“Almsgiving” is a word that most of us rarely hear in normal, everyday conversation, yet the concept is an ancient one. It is deeply rooted in the Christian, Judaic, and Islamic Faith Traditions, and is most often associated with the concept of justice and charity.
Within the Christian Tradition, almsgiving is viewed as an act of love and justice. A look at the worldwide view of almsgiving shows that Muslims approach almsgiving as a necessary action of Faith; (one of the five pillars of their tradition) and in Judaism it is looked upon as “righteousness” – the recognition that all we have is “gift” and the obligation to reach out to others as a form of justice and accountability.
Fostering a sense of justice and love and gratitude within the people of faith in a Catholic parish setting is more necessary now than ever before. We live in an age when wealth and prosperity are mistakenly linked with a sense of self-redemption. We don’t often think of the play, A Christmas Carol, this time of year, but it illustrates a common attitude about money and wealth. Scrooge’s character announces, “I have wealth and power and success because of my own deeds, my own efforts.” However, Charles Dickens reminds Scrooge not only of the need for gratitude to God for all that he has been given but of his intimate connection to all humanity, especially in the relationship he has between himself and Bob Cratchit, his woefully underpaid and overworked employee.
Christians are taught, by Christ, himself, of the necessity to reach out to others, in charity, not merely from our “excess” but from the deepest part of our soul. Think of Mark 12: 41-44 when he commends the generosity of the “poor widow” who gave from her heart, not just from her excess.
During Lent, Catholic Christians are encouraged to “pray, fast, and to give alms” – but praying, fasting, and giving alms does not need to be limited to only one Liturgical Season. We are told to “pray always” (Luke 18:1); we are taught to expand our understanding of fasting from merely “dieting” to discipline and action (Fast from judging others, Feast on the Christ indwelling them) [William Arthur Ward, 1921-1994] and giving alms equates to a growing awareness that we are part of a Community of Believers who respond from their hearts, out of love and a sense of justice, to the needs of others. (Think stewardship – the gift of time, talent, and treasure).
How do we foster a sense of Almsgiving as a faith response? Within schools and parishes, we can encourage people to respond, year round, to the expressed needs of others:
- In food, clothing, and toy drives
- In prayer requests
- In tithing
- In community “potlucks”
- By donating to Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services
Some people become very anxious when it comes to giving alms – they are concerned that there will always be some cause, some need that will be calling upon them to give and give and give. They express a strong concern of the necessity of protecting themselves and their families from the unending call to help those who cannot help themselves. But the truth is that when they reach out to others, with a sense of justice and love, we are protecting ourselves and our families because we are letting the roots of faith grow deeper and stronger. Yes, it is true that (“The poor you will have with you always” – Matt. 26: 11), but it is also true that when we see the Face of Christ within the lives of those who are hungry and needy, we are becoming the Body of Christ on earth right now.
Catholic Social Teaching challenges us to consider an Option for the Poor and Vulnerable and to live in Solidarity as one human family. We are all children of God. When we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we respond as disciples and give to those who have less. This has been a hallmark of Christian identity from the time of the early church until now. And, Almsgiving is just as important now, as ever. It is good for our hearts, our society, and for our brothers and sisters living in poverty who need our help today.
June Wessa, MAPS – June Wessa is a married mother & grandmother who serves the Church. She has been an elementary classroom teacher, a DRE, and, most recently, a Pastoral Associate. She is a writer, retreat director, and spiritual director.