Thursday, February 12, 2009

Preparing for Great Lent Pt 1: Almsgiving

Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

Yesterday evening, amidst the threats of bad weather, we gathered for the first of our three scheduled talks on "Preparing for Great Lent." Our theme for the opening talk was Almsgiving. For those who were unable to attend due to the approaching storm, and for those who may be interested in this theme, I am simply providing the outline that I used in my presentation of almsgiving.


- Great Lent is a time to restore essential Christian practices to our lives.

- Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting are related in an organic and integral manner. They are meant to be practiced together. The absence of one leads to a lack of balance between the interior and the exterior.

- Almsgiving is clearly taught, together with prayer and fasting, in MATT. 6:1-18. The best way to begin is to read this crucial passage together.

- Repentance and closeness to God leads to charity toward others. Zacchaeus, once salvation came to his house, told the Lord that he would give away one half of his possessions.

- The rich man was condemned for his refusal to give alms to poor Lazarus. The sin of indifference.

- Jewish sources strongly stress the practice of almsgiving as essential to true piety:
"The world stands on three things: on the Torah, and on the Service, and on the doing of kindnesses." (Jewish high priest Simon the Just 200 BC)

- The early Church followed, developed and expanded the practice of almsgiving/charity. St. Justin the Martyr describes the practice of the mid 2nd c. Roman Church within the context of the Liturgy there:
And those who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit, and what is collected is deposited with the presiding celebrant (the bishop), who succours the orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.

- Almsgiving is an expression of love. God is "charitable" to an impoverished humanity (sin, corruption, death) by saving us through the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. Our charity is in response and thanksgiving to God for His charity toward us in Christ.

- In his First Century on Love, St. Maximus the Confessor (7th c.), includes many passages concerning the giving of alms, including these:
23. He who loves God will certainly love his neighbor as well. Such a person cannot hoard money, but distributes it in a way befitting God, being generous to everyone in need.

24. He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men's bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.

26. The state of love may be recognized in the giving of money, and still more in the giving of spiritual counsel and in looking after people in their physical needs.

- Almsgiving is not only concerned with distributing money. Good listening, sincere counsel, practical help to those unable to do certain things, all constitute forms of almsgiving.

- St. Maximus also explains how almsgiving, prayer and fasting work together to heal the various aspects of the soul:
79. Almsgiving heals the soul's incensive power (anger, strong emotion); fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for the contemplation of created things. For the Lord has given us commandments which correspond to the powers of the soul.

- Almsgiving can be "extensive" or "intensive."
  • Extensive means giving smaller amounts to many persons/causes.
  • Intensive means choosing one or two recipients and giving larger amounts.
  • There are pros and cons for both approaches.

- Children need to be taught about the essential role of almsgiving. They will thus learn of compassion and sharing. Within families, they need to be made a part of the process.

- The Church is not a "charitable institution." Almsgiving is distinct from stewardship and pledging to the parish. The Church in the past was the one center for distributing alms to the needy. This was before the emergence of large urban centers, the secularization of society, and "social services."

- Parishes need to practice almsgiving, so not all of a parish's resources, time and energy are directed within. The Church serves the weak and neglected of the world. Charity needs to be a part of parish budgets.

- Our own parish made a major "breakthrough" when we "adopted" the orphans of the Hogar San Rafael and began to minister to their needs. We discovered true want, and how others are dependent upon our willingness to be charitable. This is the work of God.

Next Week: Session II on Prayer

Fr. Steven

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