FR. ANDREW WRITES:
We have looked at two out of the three things connected with Lent; prayer and fasting. Let’s now consider the third, almsgiving. What is almsgiving? One definition is, ‘Material or financial offerings for the poor, prompted by charity.’ (Catholic Dictionary, p. 54). Giving to the poor is part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is also one of the corporal works of mercy. As the Catechism says, ‘God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them’ (CCC 2443). Almsgiving is strongly connected with prayer and in fact, ‘derives its power from true prayer (Scott Hahn ‘Signs of Life’, DLT, 2009, p, 215)
Scott Hahn (a Catholic professor of Theology and Scripture*) wrote, ‘To give alms is to give to God. More than raising funds for him, it’s raising our heart and mind to him. It’s prayer. If we’re doing it right, though, it’s fasting too, because it’s giving from our very substance- giving until it hurts.’ (Hahn, pp. 214-215) * Incidentally anything written by Hahn is well worth reading.
The Catechism has a stark warning, ‘Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use.’ (CCC 2445)
It also states, ‘…giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.’ (CCC 2447)
‘He has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food must do likewise. But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and if you say to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?’ (CCC 2447)
The words from the Gospel of St Matthew are challenging, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to the least one of these, you neglected to do it to me.’
But thankfully all is not lost! As one writer puts it,
‘Thus Christ pronounces a blessing on the “poor in spirit”- that is, those whose spirit is detached from riches. Thus even those who are not materially poor but who help the poor by detaching themselves from some of their wealth can be “poor in spirit” and blessed. Alms do a double good – to giver as well as to receiver – for it is even “more blessed to give than to receive’ (Peter Kreeft, ‘Catholic Christianity’; Ignatius Press, 2001 p. 265-266)
Where is the source for all this?
‘The Eucharist is the key to a civilization of love. It saves us from misguided tenderness and feel-good philanthropy, because it gives us the grace to sacrifice as Jesus did. It gives us the very grace of Jesus’ sacrifice.’ (Hahn p. 216)