In the earliest days of the Church, almsgiving is found at the centre of community’s practices.
During these 40 days of Lent, culminating in Easter, Christians are highly recommended to dedicate their time to, “fasting, prayer and acts of charity (piety)”, though charitable acts tops the priority list.
The practice of charity in its various forms is one of the most fundamental demands of Christian living. Its roots are found predominantly in Jesus’ words describing the criteria at the last judgment. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers (sisters), that you do unto me,” says Jesus. For him, the “least” are people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, in prison and so on. He teaches people that the greatest form of worshiping and honouring him is by doing the maximum for those otherwise completely neglected by society.
In the earliest days of the Church, almsgiving is found at the centre of community’s practices. The Bible informs us, “There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.” Though almsgiving is woven into everyday Christian life, its practice has decreased in exact proportion to the increase in our selfishness.
The reason why almsgiving is considered beyond fasting and prayer is because one can do so only by making sacrifices (fasting not just from food) and integrating it into one’s practice of faith (prayer). According to Jesus, the amount offered in charity is immaterial. He rates a two pennies’ offering by a poor widow having much higher value in the eyes of God than that of a rich man whose offering had bigger monetary value.
Besides the reward during the last judgment, Jesus promises great return for those who give generously saying, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap…”
Having understood it well, Saint Teresa tried to put into practice in her life. Following Jesus’ words, she expressed her love for him by “serving the poorest of the poor”. In tending their wounds, she tended his wounds, in wiping their tears she wiped Jesus’ tears. I recently read on a Christian website that there could be a specific charitable act for each of the 40 days of Lent. Accompanying a lonely person, responding positively to those against us, walking with those who suffer from family problems, giving of our time to help the illiterate, visiting the elderly are only some of the many ways that one can fruitfully practice during Lent.
The extent of “giving” is exemplified by Jesus himself who did not spare his own life and let his last drop of blood be shed on the Cross.