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I can still hear my Catholic parents saying, “Eat your canned okra and think of the starving children around the world!” They were trying to teach us unselfishness by having us focus on the needs of others. Now that it’s almost Lent, a time when good Catholics everywhere remember that we’re often bad Catholics who slip up, let’s take it a step further. Don’t just think of those who are starving — help them. The old-fashioned word for this is almsgiving. Think of it as Fasting Plus. What you give up for yourself, you pass along to someone else. (Not your canned okra, but nice try. By the way, now is a good time to plan ahead for the alms your family might give this Lent!)
Did you know that Christians are commanded to share our resources with those less fortunate? It’s not just a nice thing to do: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus has harsh words for those who don’t do it: “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink” (Matthew 25:41-42). It’s a radical teaching, which means it’s at the root of Christianity. Centuries ago, St. Ambrose taught: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.” And it is just as radical now. Pope Francis asks: “If we see someone who needs help, do we stop? There is so much suffering and poverty, and a great need for good Samaritans.”
Don’t have a lot of money to spare? Neither do we. Years ago, when our girls were young, we sponsored a child together. She was the same age as our third daughter. After she grew up, we sponsored another who was the same age as our fourth daughter. Our two sponsored girls became like extended family to us. We hung up their pictures, wrote them letters, and felt proud of them when they achieved their goals. (Who knew we’d have an accountant in the family?) Since money goes further in the third world, we could spare a child and change a life with just our spare change! Okay, it wasn’t actually our spare change; sometimes it was a sacrifice to make the monthly offering, but we knew it would make a world of difference to that child. If you don’t have much spare change, do as the widow in the Gospel did. She put just pennies into the collection basket, yet Our Lord told everyone that she gave more than anyone else, since it was all she had (see Mark 12:42). God has a way of turning our little into much.
Giving money is not the only way to be generous. The world is full of people who have food but are hungry for an ear to listen, a hand to reach out, and a heart that cares. Being responsive to your neighbors goes deeper than sharing material resources. It is often harder, too. This is all the more reason to do it and show your kids how to do it. “Be the one,” St. Teresa of Calcutta used to say.
Be generous with God, and he will reward you by making your children the caring people you hope they will turn out to be. Be that family that shows others how much God loves them, and he will never let you forget how much he loves you.
Have a happy Lent — and pass the okra.
Find Susie Lloyd’s books, articles, and speaking schedule at SusieLloyd.com.