Almsgiving was always something that was deeply engrained in my from a young age from my mother. She always gave, not just during Lent, but whenever she saw a need. She is still that way, and I greatly admire that about her. I remember vividly one day, going to the grocery store with her, but when we arrived, she filled our cart to the brim with things that we rarely had at home. Tons of canned goods, large bags of dried beans and rice, canned meats, and whatever else had a long shelf life but would also give sustenance. She bought loves of bread, flour, sugar, butter, large cartons of eggs, milk and meat, all in abundance. This was so strange to me because we had access to those things from our family bakery, and here she was purchasing them as though we would never eat again. On our way home, my mom pulled the car near a well hidden ally near the only restaurant in town. She began unloading the bags, and I got out of the car and started helping. She walked to the end of the ally, knocked on the door, and it opened to reveal a small frail looking woman. I could hear the tv in the background, but when I peeked into the house it was dark. My mom had a brief and friendly conversation with the woman, as though they knew each other well. My mom went in to help the woman get the heavier bags to her kitchen, but I remained outside. We quietly left, after the woman thanked my mother profusely, got in the car, and went home.
My mother never explained who that family was, or why she decided to lavish them with kindness. I bet if I asked her about it now, she would not remember it. THAT is almsgiving. Giving when you can, and even if you feel you can’t, and not counting the cost or expecting anything in return.
Almsgiving can take so many forms, and I know that usually it can make us think of monitory gifts to our parishes, Religious Orders, or the community aide programs that surround us. And those are lovely ways to fulfill that call to give alms. However, I would like to challenge that idea a bit and say that we can think smaller in this regard, and find it just as wonderful and fulfilling.
Offering to cook a meal for a family that is struggling, giving a new mom 2 hours to sleep while you hold the baby or do a load of laundry for her, inviting a family from your parish or community over for prayer and pizza. These are small ways that we can GIVE generously, that don’t involve cutting a check or venmo.
A few years ago my husband heard of this concept of “Blessing Bags”, which are little bags with things like granola bars, socks, water bottles, chapstick, beef jerky, small toiletries, etc. that can be easily handed to a person in need. My husband decided to make tons of these bags and stocked our cars with them so that when we encountered someone who needed help we had something to give them. Phoenix has a lot of homeless people, and our weather is not for the faint of heart, so these bags were full of things that could be really helpful. Almsgiving.
Yes it cost a little money, but I loved it because we could physically help someone in a small way, and we could ENCOUNTER a person. My husband would always ask names and strike up little conversations with these people that society often doesn’t even want to acknowledge.
Offering to hold a wiggly child for parents at Mass if you see them struggling, spending time with a family member that needs it, or calling a friend and giving them your undivided attention are all great examples of small ways that we can participate in almsgiving. Have a family member, or someone you know who could use some of the clothes you never wear? Gift it to them! Old baby gear that you are not using anymore, or just didn’t work for your family? Give it to the local pregnancy center! Almsgiving can come in many different forms! I know that this particular aspect of Lent can be hard, it is for me! I am always worried about having “enough” for our little growing family, but if being married and having children has taught me anything is that God LAVISHES His abundance on us at all times, and He asks that we do the same for others. There is always enough and maybe at times, just barely, but still enough.
Prayerfully consider how you want to give alms this Lent. Share all your ideas! Do you have a story of someone in your life that has shown you what almsgiving looks like? SHARE WITH US! We love to hear stories of the goodness in others!