The three pillars of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—are expressions of the fundamental purpose of Lent, which is a turning to God and a conversion of heart. Each pillar is distinct yet remains vitally connected to the others, forming a unique triad that draws us closer to God and one another throughout this penitential season.
Almsgiving is often overshadowed by the other, more personal, sacrifices we make. However, the role of giving alms is essential to fostering a deep spiritual journey during Lent because it allows us to step outside of ourselves and focus on the needs of others.
What Is Almsgiving?
Charitable giving is an ancient practice, and almsgiving was customary long before the time of Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “giving alms to the poor is a witness to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God” (CCC 2462). The call to perform acts of charity is heard frequently throughout the Gospels, imploring us to follow the example of Christ.
Almsgiving incorporates both prayer and fasting in a way that manifests itself by caring for our neighbor in need. It can both deepen our prayer as we are brought into contact with our brothers and sisters who live in poverty. It can also prompt important questions: Do I really need this? Am I consuming too much? Almsgiving provides us with a human connection and the opportunity to see the impact that works of charity can have on others.
The widow with the two coins from Luke’s Gospel is a wonderful example of the power of almsgiving, even when we feel we have nothing to give:
"When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood’ "(Luke 21:1-4).
In case you missed parts one and two—check out The Three Pillars of Lent: Prayer and The Three Pillars of Lent: Fasting to learn more about these integral parts of our Lenten journey.
Adding Almsgiving to Our Lenten Routine
Almsgiving during Lent helps us let go of our own desires and focus on the needs of those who are less fortunate. Two of the central lessons of the cross are compassion and selflessness. By giving alms, we are sacrificing our temporal comfort for the good of another person. When we give alms our aim is to be more dependent on God to meet our needs (rather than providing for ourselves) while also tending to the needs of others.
In his 2020 Lenten Message, Pope Francis tells us “today too, there is a need to appeal to men and women of goodwill to share, by almsgiving, their goods with those most in need, as a means of personally participating in the building of a better world.”
Here are a few practical ways to incorporate almsgiving this Lent:
- Donate food to your local soup kitchen
- Tutor a schoolchild or mentor a college graduate (this can be done virtually!)
- Increase your donation to your local parish
- Do some grocery shopping or run an errand for an elderly neighbor
- Write a note of affirmation each day to someone special in your life
- Make a meal for an elderly neighbor or a new mother and leave it on their doorstep
- Show an act of kindness to someone who is difficult to like
- Support the work of the Church around the world by giving to organizations that serve at-risk and impoverished populations.
P.S. All of these can be done while safely practicing social distancing!
Helping Our Missionaries Around the World
The call to give alms means sharing in the mission of the cross and making the needs of other people our own. We can support this mission with our time, talents and treasure, and by doing so we are participating in the critical work of the Church. When the Church asks for your generosity, she does so in order for you to help her fulfill her mission in the world and to aid you in fulfilling your call to Christian charity.
Divine Word Missionaries work tirelessly to feed the hungry, care for the sick, foster education, shelter the homeless and provide spiritual guidance for vulnerable populations around the world. By making a financial gift, your generous almsgiving will ensure that our missionaries can continue to make Jesus known to every person in every nation. You can also support our work through prayer by joining our community in scriptural reflection every week and offering your time in prayer for the success of their mission. We are grateful for your prayers and support and have a blessed rest of Lent.