March 5, 2021

Editorial

Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving help us be open to stewardship

As we are reminded each year, Christians are invited, and challenged, to prepare for the joy of Easter by engaging in the three traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Most of us have a pretty clear idea of what the first two disciplines require of us (even if we aren’t as faithful in prayer and fasting as we know we should be), but “almsgiving” is another matter.

The dictionary definition of “almsgiving” is fairly straightforward. It means “the practice of giving money or food to poor people.” Synonyms proposed by Merriam-Webster include charity and philanthropy, and the same source lets us know that the practice of giving alms is important in virtually all world religions. 

Many (but certainly not all) Catholics have been introduced to the spirituality of Christian stewardship. The American bishops’ pastoral letter, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” published in November 1992, describes a Christian steward as “one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, and returns them with increase to the Lord.”

A Christian steward is constantly being invited (and challenged) to receive, cherish, share and return-with-increase the fruits of God’s abundant generosity. This is why stewardship is a lifelong responsibility. As long as God keeps giving, we are called to be open and responsive to his gifts (his grace).

This understanding of the spirituality of stewardship includes, but is much more comprehensive than, almsgiving—the practice of giving money to the poor. A generous Christian steward gives back everything he or she has received from God, including all spiritual and material gifts. Stewardship properly understood and practiced is a total lifestyle of giving and sharing rooted in gratitude for all God’s blessings.

Stewardship as a Lenten observance begins with almsgiving and grows exponentially to include the generous giving of our hearts and minds and desires to God who is their source and, then, to all God’s people. Stewardship is understood as a source of deepening spirituality because it challenges us to let go of any false notions that we are somehow in control of our lives, our skills and our talents, or our material possessions. We are not the authors of our own existence. We are not the owners of our spiritual and material gifts. We are stewards (caretakers or custodians) of what belongs exclusively and entirely to God.

God has given us the gift of life. Our response should be to praise him and to demonstrate our gratitude by taking care of (and sharing) this wonderful gift. We have received the gift of intelligence. We are responsible for developing our minds and growing in wisdom and understanding. We have been given the skills and abilities that allow us to earn a living, care for those we love, and contribute to the common good by our work and by our service to others in the Church and in our community. These gifts make it possible for us to acquire the material possessions that we need and enjoy. All God’s gifts are meant to be used responsibly and shared generously with others.

Stewardship is a source of grace when we respond to God’s goodness by growing in gratitude, responsibility and generosity. As a spiritual discipline, stewardship invites us to reflect on what is most basic and fundamental in our lives—and to respond from the heart. A Christian steward is one who makes a conscious decision to remain open to God’s grace and to respond generously (from the heart) to whatever opportunities and challenges may come.

The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving help us to be open to the stewardship opportunities that are presented to us every day. If we are in regular communication with God through prayer, it’s much easier to discern his will for us as stewards of his generosity. If we are accustomed to self-denial and willingly sacrifice our wants and desires (even good things), then the sharing of our time, talent and treasure will not be nearly so difficult.

Lastly of course, if we are used to sharing our financial resources with others, we won’t hesitate to give money (or food, clothing and shelter) to those who are poor. Almsgiving won’t be just a Lenten practice. It will become a way of life.

Since God never stops giving, our opportunities to respond from the heart are truly endless. Let’s practice almsgiving this Lent by being generous stewards of all God’s gifts.

—Daniel Conway

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