Praying with Almsgiving in Lent
The word “alms” comes from the Greek word “eleemosyne,” meaning “mercy,” and Saint Thomas identifies the various kinds of almsgiving as the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, all of which are rooted in scripture. The corporal works of mercy, aimed at material neediness, are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead. The spiritual works of mercy, directed toward spiritual neediness, are admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses willingly, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the dead and living.
Obviously, we can engage in many of the corporal works of mercy through financial donations. However, once we have determined prudently how much money we can donate during Lent, if any, we should not assume our almsgiving must stop there. I recommend we make lists of both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, examine our schedules, and assess where and how we might grow in them during this liturgical season. The goal would be that they become more regular parts of our lives once Lent is finished. Through growing in mercy animated by our love of God, we come increasingly to imitate our Savior whose loving mercy on the cross opened for us a path to a transformed life in which every need will be met, every tear wiped dry. This eternal bliss to which we look forward will be characterized by perfect worship, a goal we work toward in our prayer lives now. Authentic growth in mercy during Lent can only quicken us along our path to that Heavenly goal.