Lent: almsgiving and the gift of life
Rome (AsiaNews) – A few days from the start of Lent, Benedict XVI has released “Christ made Himself poor for you” (2 Cor, 8: 9), a message in which he focuses on the topic of almsgiving. In a globalised world where capital and wealth move at the tip of a finger touching a computer keyboard, where no day goes by without someone doing some fundraising on behalf of one cause or another, does almsgiving still have any meaning? For the Pope this ancient practice common to Jews and Christians is like an “exercise in self-denial” in which we “’train ourselves’ spiritually.” But train for what?
First and foremost it is an exercise against worshipping wealth, something which should be seen as a means for friendship. Unfortunately, from today’s materialistic worldview human dignity finds fulfillment in possessions. I have, therefore I am. Pity, how sadness, desperation and emptiness are the lot of those who think that way. Conversely, almsgiving ought to remind us that all we have we receive from God and manage it the good of the world and the earth.
“As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us,” says the Pontiff, “material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. n. 2404).” Only when wealth is used to help one another can it generate joy for both those who give and those who receive.
Economic globalisation may have helped many peoples move away from the fear of hunger but this process also needs almsgiving, with the rich countries giving to the poor countries to enable them to become full partners in the international community.
Too often however becoming such a partner simply means using people as mere labour, disregarding their needs and those of their families and villages, not taking into account their education and health concerns and that of their children.
Lest we forget, groups like al-Qaeda are growing in the Middle East and South-East Asia by filling the gap left by rich countries, too often unconcerned by the abject poverty that dwells among the people living near their branch plants in the Third World.
For the Holy Father charity is also best done in silence and with discretion. In a world dominated by the images, success stories and advertising strategies of so many telethons, giving money rather sharing with those in need ends up being the real thing.
On a related issue the Pope looks at how donations are used. With so many agencies involved in aid to development spending as much as 50 per cent of the funds raised on “administrative costs,” it is not surprising that many donors prefer to give their money to missionary groups who silently (and usually with continuity) help slum dwellers, lepers and poor, landless peasants.
For the Pope “[h]ow could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbour in difficulty?” People like Fr Giancarlo Bossi, a PIME missionary who was abducted in Mindanao last year; a shy man for whom public speaking does not easily, but man who still spoke to the youth who attended the Agora in Loreto on 1 September of last year.
“I don’t like taking centre stage,” Father Giancarlo said on that occasion, “but I figured it out. It is because among us there are many people who in silence take care of their brother, parents, a disabled person . . . . I am here on their behalf, in name of those who work in silence.”
Finally in Benedict XVI’s message we can see that almsgiving is way for us to understand that it is not important to give “things,” because what matters is giving ourselves. Illustrating this point the Pontiff turns to the Gospel story about the widow who gave little coin to the Temple treasury, and yet that was “all she had to live on” (Mk, 12: 44). In doing so and unbeknownst to herself, she imitated Jesus who soon thereafter gave his life for all mankind.
“In His [Jesus’] school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves.”
This is what we missionaries do, and it is what we would like many youths to do, so that they could be happy. Happy Lent.