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7/29/2017 1:16:00 PM
The spirit of almsgiving

Fr. Eugene Hemrick

I looked for Dad's tools to fix up the house after his death. When they were nowhere to be found, I asked my mother, "Where are Dad's tools?"

"I gave them away", she replied, and then added, "As you get older, it's time to give stuff away, not amass it."

One of the many valuable meanings of almsgiving is found in her observation.

Almsgiving fosters letting go of possessions, teaching us nothing we own is really ours; everything is a gift from God. In encouraging us to give away belongings, we are reminded to avoid letting possessions control us. Equally important is the sense of freedom it gives us: less anxiety over protecting "stuff."

The Greek origin of the word "almsgiving" is "mercy," and in Hebrew it denotes justice.

Having a caring heart for others and sacrificing personal goods to help them is mercy par excellence and nothing is more joyful in life.

Practicing fairness creates solidarity, which is the essence of justice. Justice counsels us to put ourselves in the shoes of others to better understand their dire needs. In the Old Testament, God inspired the prophets to defend orphans, widows, the poor and imprisoned, those who were considered to be society's downtrodden.

St. Thomas Aquinas lists its six qualities of charity: joy, benevolence, peace, fraternal correction, mercy and almsgiving. When one quality is present, so are the others. For example, almsgiving is benevolence, which in turn causes joy and peace.

A closer look at these qualities reveals a disposition in which being well-disposed toward another, the world and God reigns. An even closer look uncovers the goodness and beauty they create echoing St. Peter during the Transfiguration, "Lord, it is good that we are here."

My boyhood pastor once said, "Gene, the reason our country is blessed is our charity. When you share your goods with another, it returns to you tenfold." A truism that runs through the psalms states that as long as we share our goods with others in need, God blessings will always follow.

I have witnessed children playing with each other and then one child will reach out to another spontaneously and hand over a cherished toy. It is ever so heartwarming to experience -- one innocent child reaching out to another: almsgiving at its best.

Father Eugene Hemrick writes for the Catholic News Service column "The Human Side."

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