Almsgiving and the beauty of self-gift

August 16, 2016

Surrounded by busy to-do lists and personal goals, it is easy to lose ourselves in ourselves. We can narrow our vision to what only matters to us. That overly individualistic concern divorces us from each other, deepening oneself in isolationism.

The Catholic understanding of the human person, however, rivals the intense individualism of our time; instead it sees the human person as a social being, created to live with and for others. We naturally desire communion with others. The human person finds fulfillment in self-gift. This self-gift includes self-emptying. 

This is what makes the love of Christ so total and complete, because He poured Himself out, in life and death. He sought communion with us through self-gift, which continues in the Eucharist. Likewise, we can find communion with others through our gift of self. 

Almsgiving is the material donation to the needy. It can also include the gift of talents and time. I find that almsgiving is primarily a material avenue of fulfilling our call to love. However, we need the experience of love and mercy in order to perpetuate love to others. Our charitable actions must be informed and guided in prayer. 

Almsgiving has the capacity to be more than the giving of our surplus resources. It is a much nobler practice to combine the giving with prayerful sacrifices. We can give a homeless person a meal, but how about also fasting from one meal as a sacrificial giving of ourselves, so that another can eat. Almsgiving can be both a prayer and a work. 

Often we can find ourselves stopped on the street, caught off guard, and having “nothing to give them.” I found that every time I would venture downtown people asked for help, so I started carrying non-perishable food items, like a granola bar or bottle of water. 

This practice will be different from person to person as we are all asked to give to our capacity. The other avenue of almsgiving is through the systematic support of a charity or institution, whether a financial donation or volunteering.

My personal experience of recent has mostly been downtown during the past two summers. When I have the time on a Sunday afternoon, I’ll fix a meal, park downtown, and walk around until I encounter someone that needs it. The one rule I’ve made for myself is that anyone I meet, regardless if I have anything I can give them, I always ask their name. They are no longer “homeless man,” rather they carry with themselves a personality, identity and a name. Often this kind of encounter invites a conversation, allowing for authentic kinship and communion. 

There was one Sunday I gave a man a meal I cooked. His body was racked with wounds and scars. He smiled, took the meal and thanked me. I crossed the street and another individual, who had seen what I did and appreciated it, started a conversation with me. His name was Josh and he was trying to get back home. He told me his story and asked me to pray with him. We also talked about life, education, prayer and even the possibility of him returning to the Catholic Church. He was very happy to meet me and wished me the best. An hour and a half later, we said goodbye and parted ways. 

I discovered as I walked away, praying for him, that one man was fed physically and the other was fed spiritually. In both situations there was self-gift and the marvelous beauty of communion was revealed. That beauty I’d prefer over anything else. 

David Mannino is a seminarian at the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.