Almsgiving and Mercy

Today the Astonishing Community remembers Tabitha the Almsgiver. People are always quick to talk about how they give of their time and talents, but sometimes giving of our financial resources is necessary too.

Fausto Gomez OP describes the need to give alms as a pathway to mercy. How does this description make you feel?

Mercy Pathways

Fausto Gomez OP

The paths of mercy are many, in particular the works of mercy (cf. CCC 2447). In his Bull of Proclamation of the Jubilee of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, the Face of Mercy (no. 15) Pope Francis writes: “It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.”

The three classical exercises of penance are paths of mercy: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. “Prayer with fasting and alms with uprightness are better than riches with iniquity… Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin” (Tob 12:8-9; Dan 4:27; cf. Mt 6:2-4, 5-6, 16-18; cf. EG 193). Often, prayer is presented as directed to fasting and almsgiving – to virtuous living.

Fasting to be a good act must be accompanied by almsgiving. Fasting without almsgiving is not a saving act on the way to heaven. It is insufficient as John Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine tell us. St. Peter Chrysologus (406-450) writes: “He who does not fast for the poor fools God.” On the other hand, fasting with almsgiving is pleasing to God.

In the teaching of Sacred Scriptures, patristic and classical theology true almsgiving is a necessary expression of mercy. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis writes: “The wisdom literature sees almsgiving as a concrete exercise of mercy towards those in need” (EG 193). For those who believe in God, almsgiving is an obligation (Tob 1:7-11; Sir 7:10). Why? Because, all need to practice charity as love of neighbor, as merciful love, which is the highest expression of love of neighbor. All the Fathers of the Church recommend strongly and persistently sharing of goods, almsgiving. St Cyprian, the first Father to give us a theological treatise on almsgiving, entitled On Almsgiving, speaks of almsgiving as an obligation of all Christians. He says that almsgiving is an act of mercy, an act of justice, and a means of penance for our sins and for obtaining forgiveness for them. 

Almsgiving is an outward or external act of mercy. It is also an expression of justice in the sense that the poor are entitled to it. Almsgiving, however, is more than justice: it is merciful love, the love that gives value to almsgiving and everything in life (1 Cor 13:3). Without charity as merciful love of neighbor, almsgiving may be unjust, for in this case it does not make people involved equal; charity does (José María Cabodevilla).

Authentic almsgiving is what is called formal almsgiving. There is material almsgiving and formal almsgiving. Giving to others in need without love is merely material but not formal or authentic almsgiving: “Almsgiving can be materially without charity, but to give alms formally, that is for God’s sake, with delight and readiness, and altogether as one ought, is not possible without charity” as love of God and neighbor (St Thomas Aquinas).

Not giving alms when one can give (cf. Mt 25:41-43) is a source of condemnation. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren” (CCC 1033; cf. Mt 25:31-46).

In case of real need, corporal need is more important than spiritual need, which is generally more important: “a man in hunger is to be fed rather than instructed, and for a needy man money is better than philosophy, although the latter is better.” Love of neighbor, St. Thomas adds, implies beneficence and almsgiving, “for love of neighbor requires not only that we should be our neighbors’ well-wishers, but also his well-doers.”

The classical theory of charity and mercy may appears as more concerned with the individual person than with the social order or disorder.  Hence, almsgiving may be used as a cover up for injustice. Of course, true almsgiving as a pathway of mercy cannot be unjust for it necessarily presupposes justice. Today more than yesterday, we speak of almsgiving not only to a person but also to a needy poor people, an ethnic group, the poor, the refugees, and the excluded from the banquet of life. Corporate almsgiving – donations -, or the Church’ s Caritas are much needed, irreplaceable in our world; the rich nations  are obliged to share with the poor ones as taught by the social doctrine of the Church (cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, GS, 69; Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, PP, 23, 26, 43). In the midst of poverty and misery, excessive spending and squandering are sins (CCC, 2409). As Christians, we are called to practice a simple life style: “Let us live simply so that others may simply live” (Canadian Bishops).

Moreover, each one of us always needs to give something to the poor: to concrete individual poor person: “Sometime of real contact with the poor is necessary” (Pope Francis).

Merciful and compassionate love urges Christians and all humans to “loving the unlovely, the unlovable, the least, the lost, and the last.” Mercy is not only sharing with the materially poor, although this aspect is much underlined, but also with all others in need, especially those in urgent need.

The merciful Jesus hopes to be able to tell you and me after crossing the bridge that links this life and the afterlife: “Come…, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you… For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me … “Why, Lord?” Because “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:34-40).

St Elizabeth of Hungary

Gertrude – Saturday 9th December 2017

st__gertrude_the_great_icon_by_theophilia-d6ubymc

Gertrude was born on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1256. At the age of four, she entered the monastery school at the monastery of St. Mary at Helfta, where she was confided to the care of St. Mechtilde, and joined the monastic community in 1266. 

