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Lent Almsgiving

In recent years and months, we have had so many natural disasters that devastate the lives of people – forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. Every time people appeal to us for help and every time you have responded generously. When I look back on the years I have been with you, this parish has given so much to so many to alleviate the needs of people near and far. While I applaud you for the way you attempt to ease the burdens of others, I want us to remember that helping those in need is a Christian duty. Our faith calls us to give and give without expecting a return.

 

Over the last two weeks we have reflected on prayer and fasting, and now we turn our attention to the third pillar of our Lenten observance, namely, almsgiving. As a group, we Americans are known for our generosity. We give to all sorts of causes and organizations. We do not like to see people suffer and whenever catastrophe strikes some part of the world, we dig deep into our pockets. However, our giving becomes more meaningful when our generosity flows from our renunciation.

The purpose of fasting in our faith tradition is not merely to discipline our bodies. We cannot feel good at the end of our Lenten fasting because all of us look good having shed a few pounds. We cannot take the money we saved by giving up beer and wine, and use it to have a party after Easter. The practice of denying ourselves food has an inextricable connection with almsgiving. Just as Christ became poor in order to make us rich, as Paul writes, we make ourselves hungry in order to satisfy the hunger of our brothers and sisters.

The Fathers of the Early Church often dwell on the nexus between fasting and almsgiving. One of the early works known as The Shepherd of Hermas has these emphatic words: “In the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water, and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that the one who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul.” St John Chrysostom, the eloquent preacher, insists that fasting without almsgiving is not fasting at all. St Augustine goes so far as to say that fasting is avarice unless one gives away what one would have eaten.

Just as in fasting, we need to find a form of giving that is meaningful to us. For some of us it may be easy to write a check for some cause or organization. On the other hand, it may be far more difficult to give the gift of time. Sometimes the gift that we can give so easily may be the gift that is valued the most. Take a smile, for example. We take it for granted and yet it can bring so much to so many.

Only we can judge what gift would be really significant. Only we can determine who among our family, friends, and strangers, needs a particular gift from us. Here are a few options that I would like to suggest:

  • Feed the hungry.
  • Serve the poor.
  • Befriend the friendless.
  • Listen to someone who needs to talk.
  • Keep smiling even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Take the time to be with an elderly person.
  • Give a compliment to the most significant person in your life.
  • Love those in your inner circle.
  • Help the needy.
  • Pray for someone who dislikes you.
  • Calm someone’s frayed nerves.
  • Comfort the sorrowful.
  • Console someone who is recovering from a loss.
  • Be patient.
  • Give something to someone who can never repay you.
  • Give till it hurts.

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about almsgiving:

The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God. (#2447)

May the Giver of all gifts give us the gift of generosity! May our giving bring a smile to the faces of those who benefit from our love!

God bless you!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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Park Ridge, IL 60068


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