What is Almsgiving?

A central part of the Christian faith is the practice of almsgiving. But what is "almsgiving?" Here is how the USCCB describes it:

The foundational call of Christians to charity is a frequent theme of the Gospels. During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on "almsgiving," which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity. As one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, almsgiving is "a witness to fraternal charity" and "a work of justice pleasing to God." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2462).
The Catechism goes on to give three examples from the New Testament (CCC 2447):

"He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise." (Luke 3:11)
"But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you." (Luke 11:41)
"If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?" (James 2:15-16, cf. 1 Jn 3:17)
To be Christian means that we have compassion towards others, especially the most vulnerable. This includes the poor, elderly, sick, and the unborn. Almsgiving is an act where we imitate the love God has for these people by providing for their most basic and fundamental needs.

Often we express our concern for the poor by supporting an annual collection for the missions in Africa or South America. While that is good and noble, we should not neglect the poor and vulnerable that we see every day.

It is a beautiful action to support these collections and we should do everything we can to use our wealth to their advantage. At the same time, too often we will give a generous donation from the excess of our wealth and have great compassion for the people in Africa who live without clean water, but fail to support the work of the local soup kitchen.

While the annual missionary appeal is a great thing and should be supported, we hardly ever hear about the plight of our neighbors who are suffering or about all the men and women in our local community who are unemployed and do not have enough money to feed their family. 

There is a certain "reality" that is brought to the forefront when we help someone locally and actually see how our money or gift is being put to use. It also humbles us to see those who are less fortunate and pricks our conscience. We are reminded that God has given us many gifts, but that we should not keep them all for ourselves.

So while almsgiving certainly involves giving money away to foreign mission, it also includes helping those we see and meet in our community. We can not be charitable to one group, while neglecting the other.

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