Lent is a time that we are reminded of the importance of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If I am being honest, the Lenten family traditions, decorations, and activities which we pull out every year at this time really focus on prayer and fasting, but almsgiving does not get the attention it is due. Lately, God has made me keenly aware that it’s easy to be selfish, even in our prayer and fasting, but almsgiving necessarily turns us toward others, specifically to those who are materially deprived. In his command, “give to everyone who asks of you . . .” (Lk 6:30), our Lord does not give qualifications or limits to our giving. He simply says give, inviting us to conform to his agape love – unconditional love, which he squanders on us even when we are ungrateful, careless, or corrupted by sin. Motivated by love, true almsgiving is giving without strings attached, which reveals to the world God’s own radical generosity.
As I train my children in the faith, I want them to understand clearly that the perfection of charity is not keeping a set of rules, or saying a set of prayers, or offering a set of sacrifices. Instead, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “it is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones” (2443).
Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). Our Lord identifies himself specifically with the person who is least. So, I must seek out the least, the marginalized, the poor . . . and I will find Christ in them. Maybe he is disguised in my own neighbor who is suffering or lonely, a homeless person who is living on the street, or a family who lives somewhere in the world without clean drinking water, shelter, or the bare essentials for life. There are mothers in the world today, good, God-fearing, hard-working, creative, loving mothers, who are watching their own children starve because they do not have the resources to feed them. Since we do not see the poorest of the poor, we might forget them in their distress, but we cannot ignore the poor without ignoring Christ. God’s heart breaks for each of his suffering children, and during Lent especially, we are asked to let our hearts be rent along with his.
Today it is a common practice to check the almsgiving box by simply dropping off our unnecessary and unwanted items to a charity drive after spring cleaning. I have done it myself. However, the Holy Spirit has put a burning inside me to take a deeper look at this fundamental practice of our faith. True almsgiving is not finding a new home for the stuff we don’t want, nor is it fulfilled in sending a check to an organization that serves the poor if we then ignore the needy that we encounter in our lives. Agape almsgiving begins with me treating every person as I would treat Christ and not forgetting the real need of so many real people. It means gratitude for what I have and willingness to generously open my heart and my wallet to Jesus in his distressing disguise. It means encouraging and supporting those who dedicate their life to serve the least (see MIHC Lenten campaign to partner with In My Shoes in caring for pregnant, homeless mothers in the Dallas area). Most importantly, it means a commitment to pray for those in need this day.
Dear God, break my heart for what breaks yours! Help me not to forget that every man, woman, or child who lives in poverty today is a brother or sister created in your image and likeness. Help me to connect with the poor in love and generosity, and may those who are hungry today be filled. Amen.
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink . . .” (Matt 25:34-35).