You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” —Deuteronomy 15:10
Almsgiving is the simple and meaningful act of giving to others—usually to the temporary suffering of the giver for the betterment of another. In participating in giving alms, we surrender our own comfort to extend that comfort to another who needs it.
When practicing almsgiving, our goal should be to become closer to God and rely more on Him to provide for us while we provide for others.
Present throughout scripture, almsgiving is a constant theme that teaches us to love others as God loves us and that, in giving alms, we are doing His work.
Almsgiving as an Act of Justice
“It is well with the man who deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered for ever. He is not afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steady, he will not be afraid, until he sees his desire on his adversaries. He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever; his horn is exalted in honor.”—Psalm 112:5-9
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2462, the Catholic Church states that “giving alms to the poor is a witness to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.” As a result, it is safe to view almsgiving as serving justice through small acts of kindness.
Also, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1931, states:
"Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that ‘everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as “another self,” above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.’ No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a ‘neighbor,’ a brother.”
If we are to believe that the foundation of almsgiving is looking at our neighbor as “another self,” we become one. All human barriers—race, socioeconomic status, education level, etc.—are null and void. Through almsgiving, we begin to see each other as God does: equal. Therefore deserving of fair and just treatment and making almsgiving a simple form of justice.
Almsgiving in the Bible
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” —Proverbs 19:17
In Matthew 22:37–39, Jesus defines the two great commandments: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” So it comes as no surprise that the theme of almsgiving is constantly reappearing.
In the Old Testament, alms is understood primarily through the lens of Jewish custom—as it was an important part of Jewish life long before the birth of Christ. In Jewish custom, it is believed that almsgiving is righteous and encourages justice.
In the New Testament, as exhibited by Matthew 22:37–39, almsgiving is described as an act of love and kindness. In the giving of alms, we are creating small acts that show the work of Christ. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus serves as a warning that if we are to not give to the needy and extend a helping hand, we shall be sent to Hell.
Five Bible Verses about Almsgiving
- “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it (for from his youth I reared him as a father, and from his mother’s womb I guided him[a]); if I have seen any one perish for lack of clothing, or a poor man without covering; if his loins have not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw help in the gate; then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.” —Job 31:16-22
- “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” — Deuteronomy 15:7-8
- “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” —Isaiah 58:7
- “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” —Luke 12:33
- “The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” —2 Corinthians 9:6-7
Is Almsgiving Only Meant to Be Done during Lent?
“And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’” —Luke 18:22
Almsgiving is typically thought to be only a Lenten pillar (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving). However, that is not the only time we should participate. In giving alms, we are able to assess the amount of abundance we possess and discover ways to share with those who may not have the same. As a result, we are able to build a better connection with our neighbors while also sharing the love and works of God.
As Jesus calls us closer to Him during Lent through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, our giving of alms allow us to show what we can give. However, while Lent does provide us with a beautiful opportunity to give, we should incorporate almsgiving into our daily lives.
Everyday Almsgiving Examples
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” —Matthew 6:1-4
There are constant opportunities to give back to your community and neighbors all year long! And the best part is that there are ways to give back without using money—you can donate your time or even your knowledge. Below are some ways to partake in almsgiving all year long.
- Babysit free of charge. Is there a couple you know that has not had enough time to themselves? You can give them a chance to rest, go out to dinner, or even grocery shop in peace by offering a few hours of your time!
- Volunteer at a local soup kitchen and food bank. Every community has those who are struggling to eat and, as a result, have outreach programs that are often under-manned and underfunded. Volunteer some time to these organizations; if you do not have the time, donate some canned goods or money to help!
- Offer free tutoring at your local parish or school system. Are you a tech-wiz? A prolific writer? A science lover? Or feel a calling to share your religious knowledge with young ones? Perhaps offering your time to teach is a great option for you. Ask to put up flyers in local schools or parish and volunteer your knowledge!
- Organize a community clean-up initiative. You could organize a highway cleanup outing or a local park cleanup. This is a great option for also involving others or inspiring youth to also join in!
- Become a hospital volunteer. After the pandemic, many hospital staffs are worn thin. Some hospitals are finding it hard to find individuals willing to do random small tasks that many patients need. Tasks can range from keeping patience company, escorting elderly patients, small administrative work, and many other tasks that vary depending on experience. This is also a great opportunity for young people who are debating a career in the medical field!
- Show kindness to someone who challenges your heart. We will not always see eye to eye with everyone we encounter—maybe a difficult coworker or someone whose personality just does not complement yours. Each encounter affords us the chance to extend grace, understanding, love, and kindness!
Almsgiving: Loving in the Way We Love Him
“But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.” —Luke 11:41
Through almsgiving, we are able to love our neighbor in the way we love Him. We also contribute to social justice with each alms we give and work towards a better world, all in His name.
Through simple, small acts of varying means (money, time, talent), we can constantly do the work of God here on earth—no matter the season!