Together with prayer and fasting, almsgiving is one of the penitential works of Lent by which we strive to turn away from sin and follow Our Lord more faithfully.
Almsgiving in its most obvious form is the giving of money to the poor. In prudence, this may take the form of giving donations to the poor via good charities, in which we co-operate with the good works of others. We should always make sure that the charities that we give to are not contradicting the teaching of Christ and the Church in their activities. We can be safe with giving to a charity such as Aid to the Church in Need or Mary’s Meals. With secular charities, we need to check – it is not a good idea to support such generic initiatives such as “Red Nose Day” which support a variety of causes, some of which are suspect.
Almsgiving brings us grace in abundance because Our Lord said of various charitable works “As often as you did this to the least of my brothers and sister, you did it to me.” (Matt 25.40) When we show love to our neighbour, it can be more than a human act of kindness if we seek consciously and devoutly to serve Christ in others. In fact, St Paul warns us that our charitable giving must in fact involve charity to be worth anything:
And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, […] and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Cor 13.3)
The essential characteristic that distinguishes charity is that it is done for the love of God. When we give, we do well to think consciously of the Lord Himself whom we serve in the poor.
This applies also to the offertory collection at Mass, to take another example. It may be that the tower needs fixing, the lights need replacing, the heating needs to be paid for and other maintenance tasks need to be done. But our offertory is a gift to the Lord which is an act of Christian discipleship. That is why we give to support the Church which is the body of Christ, and we should make our giving an act of loving offering of ourselves and our resources.
In addition to making donations, we have opportunities every day to exercise the virtue of charity by simple acts for the good of others, whether at home, at work, or among people socially. Small, hidden acts of charity done for the love of God, have a great value in His sight and are a powerful means of good. They are also a pwerful means of countering the work of the devil who seeks to destroy charity in our homes and families and in our parishes. Charity is like a force-field of grace and light against such attacks.
As Lent begins, let us pray for one another and for the whole Church as we embark together on this annual exercise of growing in the love of Jesus Christ. May our works of prayer, fasting and charity help to bring in the Kingdom of God in the world around us, and assist us each individually and as members of Christ’s body, on the path to eternal life.