Lent has always been tied to the three practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It has always been that order – praying – fasting – almsgiving. As we were traditionally taught, the forty days of Lent is a preparation to draw our whole selves closer to God. What most of us do during this period of Lent has always been giving up food and drink that we like, or giving up the bad practices which engulf us. For some, it is allocating more minutes for prayer or frequent visit to the chapel. For some, it means giving money to the poor or donate to the church.
While I was still joyfully celebrating the Chinese New Year, a notification popped up on my phone screen. It was from Mark. He shared an article from Cardinal Nolan on collective almsgiving (read article). I took time to ponder on the words written by the Cardinal and we had a little chat on the topic.
Almsgiving – the Bible’s way of describing giving money to the Church to serve those in need.
We are supposed to fast and abstain on Friday and technically the money we save is supposed to be given as alms. This resonates with what the Cardinal mentioned – giving from one’s need to the point of sacrifice. Back in those days when I was a kid, our Sunday school teacher gives us a paper box every Lent. We fill up the box with the little pennies we have and return them on Easter Sunday. But when I moved to West Malaysia, the practice of almsgiving quietly drops off the radar and becomes less important in my life.
Over here in Klang Valley, there are just so many non-profit organisations and non-governmental organisations which we can pledge to help. Sponsor a child through UNICEF! Sponsor an Uganda child through Watoto! Donate to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul! With so many ‘distractions’ around we gradually forget about donating to the Church.
Apart from donating to the church and giving money individually to certain organisation, Mark mooted the idea of collecting alms, set up a fund among close friends and give directly to the people who need money (usually they need it quite urgently), for example, patients who cannot afford to pay for the ward or single mother who cannot afford to buy stuffs like milk and pampers, etc.
This is a creative new way to give more to the poor or to the Lord’s work. Giving generously is not because the Church needs the money or the poor need the money. Giving generously of our money is to break the hold money has for us.
This Lent, drink one less cup of coffee a week and use the money you save to help someone else…
Or instead of playing games at the arcade, use the money you save to help someone else…
Remembering the instructions of St. Benedict to his monks “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome”, it is also a call for us to approach Lent with zeal and to balance fasting, almsgiving and prayer in keeping a good Lent.