Almsgiving is ultimately a gesture of belonging and gratitude
By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick
During my first school Mass as a teacher, I was surprised to see a collection taken up. Eager grade school children placed their dollars in the basket and passed it along, contributing a portion of their allowances to the charity of the week. The very youngest children were enthusiastic and unbridled in their giving, while the oldest were reluctant, if they gave at all. By eighth grade, money, and the fun it provided, was valued more than the Biblical exhortation to give alms.
For many of us young adults, this temptation looms ever greater now that we are making our own money. With so much of our fiscal resources used to support ourselves, the fun – we think – is earned. But the Gospels, as usual, flip this on its head.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners to render unto God what is God’s. It’s a simple sentence, but what does it mean? What is God’s — or, perhaps the correct question is, what is not God’s? For God has given us “life and breath and everything,” as the psalms say. Even our talents and ability to work are gifts of the Creator.
When we begin to look at everything in our lives with this in mind, cultivating a perspective of giftedness, then the desire to give back to God springs forth. We begin to ask ourselves how we can give God everything — and do so with the enthusiasm of the young children placing their offerings in the collection basket. Though the most important aspect of “rendering unto God’s what is God’s,” is to live our entire lives in the service of others, the financial facet of this exhortation remains a highly practical one — one that, nevertheless, is imbued with spiritual elements.
We are obligated to attend to the needs of the Church and the poor. The Code of Canon Law states, “The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship for apostolic works and works of charity and for the decent sustenance of ministers.”
While the Church does not mandate a specific amount or percentage that we must give, we can look to the wisdom of the scriptures to direct us.
Like with many things, the Church does not mandate a specific amount or percentage we are obligated to meet, but instead leaves the individual free to decide what she is able to allot and still meet her own basic needs. While this leaves the selected amount up to the person, it also places the burden of a thorough examination of conscience — and budget.
The conscience should be guided by the scriptural example of 10 percent of our income, shown throughout the Old Testament. This guide has, at times, forced me to look at what is really a need, whether it be a dinner out, a simple vacation or luxury food items like maple syrup.
Almsgiving is ultimately a gesture of belonging and gratitude. This gesture, as is made clear in the Gospel of Luke, is most meaningful when it is rooted in sacrifice.
Jesus observed many rich people placing large sums into the treasury but took note when a poor widow put in a few coins. He said, “This poor widow put in more than the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.”
Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance columnist for the Sooner Catholic.