Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More About Almsgiving

1. The description of the Last judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel would shock many people if they were to read it. The principles in accordance with which Christ will pronounce sentence are inescapably clear. Did you feed and clothe the poor for My sake, He will ask, because you recognised Me in them? If you have done so, you will certainly be saved. If you have neglected to do so, you will be condemned for all eternity. Christ does not ask about anything else, because everything else is subordinate to the precept of charity. Where there is charity, everything else follows. Where charity is lacking there is nothing else, because Christianity is synonymous with charity. Charity, says St. Paul, is the bond of perfection. (Col. 3:14)

If I should speak with the tongues of men and of angels, St. Paul says elsewhere, but do not have charity, I have become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal . . . and if I have, all faith so as to move mountains yet do not have charity, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my goods to feed the poor . . . yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing. (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3)

So our eternal salvation depends on our charity. But it must be charity in action, not merely in words. He who has the goods of this world, says St. John, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1st Epistle of St. John, 3:17) Charity must be expressed in almsgiving and good works, for otherwise it would be a matter of idle talk which would be powerless to save us.

Our almsgiving should not be dictated simply by natural feelings of compassion, however, nor by mere philanthropy. It should be pre-eminently a religious act, springing from supernatural motives. Because we see the person of Christ in the poor man, we should love and help him as we should our Divine Redeemer, of Whose Mystical Body he is a suffering member. This is real Christian charity.

A proud man may also be liberal in giving away money in order to draw attention to himself. But this is not Christian almsgiving, which is never the product of self-love but of the love of God. Let us be more generous in giving, therefore, but let us always give from the supernatural motive of Christian charity.

2. We should often read and contemplate passages in praise of charity and almsgiving which are contained in the Sacred Scriptures. Give that which remains as alms, and behold, all things are clean to you. (Luke 11:41) Alms delivereth from death; and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting. (Tob. 12:9) Redeem thou thy sins with alms and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor. (Dan. 4:24) My son, rob not the poor man of his livelihood: force not the eyes of the needy to turn away. (Ecclus. 4:1) Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins. (Ecclus. 3:29) Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful ... Give, and it shall be given to you ... For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you. (Luke 6:36-38) For judgment is without mercy to him who has not shown mercy ... And if a brother or a sister be naked and in want of daily food, and one of you say to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," yet you do not give them what is necessary for the body, what does it profit? So faith too, unless it has works, is dead in itself. (James 2:13-17)

3. Let us give away as much as we can in charity, therefore. It does not matter whether we can afford to give a large sum or a very small amount; the important thing is to give. God knows our inmost thoughts; He can judge how detached we are from worldly goods, and if He sees that we are prepared to share them willingly with the unfortunate poor for His sake, He will reward us one day. But if we are avaricious and indifferent to the sufferings of others, He will condemn us to everlasting punishment.

There is one act of charity which we can all perform, even if we are poor. We can pray for those who never pray, for hardened sinners, for heretics, for those who persecute the Church, for the Missions, for the sick and dying, and for the souls in Purgatory. This is a spiritual almsgiving of which we are all capable. Besides prayer, there are all the other spiritual works of mercy from which to choose.