Lent—a time for almsgiving (Joan Chittister)

What kind of giving explains the difference between real giving and public posturing, between calling attention to yourself as “holy” and the almsgiving that Jesus spoke about when he said “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing?”
I learned something about almsgiving in third grade that may be begging to be rediscovered if we are to be a fully human society, a truly human family, a completely humane people.
In my grade school, we “ransomed pagan babies”—don’t laugh—and sent the money we would have spent on candy to provide support for babies routinely abandoned in overpopulated and underdeveloped China. Sister collected our nickels every week, banked them and sent money orders to missionary communities in China for the care of Chinese orphans.
What I remember from that practice is the experience of direct personal response. It gave me both a sense of responsibility for the rest of the world as well as a way to meet that responsibility—an awareness that I have begun to worry may well be declining with every “Today’s Top Stories” news program we broadcast. We are living in a morass of 30-second updates now while millions of people live on—shattered, poor, lost, angry and forgotten—after the updates are long gone.
It seems to me that it may be time for all of us to reinvent a universal process for ransoming pagan babies again. Otherwise, the world might collapse under a confetti of old ticker-tape headlines and a smothering accumulation of long-ignored “Stories of the Day.”
When real, holy giving goes on, life goes on. When giving goes on anyplace, immortality happens in that place. When giving goes on, we rise above our private, paltry little selves to the stature of the spiritual colossus that makes heaven a place you can touch on Monday and go to on Tuesday and be proud to have had a part in building every day for the rest of your life.
And how does that happen? Well, I’ll tell you in case you’ve forgotten. The fact is that giving happens because individuals, good people who have worked hard to make their own money know the grace, the strength, the healthy exercise of giving it away.
Almsgiving is a very God-like grace. The one who gives from the heart stands in the shadow of the Abraham who took in strangers who turned out to be messengers from God. The one who gives from the heart stands in the shadow of the Pharaoh who fed the chosen people in time of famine. The almsgiver stands in the shadow of the widow of Israel who gave her last drop of oil and flour—the two life-lines of the Middle East—to rescue the prophet Elijah. The almsgiver stands in the shadow of Mary Magdalene and the women of Jerusalem whom the scripture say—clearly and directly—were the ones who “supported Jesus out of their own substance.”

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  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    That is a beautiful entry. In Canada, there is a Catholic organization called Chalice which resides in my home province of Nova Scotia. 91.90% of what is donated to Chalice goes to active programs. They are a ministry of the Catholic community. Their president, Fr. Patrick Cosgrove is a hero among men. The only drawback is that not many people know about Chalice or maybe don’t care. In my household, we have two children and each child has an adoptive sister. Here is a word from Fr. Cosgrove : “The task of changing the world is so impossible that some would believe it is easier not to burden oneself with the responsibility to care and to act. Certainly it is easier not to look or listen to the suffering of others but by looking and listening we begin to understand and to care. With sponsorship we put a face to poverty. It is no longer, as it never was, a statistic. Poverty and all its related hardships is always personal, always impacting individual people with names and families. And it is always individual people who respond for compassion, like poverty, always has a name, a face attached to it.”

  2. Kevin Walters says:

    Lloyd @2
    Yes Lloyd it is a beautiful article.
    I have often wondered why this type of sponsorship has not grown more rapidly.
    Princess Anne England was the patron of a Charity over forty years ago that offered the public the opportunity to sponsor a child’s education in Africa, my wife and I took part in this and I have to agree with you that putting a face to the actual person (Picture) and receiving feedback are beneficial to all the giver and the receiver. The church has always called (encouraged) the laity to be generous and many have responded to this call, nowhere more so than in Ireland, to help those less fortunate than us and it is good that the church is reinforcing and extending this policy under Pope Francis.
    In the late fifties we were encouraged at school to give some of our pocket money to help the poor On one occasion we were given the incentive that any child who gave one shilling (twelve pennies) over a school term would have a black baby in Africa baptized and given our our own name, at the end of term I remember with others writing my name on a form that would be sent to Africa and wondering at the same time what the babies face would look like.
    Just over thirty years ago I was in a large store making a purchase, at the shop till the assistant asked me for my name, a black African about ten years younger than myself, who was stood several yards away ran over to me with a smiling face loudly proclaiming “I am called Kevin Walters too”.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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