I met Eric on a street in Alhambra, California. He pushed his shopping cart past the window where I was sitting at Starbucks. He rummaged through a trash can finding a few treasures and placing them in his cart. I felt an urge to go out and talk to him but hesitated. He was gone. Then I felt guilty. “Lord, give me another opportunity,” I silently prayed. I left Starbucks an hour later and walked by Eric standing in an alcove between two buildings. This time there was no hesitation. I reached into my pocket. Oh my! All I had was a $20 bill. I hardly ever gave money to “this kind” of person let alone 20 dollars. I usually ignored street people. But, since almsgiving was on my radar, I could no longer do that. We talked. I got his name and some details about his life. As we talked something happened inside me. A compassion I’d never known surfaced in me. Before I departed I looked him in the eyes and, truthfully, thought I was looking into the eyes of Jesus. His “God bless you” sent warmth deep into my heart as I actually experienced God’s blessing. I don’t know if my actions made any difference in Eric’s life, but they made all the difference in me.[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”] Almsgiving does that. From my experience, it taught me to get off my self-righteous high horse and have compassion on others. Not an “I-feel-so-sorry-for-you-such-a-pitiful-person” kind of feeling. But a genuine mercy that takes action. As far as I could tell, I was beginning to practice almsgiving.
He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs.”
—St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662)
What are Alms?
They are works of mercy or gifts of money given to the poor. God is merciful to you. You live out His mercy in you. You are called to help those less fortunate that yourself. (Matthew 25:31-46)
The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.
—St. Basil the Great (330-379)
How Much Can You Give?
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.
— C.S. Lewis (1898–1963), English author and scholar
Practical Ideas to Begin
- Clean out your closet and give away clothes.
- Have $1, $5, $10 bills available in your vehicle to give to those asking. Find out their name. Remember to pray for them. Put their name on a list to help you remember.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter, kitchen, or retirement home.
- Be attentive to those in need around you in everyday life. Help them any way you can.
How do you or will you show mercy by almsgiving? Share below.