Living Out Lent to the Max - Almsgiving! Part Three of a Three Part Series


In the two previous articles we outlined how to live out a fruitful Lent through an intense and fervent prayer life followed by the practice of penance which gives power to ones’ prayer life--- prayer that can move mountains and conquer victories as in the example of Moses.

 ALMSGIVING is the last part in our Trilogy of living our Lent.  Another name for “Almsgiving” is the practice of charity. Charity has two dimensions: the vertical pointing to our relationship with God and the horizontal, our relationship to our neighbor. St John reminds us: “How can we say that we love God who we do not see if we hate our neighbor who we do see!” Of course this Biblical passage reminds us of the clear and objective reality that god can be found in many places but primarily in our neighbor.  Jesus put it bluntly: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you have done to me.”(Mt 25).
Our Holy Father constantly calls to mind the importance of love, charity, and respect for our neighbor as well as almsgiving.  Three of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI specifically addresses the topic of charity--- another name for supernatural love.
First, was the Pope’ 1st encyclical, that carries the title “God is love”.    The Holy Father initiated his pontificate by writing and publishing on the importance of love. Incidentally this is the most purchased encyclical in the history of the Church.  The Holy Father, as universal teacher to the world, highlights the essence of who God is--- God is love.   We were created due to the overflowing love of God; we are created to be loved; we are created to respond by giving love and loving others; finally we are called to die in love and live loving God for all eternity in Heaven where love is total and supreme!
Second, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated an Apostolic Exhortation with the title “The Sacrament of Charity”.   This masterpiece offers us the means by which we can truly live out the Gospel of love and it is through receiving the love of Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Holy Communion By carrying out this most sublime action of Holy Communion, then by receiving the love of Jesus in Holy Communion (we actually receive the most Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Sacred Host) we are made capable of loving with the same love with which God loved us!
Finally, one of the short put powerful Lenten messages of Pope Benedict XVI was on the importance of ALMSGIVING--- the third practice that Jesus suggests in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday. In this encouraging message the Holy Father presidents the poor widow who gave her minimal monetary offering to the temple as an icon or model for the whole world. The message!  Jesus does not so much fix His attention on the enormity of the economic contribution but on the purity of heart, purity of intention and the mere willingness to give. As a famous Protestant preacher summarized on this point:  “God chooses small people with small things, but with great hearts to work marvelous miracles through them. (Adrian Rogers).

With this ecclesial and Biblical introduction on charity related to almsgiving, as is our style, let us plunge into the depths of God’s love by offering five concrete suggestions on how to give alms, how to give until it hurts, how to live out the “Gospel of love!”
1.     CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME.  There is a powerful Spanish proverb: “Candil en la calle, oscuridad en la casa.”  Translation:  “A burning candle outside in the street, but darkness in the home!”  The meaning?  You might even call it the “Rip-van Winkle complex”. Rip van Winkle, a novel protagonist, who was the kindest person and most charitable individual in town, but at home he was a disaster. In other words, he was ready to help everybody and at any time, except his own family. Maybe you suffer from the “Rip van Winkle complex”. Proposal for Lent: try to be kind, loving, meek and soft-spoken starting with the members in your own family! Remember the proverb: “Charity begins at home!”

2.     CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY.  Read the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25:31-45.  In this you will find the “Corporal works of mercy”.  Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick or prisoner--- all are the Corporal works of mercy. Then pray over these and beg the Holy Spirit--- with the help of your Spiritual Director—to discover which of these God is calling you to live out in this Lent! “Speak O Lord for your servant is listening!”
3.     KIND WORDS!   How important a kind, loving, charitable, humble and uplifting opportune word.  Words can tear us down or they can build us up. Remember the saying of St Bonaventure:  “We should speak in three occasions: to praise God, accuse ourselves, and to  edify ( meaning: to  lift up our neighbor…)  St. Francis de Sales puts it this way: “One can attract more flies with a teaspoon of honey than a barrel of vinegar.”  To help us in this regard apply the “Golden-Rule: of speech!”  Meaning! “Do to others what you want them to do to you…..Say to others what you want them to say to you!”

4.     GIVE YOUR TIME TO YOUR LOVED ONES!   Another non-material way to give alms is simply to give generously your time to your loved-ones, family members, or somebody who has a lonely and broken heart.  The art listening is a precious art, but few are experts at it! Many priests must be trained in simply giving time, attention, and charity to the lonely, the abandoned, and the broken-hearted. How often, in dealing in tense Pastoral situations with the depressed and lonely, to simply lend a listening ear can pull the individual out of the pit of despair so as to shine in the heart the rays and glimmering of hope!   How many suicides could be prevented if we were to form a new society, a new Parish-group with the title “The Attentive-ear society!!!”

5.      ALMS: MATERIAL GOODS!  If you can give alms, monetarily to the church, the poor or some charitable institution, then give with generosity and trust in Divine Providence. The key to giving is the keen realization that the giving is really being done do Jesus Himself. Indeed Jesus is truly present in the poor, the sick, the hungry and thirsty, and the sick and incarcerated. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me.”  Giving the 10% of one’s savings, more than giving money to a cause is placing trust in a loving, caring and a Providential God, who said: “Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field….And,  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be given to you beside…”  (Sermon on the Mount Mt. 6:25-34). If we generously and with limitless trust give to God in the poor He will give and provide abundantly for all of our needs! TRUST!  TRUST!! TRUST!!!

In conclusion, to rejoice in the Risen Lord Jesus on Easter day and during the Easter week (the Octave) and in the fifty days of the Easter Season we must live fervently, generously, and with total trust Lent.  Therefore, let us pray with all our hearts, sacrifice to the point of “giving until it hurts” and loving with the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the poor. God will shower you with a deluge of blessings in this life and for all eternity! May Our Lady’s “Yes” be our “Yes!”