This is a re-post from last year, and a little bit late as it is best suited to the First Sunday in Lent, but with the huge growth in the readership of The Anglo-Catholic over the past year, I thought it would be good to share an item from our (now vast) archive.
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Holy Church has traditionally kept a threefold discipline for the Lenten season. The first two disciplines — prayer and fasting — are doubtless familiar to most of us, but we mustn't forget about the third. Lent is a time for almsgiving — the granting, in charity, of material favors to those in need. This material service rendered to the poor is done for Christ's sake and is an obligation of the Christian Faith. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) puts it this way:
The obligation of almsgiving is complementary to the right of property "which is not only lawful, but absolutely necessary" (Encycl., Rerum Novarum, tr. Baltimore, 1891, 14). Ownershipadmitted, rich and poor must be found in society. Property enables its possessors to meet their needs. Though labour enables the poor to win their daily bread, accidents, illness, old age, labour difficulties, plagues, war, etc. frequently interrupt their labours and impoverish them. The responsibility of succouring, those thus rendered needy belongs to those who have plenty (St. Thomas, Summa Theol., II-II, Q. xxxii, art. 5, ad 2am), For "it is one thing to have a right to possess money, and another to have a right to use money as one pleases." How must one's possessions be used? The Church replies: Man should not consider his externalpossessions as his own but as common to all, so as to share them without difficulty when others are in need. Whence theApostle says: Command the rich of this world to give with ease. This is a duty not of justice (except in extreme cases), but of Christian charity — a duty not enforced by human law. But the laws and judgments of men must yield to the laws andjudgments of Christ the true God, who in many ways urges on His followers the practice of almsgiving (Encyclical, Rerum Novarum, 14, 15; cf. De Lugo, De Jure et Justitiâ, Disp. xvi, sect. 154).
The following is Ælfric of Eynsham's Homily for the First Sunday in Lent in which the abbot preaches the obligation of all to give of their substance to those in need.
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Men most beloved, it is known to you all that this yearly course just now brings us the pure time of the Lenten Fast, during which we should confess our heedlessness and transgressions to our ghostly confessor, and wash ourselves from sins with fasting, and watchings, and prayers, and alms-deeds, that we may boldly, with ghostly joy, honour the Easter celebration of Christ's ascension, and with faith partake of the holy housel, for the forgiveness of our sins, and protection against devilish temptations.
Manifestly this fortyfold fast was established in the Old Testament, when the leader Moses fasted forty days and forty nights together, in order that he might receive God's law. Again afterwards the great prophet Elijah accomplished, through God's might, a fast as long as the other, and he was afterwards borne bodily in a heavenly car to the life above, and will come again, he and Enoch, against Antichrist, that they may confute the devil's leasing with God's truth. In the New Testament also the Lord, through his divine might, fasted forty days and nights, without all earthly food. Thus was our lenten fast established, but we cannot, by reason of our weakness, accomplish such a fast. Now it is allowed us, by the authority of teachers, daily at this lenten tide to nourish our bodies with abstemiousness, and soberness, and chastity. Foolishly he fasts the lenten fast, who at this pure time defiles himself with libidinousness. Unlawful it is for a. christian man to indulge in fleshly lusts at the time when he shall forgo flesh meats. Verily it is at all times befitting Christian men to perform good works and alms-deeds, and yet most of all at this general fast. He who on other days may be remiss in goodness, should at least on these days be active in good practices. To him who previously had gladly adorned himself with good works, it is fitting that he on these days more earnestly with ardent love show his goodness. No fast will be acceptable to God, unless a man abstain from sins. Be mindful of the two sentences which the Lord spake in his gospel: he said, "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give, and to you shall be given." These two kinds of alms are to be practised by us with great diligence : that with inward heart we forgive other men, if in aught they have offended us, to the end that God may grant us forgiveness of our sins. And let us bestow some advantage of our goods on the poor and needy, for the honour of Almighty God, who has lent them to us, that he may give us more in the future.
Mercy is the medicine of sins; it redeems from eternal death, and allows us not to come to perdition. Mercy alone will be our guardian at the great doom, if in the present life we show it to other men. But to those shall be doom without mercy, who now without mercy judge others. From righteous gains one should distribute alms, as it is written, "Honour thy Lord with thy possessions, and of thy first fruits give unto the poor." The alms that are given from rapine are as acceptable to God as if any one, having killed another man's child, should bring to the father its head as a gift. God commanded alms to be given, and he forbade fraud and rapine. The unrighteous robs others and rejoices: then, if the needy ask alms of him, he is offended, and turns his face away, and forgets the saying of the prophet, who said, "He who turns his face from the crying poor, shall afterwards himself cry unto God, and his voice shall not be heard. Incline thine ear to the prayer of the needy, that God may afterwards hear thy voice. Deal from that which God hath given thee, and thy goods shall be multiplied. If thou neglectest to deal alms, God will take from thee thy goods, and thou shalt afterwards remain poor."
