Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
Lent is all about fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Having spoken about fasting and prayer in the two last bulletins, we turn now to the topic of almsgiving this week. Our parish 40 Hours of Eucharistic Adoration and Parish Mission last week was really a time of palpable grace for our parish family, thanks to all who made it such a huge success. As you know, many effects of grace are realized later when God knows we are ready. So much groundwork was done for our parish family last week, and we will be better for it, if we aren’t already.
“Giving” is one of the gifts which might be received at baptism, as we learn in the Called and Gifted Program. It is relatively rare, apparently, or else people are so saturated with the world they are completely unaware that they have it. A person who has received the gift of Giving doesn’t ask (like most of us do), “How much must I give?” She or he asks, rather, “How much do I really need to keep?” A person who gives needs a lot of trust, and a humility that recognizes that we don’t identify ourselves by what we have, but by what we have given to others. This is not just money I’m talking about, it is about precious hours in the day, and about sharing the things that you can use to actually make another person’s life better rather than your own.
We get a glimpse of what Christianity looked like in the years immediately following the Resurrection of Jesus in the account of the Acts of the Apostles. People lived in community, sharing all they had in common, providing for those in need with the resources of all. People would literally bring what they had and lay it at the feet of the Apostles, who would figure out how it could be best used to provide charity and well being to others, regardless of their affiliations.
Think of it logically: we cannot be a community that calls ourselves Christian if we are not a community that gives of ourselves. It would be a lie.
Early Christianity might seem like socialism to many. Such a system of socialism seems to be impractical, even dangerous because such social systems have been established and taken advantage of by corrupt and ruthless dictators. The state becomes more important than the value of the life of the individual or even the life of the community.
But in the system of the Apostles, there was no power involved. Everyone remained humble, people lived in peace as equals. The only thing that still exists today that is faithful to this “new way” of Jesus is religious life. Communities of Sisters, Priests and Brothers who have no goal but to love and serve God, and exercise their respective charisms for the good of the apostolate, whether that be education, development, caring for the afflicted or helping the poor. Great religious orders throughout the history of western civilization such as the Benedictines, Franciscans and Jesuits have always lived with all things shared in common, with no personal property and no agenda other than the purpose of their Order or community to serve God in his creation.
I wonder how that happens in our lives who are not committed personally as men and women religious are? Just because we haven’t made a vow of poverty (diocesan priests don’t, either) does that give us license to be rich? To keep all that we can and build up barns to storing all we can? To live in this world without regard to the Lazaruses that sit outside our door in the dirt, waiting for someone to be kind? Jesus is clear. Even to give a glass of water to one who is thirsty is enough not to lose your reward.
The thing is, the more you do it, the more you do it. It becomes a part of your personality, even identity, to be generous. It starts with kindness, maybe nothing more than a smile, and grows into greater and greater contributions of yourself to others and the community. A personal transformation is underway.
For this reason almsgiving, classically understood as providing sustenance to the poor, is considered one of the greatest works of penance (instruments of personal conversion) for the season of Lent as well as throughout the year. We make a sacrifice of something significant, so that the gift actually means something to us, too. And the person who receives our generosity will, in turn, glorify God in their own way.
Giving makes reparation for the sins we ourselves have committed, as well as builds virtue enabling us to live a life more faithful to the Gospel. It gives another hope, and reveals to others the way that Jesus went about doing good and helping provide the healing and peace that was, and is today, so needed. Our lives become living Gospels, even without necessarily needing to use the words.
God bless you.