The Importance of Almsgiving

At the risk of repeating myself, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of almsgiving in our Lenten discipline. On Ash Wednesday our focus tends to be on prayer and fasting, which is as it should be. Our awareness of personal sin and the need of individual conversion is uppermost. We mark the beginning of the penitential season with a rigorous fast and an exterior sign of our inner resolve. Today, however, the ashes are washed from our heads and we turn a beaming face to the world (‘let no one know you are fasting . . .’). What should be the one thing everyone notices? Not our small acts of self-denial or the extra time spent in prayer, surely? No, our compassion, our almsgiving, should be what everyone notices about the Christian practice of Lent.

It has been well said that if you want to know God, show love to your neighbour. When I was a young nun I thought the way to know God was to pray ardently and read deeply, but living in community showed me that, important though those are, the only way to know love fully is to show love oneself. The example of the old nuns taught me what my theology text books did not and could not. The small sacrifices we make during Lent only have meaning if they increase love. So, if you are giving up chocolate or wine as a small gesture of love for the Lord, don’t forget to give the money you save to those who cannot afford either. You will be repaid a hundredfold. Don’t forget the most precious gift you can give is your time. So, over and above any material gift, give your time to those who need it. That visit to someone you have been putting off, that letter you have been meaning to write, even the smile with which you greet the office bore, they are all forms of almsgiving which will enrich your life as well as that of others. They will allow God a way in.

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5 thoughts on “The Importance of Almsgiving”

  1. It didn’t occur to me that smiling at the office bore is a form of almsgiving! The thought made me smile but It has given me a fresh insight. I will try to keep a beaming face turned to the world as you suggest 🙂

  2. I remember reading something by Adalbert de Vogue when he was talking about the ‘tools for good works.’ He said that that chapter in the Rule of St Benedict were like couplets, so ‘love of fasting’ is followed by ‘give money to the poor.’ He said that this was a reminder that we should not love fasting as an end in itself but rather so that we can save the money we would have spent on food so that we can give alms to those who need it.

  3. One of our pastors preached that we should give until it hurts, and if it doesn’t hurt we haven’t given enough. As to what constitutes “hurt” depends on one’s finances, and the situation, I suppose, but there has to be an aspect of personal sacrifice involved in our offerings to God, and they very often involve relations with others. There have been times when it would have been preferable for us to have upped the Sunday envelope donation rather than help that obnoxious neighbour, but Lent reminds us there is something of the obnoxious about ourselves, too, and this is a wonderful season of hope that we can try, yet again, to get it right.

  4. Good heavens, yes! Thank you, sister, for that reminder. As it happens I did give quite a bit of time today to someone who is rather difficult to ‘love’….it was pre-arranged so I can’t claim that I did it spontaneously as a Lenten discipline but I am strengthened to consider it in the light of almsgiving. That idea rounds it out somehow – and reminds me that Love both demands and enables these difficult jobs. It also opens me up to receive ‘alms’ of various sorts from those who might find me difficult!

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