To live out Lent fruitfully the church strongly encourages us to undertake three pracices that will lead us to a true conversion of heart, to leave the slavery of sin so as to experience the true liberty of the sons and daughters of God. The key word is GENEROSITY with the Lord. Indeed the Lord cannot be outdone in generosity. We give Him one with a generous heart and He gives us a hundred in return!
What are these three specific Lenten practices? Outlined clearly in Mt. 6:1-18.--- the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday. They are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Put in three-dimensions. Go up! Go out! Go in! Go up to God through prayer--- the key to salvation and the life-breath of our soul! Go out to others in charity through the practice of "Almsgiving". Finally, go in to one's inner self by the practice of mortification, penance and fasting to purify of the old yeast and allow the new leaven(Christ) to ferment and grown within us! Remember! Up to God! Out in charity to others! In to one's heart through personal conversion. Undertaking these practices seriously culminates in a "Lent well-spent", conversion of heart, and death so as to rise with Jesus Christ on Easter--- which is the real meaning of the Paschal Mystery!
Let us outline some practical ways in which we can practice almsgiving. In the strictest sense of the word, "Almsgiving" means giving money to the poor or needy! However, a more extensive interpretation to almsgiving can be easily conveyed and practiced so as to derive abundant spiritual fruit. Jesus wants us to be fruitful. "I am the Vine and you are the branches. I have called you to bring forth fruit and fruit in abundance". (Jn 15) Some practical ways!
1. SMILE. A friendly, joyful, exuberant, welcoming, endearing smile can easily lift up a disheartened, downcast, depressed brother or sister. Intersing note! A smile costs nothing, but it is highly contagious and can cause a "domino-effect" of goodness! Try smiling at your spouse, children, brothers or sister; even more, try smiling at somebody you do not like for the love of Jesus; that could break the ice and rekindle lost friendships! One of the most evident signs that we are followers of Christ is a bright, clean radiating smile from a loving soul!
2. PRAY! Pray for somebody, another form of almsgiving. As a priest for more than 25 years upon receiving birthday gifts, Ordination-anniversary gifts, Christmas or Easter gifts, by far(no comparison) the best gifts are gifts of prayer and the most sublime, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass--- Opus Dei, the WORK OF GOD, "Par excellence"! A short but fervent prayer for somebody can restore peace to the soul, communicate great lights in moments of confusion and can even be the grace needed to surmount a insidious and powerful temptation! Not until the final judgment will we see the powerful influence of prayer on the lives of individuals, societies and the world at large. Prayer communicates power because it connects us with the Omnipotent, All-powerful God Himself, who indeed can move the highest mountains!
3. KIND WORDS! Another manner of giving alms is through the proper use of the tongue! Uttering "Kind words" indeed is an authentic and powerful form of almsgiving. A kind word said and graciously received can accomplish incalculable good. Fr Lovasik wrote a spiritual classic specifically addressing this topic, and the title of the book is KINDNESS. St. Bonaventure concisely summarizes the proper use of words as such: "One should speak on three occasions: to accuse oneself, to praise God, and to edify one's neighbor." Undoubtedly, kind words edify, which means builds up the character of another!
4. ENCOURAGING WORDS! Closely related to kind words are encouraging words; many of these should be incorporated in our daily vocabulary. Why is it that athletes usually win more at "Home" than "Away"? For the simple reason that the fans at home strongly encourage their team! Learn encouraging words and expressions! "Well-done!" "You can do it!" "Excellent!" "You are a winner!" "May God be with you!" "God will provide!" "You are a champion!" "Priceless!" "Fantastic!" "You could not have done better!" All of these expressions and many more, are encouraging words, wind in the sail, bright and shining Sun to help our brothers and sisters on our journey and pilgrimage to Heaven!
