Lent—a time for almsgiving (Joan Chittister)
What kind of giving explains the difference between real giving and public posturing, between calling attention to yourself as “holy” and the almsgiving that Jesus spoke about when he said “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing?”
I learned something about almsgiving in third grade that may be begging to be rediscovered if we are to be a fully human society, a truly human family, a completely humane people.
In my grade school, we “ransomed pagan babies”—don’t laugh—and sent the money we would have spent on candy to provide support for babies routinely abandoned in overpopulated and underdeveloped China. Sister collected our nickels every week, banked them and sent money orders to missionary communities in China for the care of Chinese orphans.
What I remember from that practice is the experience of direct personal response. It gave me both a sense of responsibility for the rest of the world as well as a way to meet that responsibility—an awareness that I have begun to worry may well be declining with every “Today’s Top Stories” news program we broadcast. We are living in a morass of 30-second updates now while millions of people live on—shattered, poor, lost, angry and forgotten—after the updates are long gone.
It seems to me that it may be time for all of us to reinvent a universal process for ransoming pagan babies again. Otherwise, the world might collapse under a confetti of old ticker-tape headlines and a smothering accumulation of long-ignored “Stories of the Day.”
When real, holy giving goes on, life goes on. When giving goes on anyplace, immortality happens in that place. When giving goes on, we rise above our private, paltry little selves to the stature of the spiritual colossus that makes heaven a place you can touch on Monday and go to on Tuesday and be proud to have had a part in building every day for the rest of your life.
And how does that happen? Well, I’ll tell you in case you’ve forgotten. The fact is that giving happens because individuals, good people who have worked hard to make their own money know the grace, the strength, the healthy exercise of giving it away.
Almsgiving is a very God-like grace. The one who gives from the heart stands in the shadow of the Abraham who took in strangers who turned out to be messengers from God. The one who gives from the heart stands in the shadow of the Pharaoh who fed the chosen people in time of famine. The almsgiver stands in the shadow of the widow of Israel who gave her last drop of oil and flour—the two life-lines of the Middle East—to rescue the prophet Elijah. The almsgiver stands in the shadow of Mary Magdalene and the women of Jerusalem whom the scripture say—clearly and directly—were the ones who “supported Jesus out of their own substance.”