotional support in court and praying for all those affected by drugs here.
And I am studying ancient languages.

Serving the poor is expressed in serving God , wherever God places you. It could be serving the Poor in morality or those having a really hard time. It could be in encouraging people, who knows, only God knows. Allow Him to lead you,

My Bishop said its Good to have plans but just take it step by step, Be led.

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In addition to what porthos11 said, with which I agree, in many cases hermits also “served the poor” not only by praying for them, but also by giving away their own worldly possessions to the poor before taking up hermit life, by giving spiritual counsel and sometimes other help to people who sought them out in their hermitage, by living an extremely simple life themselves thereby leaving more food and other resources for other people’s needs, and by setting a holy example.

Note also that “the poor” doesn’t just mean people who don’t have adequate food, clothing, shelter, money etc. It also means the spiritually poor, who could have adequate or even excessive income, food, clothing and other possessions, but suffer from doubt, grief, other obstacles to spiritual growth. The teachings and saintly examples of holy hermits have done a lot of good for the spiritually poor across all ages, and frequently have constituted spiritual works of mercy. The seven spiritual works of mercy are just as important as the corporal works of mercy (which are things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick).

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Prayer!!! That is not just sitting around!

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