Almsgiving is more than just allocating surplus funds to a charitable organization or cause. More is expected of us than that! Think of almsgiving as acts of generosity that enable the performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It is through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we show ourselves to be faithful, rather than accidental, disciples.
Ours is an age of scandals, and one of the great scandals that has become a stumbling block to so many in terms of the faith is that too many of the faithful have come to believe that the performance of the works of mercy is a matter of delegation. We make the works of mercy works for hire and exempt ourselves from having to actually do them ourselves. Not so! The works of mercy cannot be delegated. We each have to do them, and it is through our participation in the works of mercy that almsgiving is fulfilled.
Almsgiving places a demand on us to receive Christ as he presents himself to us in his poor.
Almsgiving places a demand on us to receive Christ as he presents himself to us in his poor. This can be an off-putting experience because Christ arrives in his poor on his own terms. Our place, once he makes his presence known, is not to control, but to serve. And as in his poor Christ takes the lowest place, we are compelled to take our place beneath him as servants of the One who makes himself a slave. The performance of such service often resists offering to us the kinds of consolations that we might expect from our service to the Lord, but it is precisely in this that our service becomes efficacious. We learn from this experience how to imitate Christ’s generosity, who gave to us fully knowing that what he gave was undeserved, could not be reciprocated, and would be unappreciated by many. It is in imitation of Christ’s service and acceptance of his conditions that our own service is perfected.
Almsgiving is also a reminder of our own mortality, inasmuch as all worldly goods will be surrendered at the moment of death. Rather than building ever greater storehouses for our possessions, we give what we have away. That we do so incrementally prepares us for the surrender of all worldly goods that will ultimately come.
Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. None of these are ends in themselves. Instead, each is a way, a way that is opening us up to the Church’s spiritual passage into the great mysteries of Holy Week:
“Remember, thou art dust And shall to dust return: Then place not in the world thy trust, Its delusions spurn; Prepare thee for the mighty change Impending over all; Give to thy thoughts a loftier range And heed Heaven’s call.”
(J. Beste, nineteenth century)
This is an excerpt from an article titled, “How to Get Ready for Lent” by Fr. Steve Grunow, CEO of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. The article can be found at the Word on Fire Blog, wordonfire.org.