As I wrote last week, there are three traditional pillars of Lenten practice for Catholics: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. This week I write about almsgiving, an ancient sounding word that may seem far removed from our current social lives.
“Alms” is a word from Old English that refers to something, like food or money, given to the poor. As a practice, almsgiving can include many things, such as making a donation to a charitable organization or tithing to a religious institution (that is, giving one-tenth a part of something). Almsgiving is part of our baptismal calling, as it is one way to take care of our brothers and sisters, both locally and globally, and to provide for the needs of the “least of these.” In a sense, almsgiving is putting money where our mouths are, that is, giving a material gift as a sign of our commitment to follow in the steps of Jesus.
Like fasting, almsgiving is a practice that encourages us to think about our lives and ourselves in new ways. Almsgiving encourages focusing on what we have to give, rather than on what we can get for ourselves. It also can help correct our attitude toward material possessions. Rather than hording our things out of fear that we may not have enough, almsgiving encourages us to express gratitude for all that God has given to us by giving some away. Small acts of almsgiving help us to grow in charity, leading toward recognition of Jesus Christ in the poor of our world. Almsgiving takes us beyond an attitude of “it’s just me and God,” as we respond to the needs of others, of those who participate in the Body of Christ with us.
Almsgiving is not just for the rich or just for adults. In fact, in Mark 12:41-44, Jesus praises a widow who donates two small coins. He even goes so far as to say that she gave more than the rich people, because she gave out of what she needed not out of what she had left over. You do not need to have a lot of money to make a big difference—this is the idea behind the Girl Up campaign, a program of the United Nations that encourages girls in the United States (and boys, too!) to give a high five ($5) to help provide medical care and education to girls living in poverty around the world.
During this Lent, how might you be able to practice almsgiving?
Could you donate 10% of your earnings from baby-sitting, tutoring, coaching, or other work to a charity of your choice?
Could you connect almsgiving and giving something up, donating the money you are saving by not eating chocolate or not drinking soda?
You can also get even more creative. Almsgiving and tithing do not have to involve money.
Take a look at your closet and what is in your room. Could you donate 10% of your clothes, items that are in good condition that you do not use but that someone else could? Do you have books in good condition that could be donated to a homeless shelter or school?
Think about how many hours of “free time” you have each week. Could you donate 10% of that time to charity or justice work—serving lunch at a soup kitchen, writing letters for Amnesty International, joining Big Brother/Big Sister?
What creative ideas do you have for teens who want to practice almsgiving during Lent? Share them here.