A traditional way to approach the Lenten practice of almsgiving is to give from the excess that you create by fasting.
For example, according to Catholic Relief Services, you save approximately $3 per person, per meal, when you abstain from serving meat. By that estimate, eating meat-free on every Friday during Lent could save a single person more than $60 and a family of four more than $250 (and that’s not including the additional fasting on Ash Wednesday).
By choosing to abstain from eating meat on more days than the obligatory Fridays, one could save an even more significant amount of funds throughout Lent to then give to the organization or organizations of his or her choosing.
This approach of giving from the excess of what you give up connects the Lenten pillars (consider praying about it, too) to reinforce the interconnected dynamic of how we all exist, survive and flourish as the body of Christ and creation of God.
It’s also a convenient way to be able to financially give a little more than usual without drastically affecting your budget.
But what if you are unable to fast for health or safety reasons or what if you already live a frugal lifestyle without funds to spare? Does this mean that you are unable to participate fully in the three Lenten pillars — fasting, praying and almsgiving — because you are unable to donate money somewhere this Lent? Of course not.
Almsgiving does not have to take the form of financial alms. There are many ways to be generous toward others that do not require excess in your bank account (or a bank account at all, for that matter).
It’s easy to focus on the financial aspect of almsgiving because the organizations that we care about, including the church, can always use additional funding to help live out their missions.
But the examples we have of the body of Christ and how each part contributes to the whole do not rely upon every member always making financial contributions. They rely on the many parts exercising their own individually unique gifts and talents for the benefit of the whole (see 1 Cor 12).
Scripture tells us of Martha and Mary being generous with their hospitality when Jesus visits their home (Lk 10:38-42). Peter, Thomas, Nathanael and the sons of Zebedee were generous with their talent of fishing when they shared their breakfast catch with Jesus and the others on the shore (Jn 21:10-13).
The women were generous with their time when they approached Jesus’ tomb with embalming materials after his crucifixion (Lk 23:55-24:1). Early followers of Christ were generous with their belongings, sharing with anyone who was in need (Acts 2:44-45).
And Paul was generous with his praise as he wrote to various early Christian communities and spoke of others who were living for Christ.
Like the companions of Jesus and other early followers of Christ, Christians today also find themselves in various contexts with different gifts to offer. If you’re strapped for cash this Lent, consider giving alms — or generously supporting others — with one of these alternative methods to monetary donations.
— Be generous with your time. Check in with your parish or other local nonprofits to see if there are any volunteer opportunities coming up in which you could participate. If there aren’t structured volunteer services, offer to clean, organize, do yardwork or anything else that they might need some extra help with during the spring.
— Be generous with your talents. What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? See if your parish or another organization that you would like to support could use any (free) help in those areas.
— Be generous with your belongings. In the consumerist culture of Western society today, it’s easier than ever to live among an overabundance of things. Clean out your closet, toy chest, bookshelf or wherever in your home seems a little cluttered and donate the items that you no longer need to a parish thrift store, homeless shelter, daycare or other nonprofit in need.
— Be generous with your hospitality. Invite friends, family or colleagues over for a home-cooked meal. Or prepare a meal and deliver it to the door of someone who could use the support right now, such as parents with young children, those who are sick, healing or otherwise mobility-limited, new neighbors or those preparing for a move, or anyone who happens to be in a particularly busy season of life right now.
— Be generous with your praise. Personal recommendations go a long way in the digital age. The sort of promotion that comes with likes, comments and shares on social media sites can be so effective that we have a name for people who do it regularly: influencers.
If you are unable to make monetary donations to the church or organizations that you would like to support this Lent, consider providing a boost online by liking or commenting on posts, sharing a website link or leaving a review.
Your influence just might help somebody else encounter the cause that you care about, and you’ll have helped the organization without costing them, or you, a penny.
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(Follow Clary on Twitter @scherp01.)