Most Catholics are intimately aware of the three pillars of Lenten practice — prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And in these unprecedented times that have become the new normal, that call to prayer, fasting and, yes, even almsgiving, remains.
Almsgiving is a “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2462). Put simply, it is donating money or goods and doing works of charity.
Unfortunately, due to the financial challenges so many have faced throughout the pandemic, almsgiving may seem out of reach.
But one thing to remember is that almsgiving is ultimately an “act of trust,” said Beth Knobbe, a community engagement manager at Catholic Relief Services. Knobbe is a former campus minister and has worked with the church for decades.
“We trust that God will provide what we need,” Knobbe said. “Our God is a God of abundance and generosity.”
This Lent may offer a time for all of us to place less emphasis on our stuff and possessions, and recognize that everything we own is God’s gift to us, she said. With this in mind, we may feel more freedom to give.
For many Catholics across the U.S., this will be the second Easter celebrated outside of a physical church. Even ash distribution this year is likely to be done in some remote way.
Our physical separation from the church, however, should not keep us from finding ways to give alms this Lent, said Michal Horace, of the St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana. Horace is the director of the young adult initiative at the school.
“We have to get over the paralysis,” Horace said. “We need to keep moving. Some things may be modified, but there’s still so many things we can do.”
Horace suggests shopping with or for the elderly as one way to serve during Lent in a pandemic.
Intentional fasting, like forgoing that night of carry-out from a restaurant and dinner all together, and giving that money to a charity is another way to be creative, he said.
If lack of funds is an obstacle, Catholics can consider giving time or talent to different nonprofit organizations. Unfortunately, it may just take a little more research and initiative to find what you can do to give alms this Lent, he said. Nonprofits have adjusted to the times, he said. There are many opportunities available to serve our communities safely.
“Yes, these are some unusual circumstances,” he said. “But the mission of the church hasn’t changed.”
Horace also recommends the book, “What to Do When Jesus is Hungry: A Practical Guide to the Works of Mercy.” The book offers practical ways we can apply Jesus’ teachings, like “clothe the naked,” in today’s world, he said.
Nonprofits like Catholic Relief Services are also adapting and going virtual. Knobbe said Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl information, packets and even a do-it-yourself bowl kit are available for download off the website. Guest speakers who often visit parishes in the U.S. to share the good work made possible by CRS Rice Bowl donations will be giving their talks online this year.
When it comes to the Rice Bowl, Knobbe said there are even ways you can be creative there too. One way is to challenge yourself to give 25 cents for every country in Africa you can name, or $1 for every work of mercy you know.
For those who may find themselves struggling with how to give alms during Lent, Knobbe said it is important to remember why we give alms in the first place: “to enter into solidarity with those who are really poor.”
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(Jones is a freelance writer.)