By Cathi Douglas     3/16/2015

Catholics are called during Lent to focus intently on almsgiving by donating money or goods to the poor and performing acts of charity. As one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, along with prayer and fasting, almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“Prayer and fasting are good,” notes the book of Tobias (12: 8-9), “but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness… It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life.”

Still, almsgiving may be the most often neglected of the three pillars. Because almsgiving is a form of prayer – giving to God – and not merely philanthropy, though, it offers the giver, the receiver and the community tangible and intangible benefits that are sometimes surprising and always unexpected.

“As Catholics, we know that ‘whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me,’” says Tita Smith, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Orange County. “In giving, we share the joy of knowing we are in solidarity in Christ by giving to each other.” Through such giving, Smith says, those who give are endowed with the feeling of belonging. “We understand that we are part of the goodness of life and a positive force for change in the world. Spiritual renewal, in fact, is an important part of Lenten almsgiving – reminding the giver that we are all made in God’s image and bringing us closer to him through our sacrifice.”

As for those who receive the gifts, she adds, “there is overwhelming gratitude on the part of the receiver that any stranger would care to help. A gift is always a life-changing event.”

Because it demands sacrifice, almsgiving is a form of fasting that is linked to our baptismal commitment, says Catholic Online. It is a sign of care for those in need and an expression of gratitude for all the love and gifts that God has given to us. Works of charity and promotion of justice are integral elements of the Christian way of life that we began when we were baptized.

In his message for Lent 2015, Pope Francis asks Catholics to reach out to those in need: “We can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations. Lent is a favorable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family.”

Church ministries offer several opportunities for Lenten almsgiving, with collections for: -The Church in Central and Eastern Europe -National Black and Indian Missions Catholic Relief Services -The Holy Land -CRS Rice Bowl. In addition, there are numerous ways to offer time, talent and treasure to needy individuals and organizations during Lent and throughout the year, including through Catholic Charities. You can reach Catholic Charities of Orange County at 1820 E. 16th St., Santa Ana 92701, by calling (714) 347-9600 or (714) 542-3020, or through its website at ccoc.org.