We have looked at fasting and abstinence, and also prayer and the frequent reception of the sacraments as ways to really have a fruitful Lent. So that leaves “almsgiving”. It is defined in the dictionary as giving money or food to poor people. Seeing it that way, it fits the definition of what most of us think “charity” is. We often limit the definition of “charity” as giving to the poor.
Charity is actually a title for the love of God, and our love for God; we can actually think of it in a more concise way and say that it is our participation in the love of God. Our participation obviously required us to love God in return, and in the first commandment He asks us to do that with all our hearts, all our will, and all our strength. The next step that then sort of naturally happens is that we begin to love what God loves. Our level of participation is now growing. The next step is that we begin to love the way that God loves, giving (which for us often involves sacrifice) without the required stipulation of receiving in return.
This brings us back to almsgiving. When we give alms (food or money to the poor), if we want it to be truly charitable, then it should involve sacrifice. I remember doing the “Rice Bowl” as a kid, and I also remember the collections we would take in our high school homeroom during Lent for the St. Vincent de Paul. Putting money into my “Rice Bowl” or the decorated can that was passed around in homeroom, meant having to wait longer to save up for the new ball glove I wanted, or it meant eating less at lunch time. The same would be true for us if we participate in the “Feed My Sheep”. If we are just giving from our abundance and not actually making any sacrifice, then our act is not really charity in the fullest sense as we are lacking in love. If our donations to the “Feed My Sheep”, St. Vincent de Paul, or the “Rice Bowl” are accompanied by sacrifices, then they go accompanied by love and then we are loving the way God loves. We are truly participating in His Love. We are helping others: loving what He loves, and at the same time growing closer to Him. Wow!!! If that weren’t enough, almost everyone I know says that when they give charitably it makes them feel good, as St. Francis reminds us, “Lord help me to remember…that it is better to give than to receive.” In addition to all of this, I can offer the sacrifices that I am making up at Mass so that they go together with the Sacrifice of Christ to the altar of the Father in Heaven, and thus count as reparation for my sins and/or can be transformed into graces for the intentions with which I offer them (like the healing of a sick relative). That is almost too much! I decide not to buy a Coke at the gas station while I am filling up, and make the sacrifice of going thirsty for a while. I then put the $1.25 into my “Ewe Tube” to feed the sheep, and then at the following Sunday’s Mass I can offer up that sacrifice with the bread and wine as the Priest offers them for my great uncle who is dying of cancer. So with one sacrifice that I made in the state of grace (not having the guilt of mortal sin on my soul), I have helped a poor person put food on his table, I have helped myself be healthier, and have helped my uncle who is suffering—AWESOME! Now that is living out a Great Lent!