Almsgiving: How Much is Enough?

The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And while many make a plan for increasing times of prayer and fasting during Lent, almsgiving doesn’t usually get the same attention. Why are we called to give alms during Lent, and how much is enough?

Monsignor James Patrick Shea, president of the University of Mary, stopped by Morning Air® to discuss the importance of almsgiving, and how it can help us grow in the Christian life. Msgr. Shea said:

“It’s a beautiful thing. And when you open the pages of the Gospel you realize that one of the things that can really corrupt our hearts and minds is when we become attached to the things of the material world. When we think we can form a life that is dependent on ourselves – upon our own industry, upon our own abilities, upon our own securities – then oftentimes people give an excuse to not live a meaningful life, because they don’t have enough.

We think, ‘I don’t have enough time, talent, security, resources. But when I have enough, I’ll live a meaningful life.’  But the fact of the matter is, that’s a response of scarcity, it’s not a response of gratitude.

When we really believe that the Gospel is true, then we know it’s not a question of scarcity, it’s a question truly of abundance. We’ve been given so much that there is no way we could ever navigate that tremendous gift of grace.

And so, as a result, one of the great spiritual practices is that we unite ourselves with Christ in the Gospel, and we do engage in care for the poor and in giving of our resources to those who are deeply in need of it. And that’s not just to help them, it’s to help us. It’s to free us from dependence upon ourselves, and to recognize that our security lies in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Our lives are meant to be apostolic. In other words, we’re not meant simply to have our faith as a private devotional activity that helps us in a private way. Our lives, our faith, our devotion, is meant to spill out over in such a way that it assists everyone around us as well.

And so, what we do is we scan the horizon and we see the needs in our local parish, the people in our local community who are in need of help, a great apostolate like Relevant Radio® that’s touching so many lives. Here are some things I can be a part of by my financial support that really do great work and sustain the apostolic activity that I’ve benefited from in being evangelized. It expends that to the rest of the world.

And in the meantime, it purifies me – my intentions, my heart. And it sets me free from the deception that I can really make it on my own. Because I can’t, I’m totally dependent. When we’re before the throne of God, we really are poor.

I like this dynamic of juxtaposing Mother Teresa’s ‘Give until it hurts’ and Fr. Rocky’s ‘Give until you smile.’  In other words, there is sort of a mingling there, in the Christian life, between joy and suffering. And it does come to the fore in a place like almsgiving, in which you can find so much contentment in letting go of those things that really drag your heart down – the accumulation of treasure.

What happens as a result of material attachment is that our life becomes trivialized. And we begin to believe the lie that our lives are something that is not important – that can be satisfied by just having the right comforts, by having the right level of security. It’s not true.

The Christian life is meant to be a high and mighty adventure, which has quite a bit of danger in it as well. But it’s important. So life is difficult, but it’s good. It’s very good. And we forget that when we’re seduced away from God by attachments to material things. That’s the importance of almsgiving in the season of Lent, that is sets us free from that.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

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