The Third Pillar of Lent: How Almsgiving Benefits the Soul, According to the Saints
Almsgiving benefits the soul!
Let’s look at this third pillar of Lent and hallmark of our lives as Catholics.
What is Almsgiving?
The root of the word ‘alms’ comes from ancient Latin and Greek words meaning ‘mercy’. The root of the word ‘charity’ comes from the Latin word for love, caritas.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Giving alms to the poor is a witness to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.” (2462)
The USCCB explains, “The foundational call of Christians to charity is a frequent theme of the Gospels. During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on ‘almsgiving,’ which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity.”
Almsgiving helps us practice detachment from earthly things. It is not limited to the giving of material possessions; instead, it is the gift of oneself to another.
Here are some examples of almsgiving:
The practice of almsgiving is rooted in scripture (in both the Old and New Testaments):
“Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin.” (Sir. 3:30)
“Whoever cares for the poor lends to the Lord, who will pay back the sum in full.” (Prov. 19:17)
“A man who is righteous will be remembered forever” (Ps. 112:5-9)
“Give to those who ask, and do not turn your back on anyone who wants to borrow” (Matt. 5:42)
“Almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin.” (Tob. 12:9)
“If you satisfy the afflicted, your light shall rise in the darkness” (Isa. 58:10)
“Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven” (Lk. 18:22)
“If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, the love of God cannot remain in him” (1 Jn. 3:17)
Here’s what the saints say about giving alms:
“Almsgiving, far from being reduced to an occasional offering of money, means assuming an attitude of sharing and acceptance. We only need to “open our eyes” to see beside us so many brothers and sisters who are suffering materially and spiritually. Thus Lent is a forceful invitation to solidarity.” – St. John Paul II
“Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.” – St. Francis of Assisi
“Give him what you can: the merit is not in whether it is big or small, but in the intention with which you give it.” – St Josemaria Escriva
“The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.” – St. Basil the Great
“There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not. – St. Leo the Great
‘When you can do good, defer it not, because ‘alms delivers from death.'” – St. Polycarp
“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.” –St. Teresa of Calcutta
“Almsgiving above all else requires money, but even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from our poverty. The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than any human, but she outdid them all.” – St John Chrysostom
“Sins are purged by alms and acts of faith.” – St Clement of Alexandria
When considering how to incorporate almsgiving into your Lent, ask yourself these three questions:
1) How can I use my time to serve others this Lent?
2) How can I use my talents to serve others this Lent?
3) How can I use my treasure to serve others this Lent?
How will you practice almsgiving this Lent?
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[See also: 4 Simply Beautiful Tips for Living the Lenten Season from St. Teresa of Avila]
[See also: Your Lenten Guide for Fasting & Abstinence, According to Catholic Teaching]
Caroline Perkins is the Brand Content Editor at Church POP. She lives in Denver with her husband and three children. She is also founder and designer of Be Still By Caroline and the author of "ABC Get to Know the Saints with Me!".
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