Faith & Life


By Cathi Douglas     3/12/2020

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.” – U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 


As one of the three pillars of Lent, almsgiving – like prayer and fasting – should be part of our lives as Catholics and not merely an annual sacrifice.  

In his 2012 essay, “Introduction to Lent: Almsgiving,” author Mike Aquilina reminds us that Jesus declared almsgiving a necessary part of Christian life: “When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men,” notes Matthew 6:2-3. “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” 

Like fasting and prayer, almsgiving is a non-negotiable part of Lent. Planning ahead makes donating money part of our annual Lenten sacrifice. Christians traditionally use the Old Testament practice of tithing or giving one-tenth of their income to God – whether that means donating to our church, diocese, or to other Catholic organizations, such as St. Vincent de Paul.  

Many parishes offer additional opportunities for giving during Lent, through outright donations or opportunities to join together for simple meals or providing service to others. 

Indeed almsgiving, notes the website, can take many forms. The site offers suggestions to embark on your Lenten mission of giving.  

Setting up a piggy bank reminds us that Lent is a season of sacrifice and service; giving up a weekly lunch out or a trip to Starbucks can add up. Seeking out a service project individually or with a group of friends can benefit local charities, such as homeless outreach or Habitat for Humanity. 

Charity begins at home, where we teach our children to give time, attention, and resources to others. But charity must not stop there, Aquilina writes, “because for Catholics ‘home’ is universal and our family is as big as the world.” Thus, we must dig deep and give generously, recognizing the dire needs of the individuals and families in our community. 

“It is a scandal, after all, for Christians to have closets overstuffed with clothing when there are families who are shivering because they can’t pay their heating bill,” he notes. “It is a scandal for Christians to be epidemically overweight when they have near neighbors who go to bed hungry.” 

We Americans enjoy creature comforts like central heat and air conditioning, electricity, medical care and more – but we often take these commodities for granted. Almsgiving may mean occasionally sacrificing one of these everyday luxuries to experience what our less-fortunate neighbors endure every day. 

We must give with the image of Jesus in our minds, Aquilina reminds us. As He gives Himself entirely to us in the Eucharist – body, soul, and divinity – we must give, too, everything that we have. 

“Whenever possible,” he writes, “our charity should also involve personal acts, not just automatic withdrawals from our bank account. Pope John Paul asked us to see, and be seen by, ‘the human face of poverty.’”