At the age of twenty-five, she experienced the first of a series of visions that continued throughout her life, and which changed the course of her life. Her priorities shifted away from secular knowledge and toward the study of Scripture and theology. Gertrude devoted herself strongly to personal prayer and meditation, and began writing spiritual treatises for the benefit of her monastic sisters. Gertrude became one of the great mystics of the 13th century. Together with her friend and teacher St. Mechtild, she practiced a spirituality called “nuptial mysticism,” that is, she came to see herself as the bride of Christ.

Gertrude produced numerous writings, though only some survive today. The longest survival is known in English today as The Herald of Divine Love or The Herald of God’s Loving-Kindness, partly written by other nuns. There also remains her collection of Spiritual Exercises. A work known as Gertrudian Prayers is a later compilation, made up partly of extracts from the writings of Gertrude and partly of prayers composed in her style.

One of the most esteemed woman saints of the Christian West, she was a notable early devotee of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Book 2 of the Herald of Divine Love is notable within the history of Christian devotion because its vivid descriptions of Gertrude’s visions show a considerable elaboration on the long-standing but ill-defined veneration of Christ’s heart. This veneration was present in the belief that Christ’s heart poured forth a redemptive fountain through the wound in His side; an image culminating in its most famous articulation by St Bernard in his commentary on the Song of Songs. The women of Helfta—Gertrude foremost, who surely knew Bernard’s commentary, and to a somewhat lesser extent the two Mechthilds – Mechthild of Magdeburg and Mechthild of Hackeborn — made this devotion central to their mystical visions. Saint Gertrude had a vision on the feast of John the Evangelist. She was resting her head near the wound in the Savior’s side and hearing the beating of the Divine Heart. She asked Saint John if on the night of the Last Supper, he had felt these pulsations, why he had never spoken of the fact. Saint John replied that this revelation had been reserved for subsequent ages when the world, having grown cold, would have need of it to rekindle its love.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those who are orphaned.
  • all who experience visions and visual disturbances.
  • all mystics and those who find their work inspiring.
  • all who pray for those who have died and all who are grieving.

 

St Nicholas of Myra – Wednesday 6th December 2017.

stnicholas-tobiasshaller-basedonnathanaeldewardNicholas was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Whilst he may simply have been quiet, an introvert by nature, I can’t help but wonder whether Nicholas had autistic traits, especially given the combination of his preference for silence and solitude alongside his sudden violent outburst at the Council of Nicea, where he struck Arius on the face. This act should have led to Nicholas being deposed as a bishop, but the other 316 bishops were convinced during prayer that Nicholas had acted out of love for truth and not through malice or anger and so allowed him to remain a bishop.

Nicholas had wanted to be a hermit in the Holy Land; but  was ordained priest by his uncle, the then Archbishop and told to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls. His desire for a life of simplicity led Nicholas, when his parents died, to give away all of his inheritance to the needy, taking particular care that this charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to send them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man’s house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus).

Let us give thanks that a man who spoke and wrote so little can still be God’s instrument to inspire us in faith and generosity today.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those, who do not speak, or do not speak often.
  • all who poor, hungry or in danger.
  • all charged with steering the course of the church, according to God’s will.

 

Barabara – Monday 4th December 2017

trinity

Reflecting

This piece of our potter’s work is Saint Barbara, whose life in one way epitomises all that Peter is saying about how our actions grow from our convictions, with our convictions growing from faith and love. On the other hand she has an impulsiveness that shows a complete lack of fear or lack of understanding of the consequences of her actions.

Barbara lived during the third century. At some point in early adulthood she secretly began to believe in the Holy Trinity. Nobody knows why she began to believe. She hadn’t been visited by preachers, although she might have heard tales. She is reported to have begun by believing in the mystery of the Trinity, an amazingly complex notion to be revealed into her heart or apprehended during prayer.

When her father, Dioscorus, was required to go away in the middle of a bath-house building project, Barbara directed the workmen to build a third window in addition to the two her father had commanded. This action is both bold and oblique. Changing her father’s orders was likely to bring trouble, but the addition of a third window would not have an obvious meaning to the uninitiated. Something in Barbara clearly needed to express what she was coming to understand, to make solid something unseen and mysterious.

When Dioscorus returned, he asked why the third window had been added. Barbara could simply have argued her desire for more light or the artistic merits of an arrangement of three windows, instead Barbara began to tell him all the wonders of the mystery of the Trinity. Perhaps she had consciously, or unconsciously put the third window there to provoke the question, to enable her to speak about a topic she didn’t know how to bring up.

Sadly Barbara did not meet with a loving acceptance, nor a sense of wonder at where his daughter would get such strange ideas. Her father tortured her inhumanly, but she refused to renounce her faith.  Finally he  beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those, who believe secretly.
  • all who find meaning and pleasure in the placement of windows and patterns of light.
  • all who can be driven to anger and/or violence in defence of their beliefs.