What is almsgiving? And, why should we do it during Lent?

The first and, perhaps, only question that arises as Ash Wednesday imminently approaches is… “What are you giving up for Lent?” However, Lent as three pillars – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – that together invite us into a deeper experience of the season.

Let us take a moment to reflect on one of the other pillars of Lent: Almsgiving.

Why almsgiving seems to fit into Lent.

If Lent is all about fasting (which it’s not, but just go with me for a second)… and fasting is going without something… then almsgiving seems to fit right in as a practice of giving something away (e.g. money, food, material goods). These seem to be two very similar practices. Each invites us to be mindful of what we think we need and recognize that we, in fact, do not need as much as we thought.

A deeper meaning for almsgiving as a spiritual practice.

Lent is a season of repentance. But, more than that, it is a baptismal season. This is why Lent is a particularly special part of the RCIA journey, and it leads to baptism for those in RCIA at the Easter Vigil. During Lent, we are all invited to recall our baptism through renouncing sin – in the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – and then renewing our baptismal promises on Easter as we are sprinkled with holy water.

In Luke’s Gospel, it is written that John the Baptist proclaimed a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 3:3). The Greek word translated here as repentance is metanoia, which means to change one’s mind. Repentance is not a feeling of being sorry for our sins, but a visible and tangible conversion.

John insists that those who approach the waters of baptism must demonstrate their repentance, or changing of their mind, with their actions. He says, “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8).

When the crowds ask John what actions they should take, he gives examples of almsgiving. John says, “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:11).

So, this Lent let us go further than fasting. Let us seek opportunities for almsgiving as a spiritual practice to concretely express our repentance and continual journey of conversion.

What good fruits will you produce this Lent?

Laura Tringali Sobieski