Almsgiving During Lent: Growing in Generosity
Pay attention to a particular cause or act of charity that can aid your virtue this season and always.
Going to daily Mass? Check.
Giving up coffee? Check.
Practicing acts of charity?
“Many of us are quick to make faithful resolutions regarding fasting and prayer,” says the Divine Word Missionaries website. “But almsgiving, the most outwardly focused pillar, tends to be the most overlooked.”
In discerning how to serve others, Father Matthew Wertin, vicar of the New Evangelization for the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, recommends asking God directly.
“Jesus, what would you like almsgiving for me to look like this year?” Father Wertin said.
“Alms is really about detachment and creating space for God to transform us with his love.”
Father Wertin also recommended paying attention to a particular cause or act of charity that persistently pops up because it may provide the key to an opportunity for generosity.
For Joe and Becky Hensler of Cincinnati, a parish capital campaign captured their family’s imagination many years ago.
“My kids said, ‘We want our church to be beautiful, too,’” Becky recalled, but she wondered how her young children could participate when they didn’t have any money.
As Lent drew near, the Henslers noticed an opportunity to enhance an existing family tradition that tracked each family member’s Lenten sacrifices on a chart.
In addition to giving the kids a sticker for each sacrifice or good work, Becky also gave each child two buckets: one for him or her and one for charity. If the child completed one Lenten practice for the day, their “charity bucket” would garner one nickel, and completing the second practice earned a nickel for themselves. The family chose nickels instead of dimes or quarters, she said, because they’re heavier and make a louder sound when dropped in the buckets.
“The sound of metal hitting the buckets brings people running,” Becky quipped.
“We’re not breaking the bank here, but we want to make it tactile for the kids.”
At the end of Lent, the Henslers allow their five children, now ages 9 to 19, to pick where to donate the money. Becky said her kids have chosen their local parish, food banks and animal shelters over the years. One child gave to godparents raising funds for a family mission trip. Another child wanted to help a substitute teacher whose house burned down right before Christmas. In case the concept of adding money every day seems overwhelming to parents, Becky clarified that the child could add a sticker daily and then receive nickels at the end of each week.
Brock and Elise Athman in Bozeman, Montana, take a different approach with their four children ages 10 and under.
At the beginning of Lent, Elise adds toothpicks to a simple grapevine wreath. Each time a child performs a “good deed” within the home, he or she writes it on a slip of paper and removes a “thorn” from Jesus’ crown. On Easter, the family celebrates by reading the acts of charity aloud.
In her home, Elise said “good deeds” range from reading to a sibling, carrying in groceries and sharing a toy to cleaning off the kitchen table. She said her children are learning that kindness shown to others is kindness to Jesus himself.
“The good deeds help Jesus feel better,” Elise recalled her children saying recently.
As the former campus minister at Pius X High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, Lori Morin developed yet another way to integrate prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In 2002, she and a co-worker created the “Lenten Sense Marathon.” Morin explained that participants create slips of paper with two sacrifices for each of the five senses, plus one “bonus.” While common sacrifices often fall under the fasting category, acts of almsgiving work well, too, she said. The “marathon” instructions include ideas like visiting a nursing home or devoting undivided attention to a friend or family member.
Beginning on Mardi Gras and every four days thereafter, participants randomly choose one sacrifice to add. The number of sacrifices gradually builds, such that, during Holy Week, all 11 sacrifices are in play at once. Morin said, “At the end of Holy Week, you do feel like you’re really close to Jesus.”
This intimacy with Jesus is key, said Father Wertin. “It should be about the mighty works of God.”
Father Wertin encouraged the faithful to embrace the grace available during the Lenten season “to arrive at Easter with a testimony,” adding, “Here’s how alms looked in my life before Lent, and here’s how it looks now at Easter. Here is what Jesus did to get me from A to B.”
The Poco a Poco Podcast, Episode 63: “Learning to Love Like Jesus,” FranciscanFriars.com/pocoapoco; also visit Divine Word Missionaries’ website, “What Is Almsgiving?” | Mission Impact (SVDMissions.org)