Weeks back, I started doing this mini-series on Lent and the three pillars of Lenten practices. Leading up to today, I’ve written about fasting and prayer, which leaves us today with alms giving. Alms giving is how I wanted to conclude our look at these penitential practices for a couple of reasons. First, because it is a fitting and logical end of the other two, and secondly, because it sometimes feels the least penitential.
To start, what do I mean by the idea that giving alms is a fitting and logical end of fasting and prayer? Honestly, I mean that if we are doing the first two right, then giving alms is an almost automatic result. What was, after all, one of the main spiritual benefits of fasting? It helps us to detach from our material, worldly possessions, instead clinging to God as the only thing we truly need. When we admit that God is necessary and everything else in our life is simply a bonus, we can recognize the generosity of God who gives us everything else we have out of love. This should inspire in us a deep and true sense of gratitude. Out of this gratefulness, we then turn to God more and more in prayer. Prayer is our conversation with God, allowing us to grow closer to Him, and helping us to understand more and more what He would have us do. As we grow closer to God, we desire to serve Him more and more, but realize all the more that He needs nothing from us. Filled with our gratitude for His many gifts, and desiring to do His will more and more, we then turn to extend God’s generosity to those around us. One of the chief ways we do this, then, is by giving generously from the gifts we have been given by God. I know this is a long paragraph, but I hope it makes clear the connection between fasting and prayer, as well as how those two should automatically lead to our own alms giving.
It also, I think, points to why I say alms giving can sometimes feel the least penitential of the three. When we are doing it properly, at least, there is a great joy to be found in the giving. I don’t mean, here, the self-serving joy of feeling superior or anything of the sort. I mean simply that we know we are doing, at that precise moment, exactly what it is that God wants of us. There is often a very good and righteous feeling sense of pride and accomplishment in knowing that we can participate in some small way in the great works of God. This is not, though, in any way opposed to the penitential spirit. In fact, it highlights why we are called to penance in the first place. Lent is not a season of sorrow because it is not a season in isolation. Just as the Good Friday is good because it leads to Easter Sunday, so Lent’s penance is good because it brings us to Easter’s joy.
As we all continue to struggle in many and varied ways during these uncertain times, I hope we all remember that the darkness of the night will end with the coming dawn. May your time of penance conclude with the joy of God!