We got to the second week of Lent and I could dutifully tick off my Lenten observances this year – extra prayer, tick, spiritual reading, tick, abstinence and fasting, tick. At least I tried to do these things, and managed in little ways to meet them.
But I hadn’t got around to almsgiving beyond a paltry few dollars in the Project Compassion box, which was a real shame not least because almsgiving is the really fun part of Lent.
We think of Lent as a time of self-denial, and largely stop at giving up a favourite treat and maybe going to an extra Mass or two.
But Lent should be a lovely, happy time of year for Catholics, in large part because of the Church’s requirement that we give alms to the needy.
Firstly, almsgiving makes me happy.
When I look around and see that I’ve got too much of this, or I don’t really need that, and I pop things into bags for the nearest Vinnies store, well, I don’t know about you, but I get a huge kick out of that, especially if the goods are new or almost new.
I love to think that those items will go to people who will enjoy them and give them a proper home. Also, I feel lighter and freer with less stuff around the house. Cleaning becomes quicker and easier as well.
And by acknowledging that others are experiencing difficult times and making an effort to try to ease their burden, by donating a substantial amount to Caritas’ Project Compassion for example, well, it distracts us from our own problems for a while or puts them into better perspective.
Giving alms necessarily draws us out of our own headspace and reminds us that we are part of a community, a Church, the Body of Christ – something I know I very much need from time to time.
Secondly, almsgiving makes the receivers happy.
We’ve gratefully received alms ourselves – particularly in our recent season of late pregnancy and life with a newborn baby and four young children. How happy it made us to be on the receiving end of a freezer full of dinners and cakes and offers of lifts and play dates for the kids.
It made a huge difference to us. It made that time more fun for the kids, and helped Peter and me to be calmer, happier parents as we adjusted to having a new little person in the family.
The old adage, “It’s far better to give than to receive” is true, but Lent should be a joyful time during which, because we are all making an effort to give more, we should all be happily giving and receiving at the same time.
It should draw us closer to Christ, who both gave everything he had and also graciously received the offerings of other people.
Advent is a sweet time with its end-of-year get-togethers and early Christmas gift-giving. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we ‘did’ Lent in a similar spirit of joy?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people realised it must be close to Easter, not only because of the chocolate bunnies appearing in the shops, but because the Catholics were all out being much more generous and selfless and happier than usual?