When You Give Alms

(Homily for Ash Wednesday)

Bottom line: We have three tasks for Lent: Prayer, fasting and - in a particular way this year - almsgiving.

Today we begin the season of Lent. Shortly, we will we receive ashes in the form of a cross. It dramatizes the purpose of these forty days: to unite ourselves with Jesus in his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The question this morning is: How does a person make a "good Lent"? What will I do differently during these six weeks?

In his message for Lent 2008 Pope Benedict gave some concrete suggestions. He recalls the three basic Lenten "tasks" - prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sometimes people think that these practices are passť, that Jesus has somehow spiritualized everything. You know, it's the 21st century - we don't have to get on our knees, or reach into our wallets or pass up a tempting dessert. For those who have fallen into a vague "spirituality," I ask them to re-read today's Gospel. Jesus does not say, "If you fast." He says, "When you fast." He does not say, "If you feel like praying." He says, "When you pray." Nor does he say, "Give if you happen to have something extra." No, he says, "When you give alms."

That last penitential practice - almsgiving - is what the Holy Father focuses on in this 2008 message. He notes that Jesus "became poor for us." That is what Lent, and especially Holy Week, is about: Jesus' abject poverty, his self-emptying for our salvation. He became poor for us so that we might become rich. Becoming rich refers to sharing God's life. It also includes temporal blessings. They are a sign of God's goodness, his abundance. Jesus puts those things in our hands, says Pope Benedict, so that we can assist those in need. That is what we mean by almsgiving.

The pope points out that giving alms not only helps the person who receives. More important, it helps the person who gives. Almsgiving, says the pope, is "an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods." The force of material riches attracts us and they can easily become an idol. If that happens, we cut ourselves off from God. Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and mammon." The person who gives alms rejects the idol of mammon and, instead, serves God.

We will have wonderful opportunities for almsgiving during Lent. Support of your parish, of course, takes first place. I am not saying this because I am your pastor. I'm saying because the parish is where we receive the Sacraments and hear the Word of God. The parish, moreover, helps organize and focus our service to brothers and sisters.

Beyond the parish and the diocese, we do what we can to reach out to the poor in our world. A good way of doing this is by taking home the Rice Bowl. If you are like me, you will need a child's help to form this cardboard into a container. But when you do, you can place it on your dining table. The Rice Bowl will remind of the three tasks: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. I know that sometimes people feel stretched. That's all right. We need to recognize the source of all we have. Christ became poor for our sake. Almsgiving unites us with his self-giving.

As your receive the ashes at this Mass, I invite you to make a good Lent: to do some voluntary fasting, to find new moments for prayer and - in response to the message of the Holy Father - help the needy and yourself by giving alms. Welcome to Lent!

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Ash Wednesday Homilies):

First Things
New Mind and Heart
Go to Your Inner Room
Return to Me
The Purpose of Lent
Two Cheers for Catholic Guilt
Don't Waste This Crisis
When You Give Alms
Back to the Basics
Dealing With Guilt
Exercise of Holy Desire

Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):

2016: First Things: Prayer
2015: New Mind and Heart Week 1
2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 1
2013: Do Not Talk to the Devil
2012: The Convenant with Noah Today
2011: The Purpose of Temptation
2010: Who Is Like God?
2009: Knee Mail
2008: The Devil is a Logician
2007: More Powerful than Satan
2006: Sir, Go on the Other Side
2005: The Temptation of Sloth
2004: Temptation of Spirituality
2003: Lent with C.S. Lewis
2002: First Signs of Spring
2001: How Satan Operates
2000: The Rabbit's Foot
1999: Original Sin & Temptation
1998: Hidden Sin of Gluttony
1997: Jesus' Temptation & Ours

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Suggestions for Observing Lent, Priests for Life Fr. Peter West, Cathedral Walk)

Announcements

my bulletin column

SMV Bulletin

Parish Picture Album

Separated at birth?

40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)

From Fr. Frank Pavone:

The recent revelations about Planned Parenthoodís willingness to cover up sexual exploitation build on revelations uncovered many years ago. Life Dynamics called hundreds of Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide. The caller, posing as a minor made pregnant by statutory rape, was consistently taught how to lie so that the abortion clinic would not have to report the incident.

As I always say, you canít practice vice virtuously. Planned Parenthood carries out, justifies, defends, and even celebrates the horrifying dismemberment of children in the womb. After doing that, they are hardly going to have much of a conscience left in regard to any other kind of right and wrong. If one devalues the child in the womb, one will devalue the child outside the womb.

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