Friday, March 7, 2014

Lent and Philanthropy: 40 Days of Giving Alms

This week, many Christians all over the world marked the beginning of Lent, a 40-day liturgical period leading up to Easter. Lent is observed in various ways based on denomination, church community, or family of origin, but three components make up the traditional pillars of Lenten observance. Christians are called to participate in prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to deepen their spiritual relationships and prepare for Easter.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the giving of 'alms' is an act of charity toward those less fortunate, and can range from generously supporting a cause to helping a neighbor in need. Christians are taught that giving alms is an expression of love, first expressed by God in sacrificing his only son, Jesus Christ, as an act of love for the salvation of believers. Almsgiving is considered a form of prayer because it is "giving to God" — and not mere philanthropy. Truly giving something up, or sacrificing to serve others, is a key component.

Almsgiving is encouraged throughout the year, but especially during Lent. Many Christians support a variety of charitable organizations, not necessarily just those with a religious affiliation. In fact, several educational and medical institutions in the United States were founded by Christians giving alms. But all Christians, regardless of socio-economic status, are encouraged to give their time, talent and treasure. Churches and religious organizations often provide opportunities for almsgiving during Lent, including coin collections, soup suppers, service projects, or food drives.

For example, Sue is a retired nurse who is active in her local Catholic Church. She is a friend and supporter of the Charities Review Council and agreed to share some insight into her personal almsgiving as she begins her 'Lenten journey.'

How do you give your time, talent or treasure during Lent?

My husband and I give to a few charities on a regular basis, but we take time to research and pray about a new, unique cause that we can support each year for Lent. We also participate in the fundraisers and collections that our church community holds during Lent to raise money for our partner parish in Guatemala. It is important to us to follow our hearts and allow ourselves to give as needs arise, but we also want to make sure we are supporting worthwhile charities. We often consult the Charities Review Council’s list of trustworthy nonprofits to make sure that the organization Meets Standards, or to get ideas of where to focus our support.

Why is it important to give alms during Lent?

It is about caring for those in need and expressing our gratitude for all that God has provided. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are strong values we hold and try to integrate into our daily life, during Lent and throughout the year. Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, is inviting individuals to particularly pay attention to those living in poverty this Lenten season. Giving of alms strengthens my relationship with God, others, and the community.

Religious and cultural groups of all types often incorporate some form of intentional charitable giving, like almsgiving, into their practice throughout the year. To promote inclusive engagement, it’s important for the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to become educated on these various practices to expand our view of philanthropy. Here at the Council, we encourage smart charitable giving no matter the occasion, and Lent presents a unique opportunity for individuals to reevaluate and expand their personal giving practices - and for nonprofits to provide giving opportunities to their Christian supporters!

For more information on making smart donations to trustworthy nonprofits, read this article outlining the five questions to ask before giving.

Interested in learning more about how people of different faiths give during their holidays? Read Kate Khaled's piece about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and giving.

No comments: