Why ask what is almsgiving when we all know what it is about? Perhaps it is the very belief we know something that requires urgently questioning it. This is not to shed doubt or instability, but to gain further certainty and certitude. The case of almsgiving is very telling, it is a very widespread concept even across different religions and confessions, but too often the subject of debate.
Some even consider it wrong, some as an option open to good people, some consider it a duty. So it is not at all a given, who's right when we talk about almsgiving? But most of all, is it really so important and precious as it is often described? Let's try to shed some light both from a Christian and a secular point of you on what is almsgiving. Let's look at why is it a duty, not just for the believer in God, and how to practice it correctly.
Praying, fasting and almsgiving: the virtues of the penitent
Today it seems antiquate to speak of penance, in a world where we seem to know only our rights and never our duties. Even so, everyone deep down knows his/her conducts has not always been perfect. For this reason it is normal to feel guilt for any wrongdoing; this is in fact the sense of penance as a consequence of repentance.
For Christians penance is a defining element of their identity, so much so that they are called to pray, fast and give alms. These are the three weapons that a Christian can make use of especiali during pentitential times such as Lent. Especially during this time we have to think even more deeply and ask ourselves what is almsgiving, in its profound sense. A great opportunity to turn to God and rediscover the meaning of life, ridding ourselves from the superfluous and what makes us part from the objective of salvation.
What is almsgiving: the definitions
In order to understand alms, the gesture of giving something that is ours, it's useful to understand how this gesture has been defined in history.
Per capire cos’è l’elemosina, il donare qualcosa di proprio, è utile anche capire come nella storia essa è stata definita. St. John the secon speaks of it as an act proper to mercy. “The Greek word "eleemosyne" comes from "éleos", which means compassion and mercy. Originally it indicated the attitude of the merciful man and, later, all works of charity for the needy. This word, transformed, has remained in nearly all European languages”.
Excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2443 "God blesses those who help the poor and reproves those who refuse to do so: ' Whoever asks for you, who wants you to lend something to him, do not turn his back on him' (Mt 5, 42). 'You received it for free, give it for free' (Mt 10, 8). Jesus Christ will recognize his elect in what they have done for the poor (cf Mt 25, 31-36).
We understand also the concept of justice in alms. This allows us to understand better what is almsgiving as an act of own will. As with all acts it must be one that is free and aware, and for this reason must be clearly understood.
We find this in the Bible too as an act of will that is appreciated by God. [Tobit 12,9] "For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting".
Alms: a duty between two commandments
For Christians, but not only for them, almsgiving is a duty. It is so because God demanded it giving Moses the commandments. Jesus too expressed the exact same. In the Gospel Jesus refers to the need to do almsdeeds. "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys" [Luke 12,33]. Also as Jesus proclaims: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" [Matthew 6,3-4].
Making almsdeeds also derives from the seventh commandment that imposes us not to steal. This commandments is often interpreted in the sense of not subtracting something that belongs to someone else. It is true, but it also implies the important matter of the universal destination and management of wealth. All we have and all we posses, even what is the fruit of our own ability and effort, is a gift from God. Man is an administrator and custodian of wealth or goods, not the master. For this reason the Catechism of the Catholic Church clarifies that (2401) "The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one's neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. It commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property. Christian life strives to order this world's goods to God and to fraternal charity".
The works of Mercy
To those who ask what is almsgiving it is important to explain that it is an act of Mercy. One of the primary acts of charity which we can use to help financially or materially those in need. Almsgiving is therefore an act of justice as well as a duty towards divine will.
Don't simply ask what is almsgiving but also how to do it
We must not simply understand what almsgiving is but also how to make it. The word of Jesus we cited earlier on the left and right hand are quite eloquent on the spiri that must move those performing this act. It is also appropriate to remember the words on this subject by Pope Benedict XVI.
“Everything, then, must be done for God’s glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us”.
Almsgiving: a form of penance
God's will comes also through the help of brothers, both far away ones, but especially those close to us. All are His childred, man has the responsibility and the moral duty to take care of those in need.
Giving means depriving ourselves from something; not of something irrelevant and redundant. It's Jesus himself to explain what is almsgiving in His own words "
Dare agli altri significa privarsi di qualcosa; ma non di qualcosa di accessorio e irrilevante. È lo stesso Gesù a indicare cos'è l’elemosina nelle sue parole. "As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. Truly I tell you, he said, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on" [Luke 21, 1-4]
This is why almsgiving is an act of penance, because it touches what a man holds dearest, what is indispensible for him to live.
Almsgiving and Confession
For Christians, moreover, alms are intimately linked with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Almsgiving is infact a voluntary privation which, together with fasting, represents on the major forms of penance. In other words the way to repents from the sins committed and turn again to God. Praying, fasting and giving, almsgiving, are high expressions of charity. For this reason St John Crysostom in one of his homolys says "We have five ways to reconcile with God:
- first, is to condemn our sins,
- second, it the forgiveness of offences,
- thrid, is to pray,
- forth is almsgiving,
- fifth is humility".
The Sacrament of Penance is where a Christian asks for forgiveness for any wrongdoing. It is also know as Confession and Reconciliation. Christians do it to reconcile with God, as stated by reciting the prayer of the act of Contrition. In this prayer the penitent recongnises his most hideous act in committing sins: "i offended You, infinitely good and deserving to be loved above and beyond everything".
What is almsgiving for the non Christian
The sentiment of compassion in front of suffering and poverty is universal. It is not just an impulse exclusive to the Christian or those that have faith. For this reason giving alms is an act we find in many religions and confessions, and is an act practiced by non belivers too. Wht is the meaning of almsgiving for those who do not believe in penance. What is almsgiving for them?
The answer may be quite simple, the ast is aimed at understanding the correct value of things and the role of each within society. Without slipping in oversimplification, it is clear that suceeding is not just the result of the individual abilities. Luck, grace, or chance; whatever the case, there are many factors that contribute to something happening a certain way. The same way, for things to go wrong and not according to our plans. For this reason those who ask alms, they are not simply incabables who deserve the disgraces they are living. Even those who do not seek help but would need it. We don't know the history, the choices and the difficulties that each of us faces. We can't understand, hence we can't even judge.
The dependance from ownership
Penance is hence also an exercise of clarity towards reality and also an act of liberation towards the dependence from possession. Very often, its a feeling that makes believers and non believers one. Many think that security and stability in life depends from possession. Owning a home, have some money aside, a job are all elements that bring a feeling of peace. With all these things you believe you have the certainty your life is on track.
For this reason even those that do not believe feel intimately the need to help those in need. Misery, suffering and poverty often shake consciences. This because all of us, deep down, feel compassion for those who suffer or are in difficulty. Almsgiving, the act of donating, is hence the way to be charitable, not just towards the receiver. There is a form of charity that is aimed also to who makes amlsdeeds. Those separating from possesions may be tempted to think they are the only masters of their own destiny.
Almsdeeds with justtice
Now that we understand what is almsgiving it's essenctial that we also understand how to practice it correctly. Too often online donations raise doubts if linked to the concept of almsgiving and charity. This because many donations platforms apply comissions on the funds donated. If we also add the costs of payment processors, our alms are diminished. It's reasonable to ask yourself what kind of justice it is if someone earns on our act of charity at the loss of the beneficiary.
The answer to this is SanctisFundMe, one of the very few alternatives that allow to donate a sum, and have the certainty that all the sum will reach the beneficiary. No commissions, no added costs. SanctisFundMe is just platform, a channel that puts in contact those who are in need and those who want to contribute to their cause. In Europe wire trasfers are entirely free and for donations by credit card, bank transfer fees are covered (subject to availability of funds) by the SanctisFundMe Fund. Asking what is almsgiving finds in this crowdfunding website an important andwers.
SanctisFundMe is not just a peer-to-peer platform but is open and free to use also for associations, charities, religious organisations and missions. The well known platform GoFundMe offers the same zero-fee structure but does refund banking fees. Also, it is only open for peer-to-peer donations and does not support any type of organisation. GoFundMe has also attracted harsh criticism in the past for serveral cases of discrimination of Christian fundraising campaigns.
SanctisFundMe, most important of all, is itself a Charity, all personnel works on a volunteering basis. The platform was donated by Prime Consulting which is contractually committed to the ongoing maintenance and hosting of teh site. SanctisFundMe operates hence at zero costs. In addition, as mentioned, reimburses beneficiaries of banking fees they incurred - subject to the availability of funds in the SanctisFundMe Fund which is the receptor of any donations made to the charity itself. Hence for those wondering what is almsgiving, it is also important to chose the right place for our act of charity.
At a time of such fragility and difficulty for the entire world, solidarity is essential. Not just to meet material necessities, but also to feel less lonely and hope for a better future.