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The Lent 2023 #ProdigalChallenge

.Making Almsgiving Cool Again

By Sean Breeden





THE THREE PILLARS OF LENT

There are so many worthwhile means of spiritual growth that can be undertaken during the beautiful season of Lent. Ultimately, the best Lenten practice is to do whatever God convicts you of in your personal prayer. God is more than happy to customize our Lenten devotions to what will most help us to enter into deep repentance and to grow in holiness. But, traditionally, the three core pillars of Lenten practice are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Of these, fasting and other forms of physical mortification are typically the star of the show. This is evidenced by the fact that every Ash Wednesday in Catholic circles, you hear the constant echo of the question, "What are YOU giving up for Lent?" This is compounded by the cultural tendency of Americans to place an extremely high value on discipline and hard work. Although we all fall short, we at least have a basic grasp of the importance of fasting and other physical sacrifices in letting us prioritize the needs of the soul over the needs of the body. This makes sense because we absolutely have to deny ourselves daily and take up our cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). Prayer in my opinion comes in second place among the most-focused-on pillars, and most committed Catholics do recommit to extended times of daily prayer during Lent. No additional explanation is necessary for the centrality of prayer in our spiritual lives. After all, how can we hope to follow God's will if we don't spend time listening to him?






ALMSGIVING: THE FORGOTTEN PILLAR

But, one element of Lenten practice that doesn't get much press is almsgiving. If you compare the three pillars of Lent to runners in a long distance track competition, almsgiving has been lapped about four times by prayer and fasting, and to be honest it's starting to get embarrassing. At Warriors of St. Michael, we refuse to stand idly by while almsgiving remains on the sidelines of Lenten practice, As Warriors, we are committed to doing all we can to help almsgiving take its rightful place in our spiritual lives. In short, our goal is to make almsgiving cool again. Therefore, I hereby declare that 2023 shall be the 'Lent of Almsgiving'.


To start with, the narrow sense of the word almsgiving is giving money, food, or goods to those in need, as a manifestation of the virtue of justice. It is an outpouring of the corporal works of mercy, which are those acts of charity which provide for the physical needs of our brothers and sisters. This includes feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick or imprisoned, and burying the dead. But, a more broad understanding of almsgiving also includes the spiritual works of mercy - which seek to provide for the spiritual needs of others. This includes instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses willingly, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead. In short, it expands the idea of 'helping the poor' to also include those who are 'poor in spirit', which is ALL of us! You also have my permission to do a work of mercy which is simultaneously corporal and spiritual. It's the best of both worlds!





THE VIRTUE OF MAGNANIMITY

One of my favorite warrior virtues is that of magnanimity.


mag·na·nim·i·ty : /ˌmaɡnəˈnimədē/ - noun

  1. from Latin magnus "great" and animus "soul" = 'greatness of soul'

  2. loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity

  3. liberality in bestowing gifts; extremely liberal and generous of spirit

  4. generosity or forgiveness, especially toward a rival or less powerful person


Magnanimity goes beyond doing what is reasonable, expected, or required by justice; and more accurately reflects the super-abundant love of God. It reminds me of the quote from Mother Teresa who exhorted us to "love until it hurts" in imitation of our crucified and risen Savior who gave all of himself for us. Magnanimity is such a beautiful virtue in that so many other virtues are encompassed within it, as well as in how joyful self-gift purifies our hearts by concretely loving others as Jesus has loved us.


THE PRODIGAL FATHER


Another word that encompasses this kind of extreme generosity is 'prodigal'.


prod·i·gal : /ˈprädəɡ(ə)l/ - adjective

  1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.

  2. having or giving something on a lavish scale.


Most of us are familiar with the 'Parable of the Prodigal Son' in Luke 15:11-32. The younger brother demands his inheritance, and wastes his father's money on a life of sin before repenting and returning home. However, the story could also be called 'The Prodigal Father' because the Father also gave extravagantly. Not only in throwing a huge party for his son who returned, but especially in his over-the-top offering of mercy. Of course this parable points to how God our Heavenly Father sees us. The one major difference is that God's grace and mercy never run out no matter how much we give it away! There are so many Bible verses that echo this idea of how we can reflect the lavish generosity of God in our own lives. Here is a small sample of them:


  • We are to forgive our brother 70x7 times (Matthew 18:21-22) - An over-the-top offering of forgiveness and mercy

  • The Widow's Mite (Luke 21:1-4) - The widow gave the smallest of coins, but Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.”