5. VISIT THE SICK AND ABANDONED! Almsgiving can translate into going the extra mile and visiting the sick, the marginalized, the elderly, the abandoned and the forgotten. Remember Jesus' words: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do to me...' (Mt 25). What to do with these poor who are truly a reflection of the suffering Jesus? Remember the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, "We must see the distressing disguise of Jesus in the poor...." But first we must contemplate Jesus, the Eucharistic Lord in the Monstrance, consecrated Host and Holy Communion. First receive Jesus; then visit Jesus in the poor!
6. LISTEN. Almsgiving can even extend it's arms to the "art of listening". St James, with his characteristic bluntness, remarks: "We should be slow to speak, but quick to listen." Pope Benedict XVI exhorts the modern and noisy world to this practice--- the practice of silence so as to be truly capable of listening to others in charity. Why? Silence leads to reflection, reflection to meditation, and meditation to union with God. If we are capable of listening to God then God gives us spiritual ears to listen attentively and lovingly to our brothers and sisters! How many people in the modern world, especially in the hustle and bustle of the big cities, are yearning and longing for an attentive ear. May you be that ear! But first, lend your ear to God; then, lend it to your neighbor!
7. TRAFFIC MANNERS! Believe it or not, almsgiving can even be interpreted in our behaviour on the road, freeway and while stranded in traffic! Blessed John Paul II, in one of his discourses, stated that Christians must recognize that they are Christians always, and that includes, behind the wheel, in the car on the freeway and even in the midst of traffic jams! How! Avoid the honking-complex! Instead of speed, leave 5 minutes early! If cut off, do not curse, but bless! God gave you an opportunity to practice patience and humility! Take advantage of it! Pray for your brothers and sisters on the highway. The highway is symbolic of our journey to heaven! Let us arrive happily and safely! Ask "Our Lady of the Way" (La Madonna de la Strada)--- the Virgen that St Ignatius of Loyola chose, to be with you in your travels!
8. AVOID GOSSIP! Many ugly habits exist in the world and one of them is engaging in gossip! This practice is "Anti-almsgiving". Instead of building up the person, gossip tears him down; it tears down the person spreading the gossip; furthermore, it tears down those listening to the gossip! If you are aware of gossiper on the way, take to the hills! Why? Our ears are not "Garbage bins"! Gossip is nothing other than verbal garbage! Do not allow your ears to be polluted with that type of garbage! Only say things that will edify and build up others!
9. GIVE MONEY TO THE POOR, CHARITY, THE CHURCH! Recognize that by doing so, you are really giving it to Jesus Christ! Buying food for the hungry, hosts and wine for the Masses, catechism books for the children, purchasing of beautiful statues, paintings, stain glass windows to embellish the House of God--- all of the above-mentioned are fruits of your generous monetary donations to your church, the "House of God"!
10. FRATERNAL CORRECTION. Finally a difficult but at times necessary form of almsgiving is that of executing a timely, opportune, loving and compassionate "Fraternal correction". Interesting note is that this is the specific Lenten message of Pope Benedict XVI for the year 2112! Edmund Burke's immortal statement applies here: "So that evil advance it is sufficient that good men do nothing." One of the most common but forgotten sins is that of omission--- namely, not doing what should be done! A house burning down, Fire! A wolf in the back yard, cry out, "Wolf!" Mistakenly taking poison, Quick the Paramedics! With respect to the body, we move quick to find healing and remedies! But how slow to react when there exists moral jeopardy to the salvation of the soul! Immodest dress of ones's teenage daughter, a son living with his girl-friend, ugly and abusive language, a relative living a same-sex relation, politicians promoting abortion, contraception, sterilization--- are not these areas where "fraternal correction" is sorely needed!!!! Remember the consoling words of St. James:" My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5: 19-20). Kindness, love, compassion, humility, concern, calmness--- are all virtues that must be exercised for successful fraternal correction. However, the fruits are nothing less than the salvation of a soul--- a soul saved by the Precious Blood of Jesus and an immortal soul having more value than the whole created universe. (St Thomas Aquinas).