LENT: PRAYER, FASTING, ALMSGIVING AND CONFESSION
The link between fasting and almsgiving is evident in Isa. 58:6-9 cited above: the extra savings of food, etc. made from the self-denial of fasting should be used to help the needy. Let us now consider almsgiving, our spiritual insurance, by answering the following questions: What is almsgiving? How not to give alms? How to give alms?
WHAT IS ALMSGIVING?
Almsgiving is simply giving in kind or cash to the poor or needy. This includes feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, aiding the sick and aged, etc. Such acts of charity constitute a spiritual insurance, because they are like “savings” unto our salvation. Here are the well-known words of Jesus:
The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. … [For] I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Mt. 25:34-40).
HOW NOT TO GIVE ALMS?
Giving alms with the intention or attitude of being superior to the poor, or to impress others or to “make name” for oneself is like infringing on the contract conditions of one’s car insurance and losing the insurance claims in the process. For this reason, Jesus cautions us: “when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Mt. 6:2).
HOW TO GIVE ALMS?
How then should we give alms so that we enjoy the full benefits of our spiritual insurance? Jesus says that “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt. 6:3-4). In other words, when we give to the poor or needy, we should do so, focusing not so much on the human recipient but on God whom they represent and who is the ultimate “Rewarder”.
Let me conclude this section on almsgiving by narrating the story of the conversion of a fourth century cavalry officer of Hungary. He later became the Bishop of Tours, and canonized as St. Martin. He was leading his troops, when he came upon a poorly clad beggar suffering from the frigid temperatures. Moved by the man’s suffering Martin took off his own elegant cape and put it on the beggar and he was about to go on his way when he was stopped by an amazing sight: the beggar was Jesus Christ, searching among men for evidence of charity. Soon after that incident Martin resigned his position in the military and became a monk (Glenn D. Kittler in Quotes and Anecdotes, p. 144).
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis