Tuesday, August 7, 2007


1. The view has been expressed that almsgiving is useless and degrading. It is useless, it has been said, because the implementation of social justice should be sufficient to provide for theneeds of everybody; and it is degrading, it has been held, because it places the poor man in a position of inferiority to the rich man, and makes him beg for that which is really his right.

This is a false line of reasoning. Social justice can and should do a great deal to achieve a more equal distribution of wealth among men. But social justice cannot do everything.

Until the end of the world the weak will always succumb in the battle of life before the energy and enterprise of the strong. There will always be unfortunates who by reason of some tragic accident are unable to fend for themselves. No matter what form it takes, the State will not be able to provide fully for the disabled and infirm.

There will always be plenty of scope for Christian charity, which does not proceed with the measured stride of justice but with the swift wings of the love of God. It seeks out sorrows which need to be assuaged and wants which need to be relieved. There will always be suffering and want upon earth. The poor you have always with you, (Mt. 26:11) Jesus has told us.

It cannot be said that almsgiving is degrading because it makes the receiver inferior to the giver. This may be so if alms are given from motives of mere philanthropy. But when almsgiving is accompanied by charity and understanding and the donor sees in the poor man the person of Jesus Christ, there is no difference of status between the two individuals. They are brothers who wish to love and help one another, since both are members of the mystical Body of Christ. In this case it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Christian almsgiving is the fulfilment of an obligation and is a source of merit for the giver. As for the receiver, not only are his wants relieved, but he is the means by which his wealthier brother can acquire merit and fulfil his obligations.

2. Even if it is not very great, wealth is a dangerous thing. It is a burden which hampers us spiritually unless it is enriched by charity. Of itself, wealth is opposed to the spirit of the Gospel.In the Church of God, therefore, the only fitting role which rich men can assume is to place their abundance at the service of charity and become the servants of the poor.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that wealth can be an instrument of virtue and that it is only in this sense that it can be called good. If it impedes the practice of virtue, then it is evil. (Contra Gentes, 111:134) Let us make good use of our assets, therefore, and give generously to those who are in need without allowing our motives to become tainted with self-interest.

Sell what you have and give alms, said Christ. Make for yourselves purses that do not grow old, a treasure unfailing in heaven where neither thief draws near nor moth destroys. (Luke 12:33) It is the possession of this kind of treasure that will comfort us at the hour of death.

3. We must be detached from the goods of this world because they are corruptible and cause us to forget God. Even if we have been placed in easy circumstances, let us be poor in spirit. We can be poor in spirit by giving alms from motives of Christian charity. We need the mercy of God, and Our Lord has told us that He will be merciful only to those who show mercy to others.

We need God's forgiveness for all our sins, and the Holy Spirit assures us that our iniquities are redeemed by almsgiving. Redeem thou thy sins with alms and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor. (Dan. 4:24) Almsgiving is a means to our personal sanctification.