  • Choosing the Better Part (Luke 10:38-42) - Mary of Bethany gave lavishly of her time and attention to Jesus by sitting at his feet, which Jesus said was preferable to the anxiety and distraction of her sister Martha.

  • The Alabaster Jar (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8) - Mary of Bethany gave extravagantly of costly perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus, wash them with her tears, and dry them with her hair. Jesus praised her, however Judas did not approve. I suggest you side with Jesus on this one.

  • The Cheerful Giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) - 6 The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.

  • Made to Walk in Good Works (Ephesians 2:10) - "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

  • Good Works bring Glory to God (Matthew 5:16) - "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

  • Give and it Will Be Given to You (Luke 6:37-38) - 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”


Even if we get nothing in return for our generosity in this life, God is never outdone in generosity. When we see Jesus in heaven, he will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant; ... enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:23). To be conformed to Christ is a reward in itself. If we yield to God's transforming grace, then we will be with our loving, merciful, super-abundant, magnanimous, prodigal Father forever in heaven. In that way, through our heartfelt almsgiving, let this Lent truly be a down payment on eternal glory.


It is in this sense that Warriors of St. Michael is rolling out 'The Prodigal Challenge' this Lent. During each of the six weeks of Lent, we invite you to discern with the Lord how you are called to imitate his loving generosity as the Ultimate Prodigal Father. This will help us to have servant's hearts like Jesus, to detach our hearts and minds from the things of this world, and to joyfully take the lowest place and 'outdo one another in showing honor' (Romans 12:10). This kind of generosity of spirit is only possible by yielding to the grace of God and letting him love others through us. I can think of no better way to enter into Lent this year than taking our eyes off of ourselves and showing a family member, friend, or perfect stranger the love of Jesus in a tangible way!



HOW DO I DECIDE WHAT TO DO?


  1. Start by asking the Lord in your daily prayer time WHO he wants you to bless.

  2. Once someone is highlighted in your mind, ask God HOW he wants you to bless them in a tangible way this week.

  3. Once you think of something, ask God to CONFIRM it by consistently increasing your experience of the fruits of the Spirit in your discernment (Galatians 5:22). The fruits of the Spirit include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

  4. Then, all that's left is to have the COURAGE to put it into action.


If you are having trouble thinking of a way to bless someone, below are a few examples to use as a springboard.


  • Giving of Time - Babysit for a young married couple to go on a date night; volunteer to help an elderly person with household chores or errands; spend extra one-on-one time with your wife and children; Get coffee with a friend and just take time to listen to them with no other agenda; Visit the sick

  • Giving of Talent - Use your God-given skills to bless someone in your life. Help a neighbor with home repairs; Use your artistic skills to create pieces to bring joy to the residents of a nursing home; Bake cookies for a co-worker on their birthday; Bring a meal to someone going through a hard time; Ask your parish priest if he needs extra volunteers for anything around the parish this Lent.

  • Giving of Treasure - Help a family in need; leave a large tip for a server at a restaurant; give generously to a good cause; buy a friend something that holds a special meaning for them; Give a small gift card to an employee at your office who doesn't get much appreciation.

Whatever you choose, do something that is creative and impactful. God looks at the heart, so it's not about how big or flashy it is. It's about showing the love of God the Father to someone in a concrete way, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:4).





If you see someone in your life doing an act of charity or service that truly goes above and beyond, we encourage you to post it on social media anonymously (not mentioning the name of the person who did it) by tagging @warriorsofsaintmichael on Facebook or @warriorsofstmichael on Instagram, and using the hashtag #ProdigalChallenge. Or if you would like to share anonymously about something you or someone else have done to encourage others, you can also reach out to us on our contact page with 'Prodigal Challenge' in the subject line. Throughout Lent we hope to post several of the testimonies that come in. By sharing these anonymous stories of God-inspired acts of generosity, we will let our light shine and bring glory to our Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).






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