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Alms-giving


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

During this month of November we remember and pray for the souls of our brothers and sisters in Purgatory: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon them. May they rest in Peace. Amen. May all the souls of the faithful departed rest in Peace! Amen. This Sunday, I share with you a reflection on as an act of Love for God. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:

“The Value of Almsgiving - to give with whole-hearted generosity: The readings for this Sunday’s Holy Mass sing the praises of two holy women. In the First Reading the Lord sends Elijah to Zarephath in Sidon to be cared for by a widow. (1 Kings 17:10-16) Even though the region was suffering from a great famine, the widow gave food to the Prophet. She trusted in the promise of Elijah: The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth. This is, in fact, what happened. Jesus would later recall this episode in His preaching. (cf. Luke 4:25 ff.)

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus seated in the Temple watching the people put money into the treasury. (Mark 12:41-44) Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. From a purely human point of view the widow’s gift was of minute importance. Yet as far as Jesus was concerned this gift had an enormous significance. As the poor widow was leaving the Temple, Jesus pointed her out to His disciples: Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living. The Lord praises acts of generosity for the sake of Divine cult as well as all gifts made with a pure heart. Jesus values the disposition of the giver more than the gift received. He looks not only on the amount given, but into the very heart of the donor. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 1)

Almsgiving is a work of mercy that is most pleasing to the Lord. Jesus will reward our generosity far more than we can imagine. The holy Cur’e d’Ars would often say: A house of charity will never be poor. The habitual practice of giving alms summarizes a good many of the virtues and draws down Divine favor. Holy Scripture frequently encourages this expression of generosity as in the Book of Tobias: Do not turn your face away from any poor man, and the Face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For Charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness; for all who practice it, Charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High. (Tob. 4:7-11) Should anyone ignore this teaching they will most certainly experience the fate of that selfish rich man who was sent to Hell for his cold indifference to Lazarus. (cf. Luke 16:19 ff.)

As the poor widow returned to her home she must have been filled with a great joy. What a surprise must have lain in store for her at the end of her life! She would finally see the look of Love which Jesus had cast upon her that ordinary morning in the Temple. God watches all of our actions with interest and affection.

Almsgiving manifests our love and generosity towards the Lord: Authentic almsgiving springs from a merciful heart. We feel moved to provide some relief for those in need, to contribute to the upkeep and expansion of the Church, to support whatever good works bene-fit the common good. By giving alms we can become detached from the things of this world. Almsgiving can dispose the heart to be more attentive to the Will of God. True detachment leads us to be very generous with God and with our fellow men. It makes us actively resourceful and ready to spend ourselves in helping the needy. A Christian cannot be content with a job that only allows him to earn enough for himself and his family. He will be big-hearted enough to give others a helping hand both out of Charity and as a matter of Justice. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 126)

The first Christians showed their fraternal Love in an exemplary way. They assumed responsibility for the material needs of all the members of the community of believers. This explains why there are so many references to

generosity in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul.

The Apostle gave the Christians at Corinth specific guidelines to follow: On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper… (1 Cor. 16:2) It was not a matter of simply giving what was left over, what was extra. The idea was to give even in spite of grave economic difficulties.

This was the situation of the churches in Macedonia. St. Paul lauds the heroic spirit of generosity of these believers: for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. (2 Cor. 8:2-4) These Christians not only gave donations to the Church in Jerusalem, but also gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the W ill of God. (2 Cor. 2:5) Perhaps St. Paul is here referring to their contribution to the work of evangelization. St. Thomas has commented on this passage: This indeed should be the order of Charity: first of all, man must be acceptable to God. If a person is not living so as to please God, then his gifts will not be acceptable to the Lord. (St. Thomas, Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 2, 5) Almsgiving, in whatever form it may take, is an expression of our love and generosity to the Lord. Our charity does not consist principally in the value of our gifts but, rather, in the Love for God we bear in our soul. Our humble offering may be insignificant in itself, like the oil of the widow of Zarephath or the coins of the poor widow in the Temple. Yet our offering becomes pleasing in the eyes of God thanks to our union with Jesus. (John Paul II, Homily in Barcelona, 7 November 1982)

God rewards our generosity beyond all telling: Almsgiving attracts the blessing of God and produces abundant fruits. It can heal the wounds of sin. (cf. Catechism of the Council of Trent, IV, 14, 23) Almsgiving is the shield of Hope, the teacher of Faith, the medicine for sin. It lies within the reach of every person who wants to practice it. Charity has its own grandeur, while at the same time being easy to accomplish. It brings no risk of persecution. It is the crown of Peace and Truth, the greatest gift from God. It is necessary for the weak and glorious for the strong. Through almsgiving the Christian attains Grace, wins pardon from Christ our judge and makes God in some way a debtor. (St. Cyprian, On Good Works and Almsgiving, 27)

We have to give alms with rectitude of intention. Our heart must be directed to God much as in the case of the poor widow in the Temple.

We ought to be generous, especially with those things which are most dear to us. It may just happen that someone has a greater need for them than we do. Don’t be mean and grudging with people who, without counting the cost, have given of their all, everything they have, for your sake. Just ask yourselves, how much does it cost you - in financial terms as well - to be Christians? (J. Escriva, loc. cit.) Our gifts have to spring from a compassionate heart, one that is filled with love for God and other people. Over and above the material value of our gifts we need to keep in mind the importance of our interior disposition.

The spirit of true Charity is intimately interconnected with a joyful heart. Today’s Liturgy of the Hours includes that homage of St. Paul to the power of God: we are treated as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (Liturgy of the Hours, Antiphon of Lauds, 2 Cor. 6:10) Later in that same Epistle, St. Paul makes sure to remind us: For God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7) God will reward our generosity beyond all telling. Whatever we have given away in time, energy, resources…, the Lord will return to us a hundredfold. The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

(2 Cor. 9:6) This was how God multiplied the food which the widow of Zarephath put at the disposition of Elijah. In like manner Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes. (cf. John 6:9) Thus says the Lord:… You gave Me a little, I returned to you a great deal. You gave Me temporal goods and I responded with celestial goods. You gave Me things that will perish, I gave you what is eternal… (St. Augustine, Sermon 38, 8) St. Teresa has affirmed: For I know now, by experience in many things, that if from the first I resolutely persevere in my purpose, even in this life His Majesty rewards it in a way which he only understands who has tried it. (St. Teresa, Life, 4, 3) Let us ask Our Lady to give us a generous heart. We have to give things, but we also have to give ourselves. Let us not be miserly with our time, our wealth, our energy. There are so many needy people beholds our compassion in much the same way that He observed the poor widow in the Temple. He has a look of love for both of us.” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez)

Through the intercession of Mary, the Queen of Heaven, St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. Paul, and all the Holy Angels, may God grant us generous hearts in love with God!

In Christ through Mary,

Fr. Kasel