Lent is a time of growth. It is a time when we weed out the thorns that choke us, and grow in faith, devotion to God and love for others. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving work hand in hand to let this happen. Each spiritual discipline gives life to the other and none ought to be left out.
St Peter Chrysologus, bishop of Ravenna, Italy, in the middle of the fifth century and a Doctor of the Church, says that prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains and almsgiving receives.
Almsgiving is not just for those who have and can afford to give, but for all of us. This spiritual exercise unites us with the Body of Christ in a powerful way. The little we give can go a long way in ensuring that others will have life. It will open our hearts to be transformed and converted so that we can grow in love with God and others. Our life is about becoming whole in Christ. We are called to be in solidarity with others in order to experience this and must consciously contemplate the difference our sacrificial giving will make to another and not just give for giving sake. We give out of love for others and for their improvement of life.
Almsgiving calls us to give not from surplus, but from sacrifice. The sacrifice we make when we fast is what contributes to our almsgiving. This sacrifice helps us to feel the pangs of hunger and deprivation of those in need. We choose to be so united with them that we give from our necessity by making a sacrificial offering to them. We are called to give until the sacrifice hurts and we feel what it is to be left without. We need to give until we have no more to give. This is the ultimate. This is not a giving that brings us a self-satisfaction that I have done my duty; our hearts must experience a constant conversion that brings us to deeper charity.
This sacrificial offering allows us to live like the early Christian community where everything was owned in common and where each was given according to his or her need so there was no one in need (Acts 4:34-35).
If we are really seeking to deepen our Christian living then we must turn to scripture for guidance. Jesus presented almsgiving as a necessary part of Christian life: “When you give alms, sound no trumpets as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by people. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:2-3).
Jesus made almsgiving an essential component of Christian living.
Jesus further states that there is a spirit in which this almsgiving should be done. It should not be done for power or prestige. It should be done for love of God and love of neighbour. This spirit will help us to become sensitive to the suffering and needs of the poor and it will also help us to look deeper and see that there are different kinds of poor. Some people do not need our money but need our time and talents, our love and friendship. An old person might need visitation or an errand or company. A neighbour might need a smile of encouragement or a slow learner patience and some extra help with learning.
Let the practice of almsgiving and charity this Lent live on in us throughout the year. We do not have to go far, the under-served are all around us. However, we need to assess the situation before we determine an action. We must ask WHY the need exists and seek ways to change the root cause as well. The social teachings of our Church teach us that we must first see, then judge whether it is a relief or development situation, and then act. This is called the SEE-JUDGE-ACT method. There should be both relief and development for those we help. This is called balanced help.
Remember, it is in giving that we receive our blessings and are more united with God and others. The spirit of giving is as important as what we give. As we place that food item in a box for the needy or place money in a donation box, be sensitive to where it is going and try to be in touch with the needs of these people. Let this habit continue after Lent.
– Bernadette Gopaul-Ramkhalawan, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office