The Third Pillar of Lent: Almsgiving

As we journey towards Easter, most of us are working at having a "Lent well spent." That means spending more time in prayer to develop a closer relationship with God; fasting, to prepare ourselves for the feast to come; and putting the two into action by giving alms.

Many people think of almsgiving as simply donating money. Believe me, as someone who spends a lot of time and effort educating the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Boston that missionaries need financial support, I know that donations are the life's blood of ministries. Without it, Sister Rose's school children in Madagascar would not have had a well installed, improving their health and school attendance. Father Lasantha's food distribution program in Sri Lanka would have failed. In Cambodia, Arrupe Center, run by Bishop "Kike," would close its doors, after years of restoring dignity and rights to those affected by land mines.

So, of course, missionaries need our Lenten donations. But they also need our open hearts and be examples of our faith, not just during Lent, but year-round. They need us to volunteer at our parishes, to teach a faith formation class, to make rosaries and give them away. Missionaries need us to say grace before meals in a restaurant and say, "God Bless You!" -- not just "Bless You!" -- when someone sneezes! They need us to speak words of encouragement and do regular acts of service.

The missionaries I meet tell me that if more of us were Catholic "out loud," it would have a ripple affect on the world that would surely reach them. You may it sounds simplistic but try telling that to a mission priest who has lived on the front lines of a war and says that he got the strength to stay where he was from the people at home who were gathering regularly to pray for him. It was the action a half a world away that supported him.

Almsgiving means offering yourself to others, whether you know them or not. It means identifying with those with whom Jesus stands, the least of our brothers and sisters, and taking action for them.

It means giving of our time, talent, and treasure so that others may be lifted out of their poverty, both material and spiritual.

Lent gives us a chance to step back and take a good look at our faith life. By firmly fixing ourselves on the Three Pillars of Lent, we can be a tangible witness of God's love, even to the ends of the earth.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.