04 February 2008

Papal Message for Lent 2008

In his Message for Lent 2008, Pope Benedict XVI reflects on that tried and true form of penance that has led countless people to holiness: almsgiving. The Holy Father and I must be thinking along the same lines this year.

Almsgiving is important, he says, because it teaches us "to respond to our neighbor's needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness" (1).

With the giving of alms, there is often a desire to be noticed for what is given. This is especially true in our day. Simply consider the large number of banquets and golf outings used as fundraisers. Far too many people will not give money to those who have need of it without expecting something in return, either some gift of some sort or public recognition, or very often even both.

Cautioning us that we are only "administrators of the goods we possess" (2) and that "Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self" (2), the Holy Father reminds us that "everything, then, must be done for God's glory and not our own" (3).

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. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God “sees in secret” and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy (3).
The Church encourages the giving of alms because "by drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers" (4).

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