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When You Give Alms

One of the ways my father-in-law prepared to meet God was by downsizing. By the time he met his Maker, he had but two shirts, two pair of pants, a Bible and a rosary. He had given everything else away, leaving this world empty handed, the same way he came into the world. He was imitating Jesus who, empty handed at death, knew in dying he would be fulfilled.

Nick didn’t come by this suddenly; as a devout Catholic, almsgiving was a practice not just during Lent, but throughout life. He and his wife tithed.

Almsgiving is charity to the less fortunate, a reoccurring theme throughout the gospels and foundational to Christian life. Jesus didn’t tell us to give alms; he said “when you give alms.”  “Whoever has two coats,” Jesus said, “must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:11).

Almsgiving was incorporated in the Mosaic law, “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard” (Leviticus 23:10-112). Farmers were instructed by law to leave corners of their fields unharvested, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:22).

Jesus loved the poor and those in need. He once observed a poor widow who put two small coins in the temple treasury and said of her, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3).

The life of the early church as described in the book of Acts includes almsgiving: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34).

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty, proposing initiatives passed by Congress with the aim as stated in his 1964 State of the Union Address, “not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” Included in federally passed laws were an amendment to Social Security creating Medicare and Medicaid, a food stamp program, and Title 1 which subsidized school districts with a large share of impoverished students.

When factoring in safety-net programs, the portion of Americans in poverty fell from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012, according to Columbia University Study.

DuPage County have benefited through Community Development Block Grant money funding programs that for 43 years has helped those in need: PADS, Northern Illinois Food Bank, emergency housing assistance, access to medial and mental health care, job training and much more. CDBC funds were also used for a project to reduce the threat of flooding near Armstrong Park in Carol Stream.

The 2019 Federal Budget presented by Speaker Ryan, supported by Rep. Peter Roskam, passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, eliminates Community Development Block Grant funding, federal programs targeted to help our neighbors who are poor and needy. Some in government substitute Jesus’ philosophy with the philosophy of Ayn Rand as expressed by John Galt in her novel Atlas Shrugged, “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another to live for mine.” Laws that obligate us as a nation to care for the poor and needy are slowly being eliminated from our federal budget.

But our obligations as Christians have not been absolved. “Those who mock the poor,” we read in Proverbs “insult their maker” (Proverbs 17:5). Working together with other people of faith, we must “relieve symptoms of poverty, cure it and prevent it” either through our government by reintroducing programs that care for the poor and the vulnerable, or as people of faith we must replace dismantled programs serving the poor with support for programs and ministries carried out by private charities and our church agencies.

This question is asked in our Bible, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 John 2:17)