God gives to the rich wealth in abundance, and takes it away from the poor. Why so? That he may try the rich through the indigence of his poor. God made the wealthy and the needy, and would that the poor should be fed by the rich. God appointed the wealthy a distributer of his goods: why then should he appropriate to himself alone that which is given to both? If thou ascribe to thy labour that which thou hast, or if thou ween that the fruits of the earth are thine, then will the Almighty Ruler say unto thee, 'Behold now I will withdraw from thee my support, and have thou thy labour. I will withdraw my rain-showers, and I will make thy land barren. If the land is thine, the rain is mine. Draw thou forth rain-showers, if thou canst, and water thy fields. If thou canst, cause the sun to shine, that thy fields may ripen.' Verily the very land which thou ownest is not thine, but is the Almighty's, as the prophet said, "The earth and her fullness are God's." God will again say unto thee, 'My poor will live without thee ; live, if thou canst, without me. My poor will have all things, if they have me only. What hast thou, if thou hast not me?' Thou pretendest that thou sparest it for thy children, and knowest not to whom it may fall, as the prophet said, "In vain he laboureth who hoardeth gold, and knoweth not for whom he gathereth it." Though thy money fail not, yet thy life ends when thou least imaginest, as Christ himself said in his gospel of a rich man: he said, "There was a rich man in the world, and his fruits throve abundantly. Then the rich man meditated, and said, What shall I do, now I have not where I can gather all my fruits? Again he said, I will clear my barton, and enlarge my barns, and thither gather all my fruits, and say to my soul, My soul, thou hast much good for many years' use: rest thee now, and eat, and drink, and be merry. Then said God to the rich man, Thou fool, now to-night thou shalt yield up thy life. Whose then will be what thou hast provided? So is he who hoardeth for himself, and is not rich in God." Lo thou fearest to distribute: fear not to distribute, thou who knowest not whether thou wilt abide the morrow. Show mercy to poor men with thy gain; the Almighty God will not forsake thee, who has appointed thee as a distributer. Of this the Lord said in his gospel, "Hide not your treasure in the earth, where rust and moths destroy it, and thieves delve and steal; but hoard your treasure in heaven, where neither rust nor moth comes, nor thieves delve nor take it away. For where thy treasure is, there will be thy heart." How can we hide our treasure in heaven but through alms?
If all men in the world were rich, then would mercy have no place, that alms might extinguish the flame of our sins, as it is written, "As water extinguisheth fire, so do alms extinguish sins." No needy person is exempted from almsdeeds. Verily a poor widow had for her whole property but one farthing, which she brought to God's altar, in Christ's presence, and he straightways with his holy mouth praised her, and said, "Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath brought a greater gift than any other person on this day; for she hath brought all that she had with a devout mind." Again, in another place, the Lord said in his gospel, "Whosoever giveth to one thirsty man cold water in my name, shall not lose his meed for that deed." But it will not be accounted as alms, if we give to those men who themselves have for their need; for God commands us not to enrich those who have, but to aid the indigent.
We will yet recount to you one sentence of the evangelical narrative in this same sense: the Lord spake of his advent to the great doom, and thus said, "Verily the Son of man will come in his majesty, and all the angels together with him, to the great doom; then will he sit on the seat of his majesty, and all nations shall be gathered before him, and he will part them into two, as a shepherd parts the sheep from the goats. Then will he place the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left." We will now first manifest to you, if any of you know not who the Son of man is, that Christ himself is the Son of man, who is the Son of one person, the blessed Mary, in humanity, and his humanity will be visible in the doom, when he himself will sit on his doomseat, and the righteous be placed on his right hand, and the sinful on his left. "Then will the King Christ say to those who stand on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, and possess the kingdom which hath been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. I was hungry, and ye fed me; I was thirsty, and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye received me in your hostels; I was naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came to me and comforted me. Then will the righteous answer Christ, and say, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and we fed thee? or thirsty, and we gave thee to drink? or when wast thou a stranger, and we received thee? or when saw we thee sick or in prison, and we visited thee? Then will the King answer the righteous in these words, Verily I say unto you, as long as ye did it for one of these least in my name, ye did it for myself. Then will he afterwards say to the sinful, who stand on his left side, Depart from me, ye accursed, into the everlasting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his accursed spirits. I was hungry, and ye denied me food; I was thirsty, and ye gave me not to drink; I was a stranger, and ye would not receive me; I was naked, and ye would not give me clothing; I was sick and in prison, ye would not visit me. Then will the unrighteous sinful answer, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and we would not serve thee? Then will the King answer them, and say, Verily I say unto you, so long as ye denied to one of these little ones, and would not give to them in my name, so long denied ye it to myself. Then will the avaricious and the unrighteous go into everlasting torment, with the devil and his accursed angels; and the righteous will pass from the doom into eternal life" with Christ and his chosen angels, with whom they will live and reign with body and with soul for ever and ever. Amen.