I recently listened to organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s podcast about Givers and Takers where he breaks down three personalities and offers simple strategies to promote a culture of generosity in the workplace. It was validating to know that the givers win out in affecting positive culture and increased results. Go figure!
Being a giver is good for others and good for us. As we wrap up another Valentine’s Day, a day which has its roots in Catholicism and the profound concept of love, I want to focus on the third leg of the Lenten stool of good works: almsgiving or service to others.
Because we are created to love and be loved, we yearn to love and be loved. This innate yearning is fulfilled and strengthened by the practices and traditions of our faith of loving one another which is service at its core.
When we are in service of others, we willingly enter the loop of grace, giving away the gifts we have received. A gift must be given for the original gift to be multiplied and enhanced. This is God’s grace.
Most of us feel the weight of the symptoms of lack of love in our world today. When we lift the veil, the problem is really lack of self-possession. Self-possession is doing what is good, true, noble, and right. Our ability to love is directly linked to the level of self-possession we have.
How can I love my neighbor if all I am concerned about is myself and my needs before the needs of others?
To give of ourselves, we must first possess ourselves. Broken relationships, divorce, and dysfunction, which surround us, fuel our lack of self-possession. But there is a blueprint for us to rebuild self-possession in the spiritual disciplines that make up the landscape of Catholic spirituality. These disciplines are designed so we can love God and neighbor and be loved the way we were created to be loved. The perfect Valentines gift to our world!
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. Our interior penance can be expressed in many and various ways, but scripture insists on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others.
This conversion of heart is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice, by the admission of faults, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, and endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. All these expressions allow us to take up our own cross each day and follow Jesus. Voluntary self-denial such as fasting and especially almsgiving allow us to be reverent, and experience brotherly love to both the living and the dead.
One thing I have been learning about recently is that the Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead. I am understanding the importance of commemoration and helping those who have died by offer prayers for them.
God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them. The Church’s love for the poor is a part of her constant tradition. Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working to be able to give to those in need. It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty. When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice. Our world is in such need of true justice!
For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.Focus on His truth, Matthew 25:35
The works of mercy are charitable actions where we come to the aid of our neighbor in spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.
I will never forget my conversion of heart after I gave blessing bags every day of lent to a different person in need on the street. Many times, I was blessed to see the face of Jesus as I looked into that person’s eyes. For a COVID safe idea, check out the CRS Rice Bowl where you can help feed the world.
How will you experience a conversion of heart and serve others this Lent?
As St. Francis of Assisi says, “Let us give alms because they cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”
Out of personal devotion, we may promise almsgiving as a sign of respect to the divine majesty, love for a faithful God and to be Smitten with Goodness. Giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses as to how we love our neighbor, and it is also a work of justice pleasing to God bringing His love into the world.
In His Service,