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Almsgiving: How much have we lent to God? By Lambert Mbom


Giving Hands

I believe that the true measure of “the what” of Lent resonates in “the how much” – a quantifiable entity. It is no accident that this season is called lent, literally the past tense of “to lend.”

The single element that defines the meaning of the passion and death of Christ is undoubtedly that of sacrifice. It is the highest and greatest sacrifice imaginable and even possible. It is with his blood that Christ paid the price to wring mankind back from the hostile enemy. No greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends. Hence the centrality of the Christian event is sacrifice. Lent provides us an extraordinary opportunity to sacrifice. And so, as we draw towards the close of this holy season, the question is: how much did we sacrifice this Lent.

Fasting “empties” into almsgiving. We fast so that others can feast. Our fasting is meaningless if not complemented with almsgiving. As seminarians, our Lenten fast impacted the less fortunate. We gathered the half-loaves of bread sacrificed during breakfast throughout Lent together with the bundles of meat and converted this to its financial equivalence and offered to the less fortunate in places like St Joseph’s children and adult home (SAJOCAH) Bafut and New Hope village where the Baptist leprosy center is located. Our fast then provided a real celebration at Easter.

On Good Friday, the Universal Church gathers all it has fasted from and provides to the Holy Father to help in his work of charity throughout the world. In facr, the Church in Jerusalem and throughout that region benefits from the Good Friday collections.

Many of us have grown in a culture that groomed us to be perpetual recipients. Paradoxically, we have not learnt to be donors. I believe very strongly that he who has not learnt to beg has also never learnt to give.
Within this context, it is worthwhile reflecting on Catholic Christians and financial generosity to the Church. How financially generous are we to our Church? One must admit that somehow Pentecostal churches do an excellent job in “fundraising.” Muslims understand this as well and practice “zakat” with religious fervor. So do the mega churches. It is worthwhile spending time to examine how some of us Catholics are not generous to the Church?

There is no denying it that many Africans resident in the US are not registered in their different parishes and one huge factor is the financial responsibility that comes with being registered in the parish. And yet we expect and demand services. The reason why the same people assume the noble task of God parenting in the parish from our communities is because many fail the basic test of being registered and of good standing in the parish. Many of us dread those envelopes meant for weekly contributions to the parish.

Most one dollar bills in collection baskets are often twisted beyond immediate recognition; or some Christians ask for envelopes during processions and most of these often have the one dollar bill. This is shocking even in the American context where church donations are tax deductible. We are still not incentivized to be generous. Are many of us not one dollar Christians?

A husband is said to have snatched a fifty dollar bill from the wife as she was about dropping it into the collection basket alarmed by the wife’s extravagance.

Last year after one of the Cameroonian priests explained the biblical foundations underpinning this practice of tithes, a lady sitting next to me was flustered and alarmed. She exclaimed and described the practice as an outrageous expectation. It was interesting following a discussion on whether tithing is biblical or not. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/11/should-christians-tithe/

One wonders what the problem is, definitely not ignorance as one would imagine. Again it seems to be along the lines of a poisoned mindset. I believe it is more those games we have trained our minds to play on us sometimes play on us; call them baseless rationalizations. Just how do we rationalize away our financial duty towards the Church?

The very rational arguments some of us make include the following:
– The Catholic Church is a large multinational business and so donating to it is like taking coal to Newcastle.
– And those priests who drive posh cars, dress in the latest fashion, fight with us in bars, always in the company of women – our sisters, wives etc sexually abuse our kids and the list goes on…Would it not be disingenuous if I manage to come to Church even to be asked to contribute financially and hence bankroll these excesses.
– Is it not better to give to the poor individual than to give to the rich church? My generosity is more concrete and meaningful when I donate to the poor man down the street. After all, the invitation is: whatsoever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me. Not what we do to the Church.

Our attitude towards beggars around street corners invariably plays into our attitude towards generosity towards the Church. I worked for a Chinese dude before who was mad at me for donating to the poor. He was so furious and told me if I continued like that, I will remain eternally poor. He told me he never gives money to the poor because these beggars around street corners and thoroughfares gather the nickels, dimes, pennies and quarters and at the end of the day they add up. He recounted a story of a man who spent time at traffic lights begging from motorists. The man, he said confessed to him that on one Christmas day, he made $400 from panhandling. This reminded him of the story of a man in his country who from his daily earnings from panhandling became so rich that he bought a Mercedes Benz and lived in a luxurious apartment he had constructed.

And for those of us in large European and American cities, how often have we looked the other way when a beggar has approached us while we numb our consciences saying by giving to these folks we would be encouraging laziness America is a land of opportunity and so these folks have no reason to be on the streets begging. Worse still, with the smoking culture, the challenge becomes, why should one give money to somebody who would use it just to smoke cigarettes?

Increasingly the philosophy of not “how much” but “the spirit” with which one gives is what is important, is becoming popular. This matters when we are receiving but not when we are giving.
As Lent winds down, we are challenged to confront these rationalizations. The measure you give is the measure you will receive. God has helped us in all kinds of troubles that using the same help we may help others (2Cor.1:4).

Even though Christianity is declining in Europe and it is increasingly becoming secular, one lesson worth retaining is the Lenten sacrifices which led to the development of missions. The Lenten collections pooled to a common fund from which they are able to give grants to poor nations. Yes those posh cars driven by priests in our local Churches are donated from these funds.

All that we sacrificed during Lent should now be gathered and offered up for the good of a worthy cause. For those who drink beer, to use my favorite example, if we sacrificed drinking beer during Lent, then what is expected of us, is to convert the bottles given up into dollar amounts and give alms. Let some other person for whom beer drinking is a luxury they cannot afford, taste of it through our Lenten sacrifice.

Just for lent? Definitely, not. If anything, lent was meant to establish a habit in us, in this case of almsgiving. If you are not registered in a parish, please as part of the fruit of your Lenten harvest, do all to be counted. Then resolve that going forward you would not be an anonymous Christian. Give and you will receive. If all of us gave one tenth of our earnings, what a difference this will make.

Among the many opportunities the Church in the US has put at our disposal for contributing is the development agency known as Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Every year during Lent CRS launches a campaign called Operation Rice Bowl. This is how CRS describes it:
Operation Rice Bowl, CRS’ Lenten program, began in 1975 in the Diocese of Allentown, PA as a response to the drought in the African Sahel. For more than 35 years, Operation Rice Bowl has offered Catholics in the United States a way to connect with our brothers and sisters in need around the world.

Each Lent, nearly 13,000 faith communities across the United States participate to demonstrate solidarity with the poor around the world. Seventy-five percent of Operation Rice Bowl donations come to CRS to help fund development programs designed to increase food security around the world. Twenty-five percent of the donations support hunger and poverty alleviation efforts in dioceses within the United States.

Throughout the 40 days of Lent they have a guided conversation with individuals presenting the needs of the world, their services to the poor, meditation passages from the scripture and the social teaching of the Church. It is significant that rice is used to describe this campaign. Rice is the commonest meal everywhere in the world. Many of us grew up knowing that rice would at least be available on Christmas day and other central events. Follow the recommendations of this campaign and be generous. http://orb.crs.org/about/

The Cameroon Catholic Community of Washington DC will have its collection on Easter Sunday. This collection will help defray costs in shipping books donated from Nebraska for the new Catholic University of Cameroon, Bamenda (http://catuc.org/default.aspx). Please donate generously and help this community aid in the establishment of the library for this university.

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