Monday, March 14, 2011

Almsgiving and the Digital Man

Almsgiving and the Digital Man

A snapshot of a man on the road who summarily shoves his right hand into his pocket, and fishing out a five peso coin hands it over to the outstretched hand of the crippled and poorly clad beggar, is a picture of what almsgiving is to many of us. It is, as we know it, a sharing of one’s money, food, clothing, or, even time and other belongings, with the poor people.

In our secularized world, almsgiving has lost its value and importance. It is a degrading act so it is said. It perpetuates dole-out practices, promotes dependence among our people, implicitly encouraging indolence and laziness in society. As these progressive individuals contend, “it is better to teach man how to fish than to give him a fish. The former will last him for a life time; the latter will last him only for a day.”

But in the Church, almsgiving has a special place in its existence. It is an act of religion, which the Lord Himself has decreed in the New Law. Its tradition goes back to the Old Testament, practiced by the chosen people of God and held in very high esteem. For them to give alms is of great merit in the eyes of God. Forgiveness of past sins is attributed to it. As the Book of Tobit put it: “It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life; but those habitually guilty of sin are their own worst enemies” (12: 8 & 9). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took up almsgiving together with prayer and fasting as esteemed practices in the life of His followers. But, to have value almsgiving must be directed, not to the giver himself who in his heart is secretly pining to be seen by men and be praised because of it, but to the “Father who sees in secret” (cf. Mt. 6:9-13). For Jesus ostentatious giving of alms defeats the religious purpose of almsgiving which is to help the other in need. In his desire to feel good of his good deeds of kindness and generosity, he is using the poor beggar for his selfish interest.

Seen in the whole teaching of Christ, almsgiving as a parting of one’s money or possession acquires broader context and a richer meaning. Our Lord has seen the delusion that money has created in man’s wild imagination. With much money man is made to believe that his assurance for the future is secured, that everything is cared of in his life and family, that he is complete and fulfilled. Such a delusion is captured by Jesus in his parable of the rich man who had a good harvest and said to himself: “You have blessings in reserve for years to come. Relax. Eat heartily, drink well. Enjoy yourself.” Then God said: “You fool! This very night your life shall be required of you. To whom will all this piled up wealth of yours go” (cf. Lk 12:19-21)? Almsgiving done properly and seriously, will remind man of God’s primacy in his life; it gives modern man the capacity to transcend the greed of possession and the inordinate desire to accumulate money; it empowers man to again see the beauty of sharing, of relishing the love of the Father whose providence Jesus described by these words: “It is not for you to be in search of what you are to eat or drink. Stop worrying… Your Father knows that you need such things. Seek out instead his kingship over you, and the rest will follow in turn” (Lk. 12:29&31).

It is along this line that almsgiving takes on a modern tone. No matter its age-old tradition, it is of great help to our digital age of science and technology. Man’s nature to hoard, to accumulate, to greedily possess things of this earth is deeply ingrained in us. This vicious tendency keeps us stuck to the delusion that money is a guarantee to our life and happiness as it blinds us to the reality that God the Creator alone can satisfy the creature’s deepest longing. Man needs a reminder. Almsgiving precisely provides us that. In his Lenten Message 2011, Pope Benedict XVI said: “The practice of almsgiving is a reminder of God’s primacy and turns our attention towards others, so that we may rediscover how good our Father is, and receive his mercy.”