Almsgiving is about relationship.
I have heard that Mother Teresa would often invite donors to come and work with the people for whom they wrote checks and organized fundraisers. To me the purpose was simple – so that donors could be involved in the lives of those they supported, and not simply be some distant or unfamiliar benefactor. As I reflect on the theme of Almsgiving, it occurs to me that another reason may exist.
Relationships have the potential to bring others back to life. In reading the Gospel passage from the fifth Sunday of Lent (Scrutiny Year A), I find myself in the tomb of Lazarus. Having had the great fortune of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2017, I was able to spend a moment alone in that tomb. While surrounded by stone and dampness, I closed my eyes and imagined what it was like to be Lazarus. I stood still, allowing the darkness of the tomb to find me and rest upon me. What would it have been like to exist in death and utter silence for four days with the darkness settling in more and more each day? And in that state to then hear the voice of my closest friend calling me back into light and life?
I have no doubt Jesus could have raised Lazarus from the dead without being physically present, but he chose to be there. Jesus chose to be near his friend, to be there as Lazarus was welcomed back into the arms of his family and friends. Giving is good. Presence is God. We were made inherently good, but we are made above all in the image and likeness of God. We are called to be present to those in the dark just as Jesus chose to be present.
While being present to those we love and those we strive to love better has been a challenge during life in quarantine; presence is not always defined by physical presence. Presence can take place over the phone, through a letter, or in an email because each of these actions tells the person on the receiving end that we care. It shows that we choose to spend time on them and with them and for them. It says to them, “I see you.”
To be acknowledged is one thing, but to be seen says that we are valued and loved. No matter what we do or give to practice Almsgiving, it is about the person and the relationship. Showing others that they are seen, heard, and loved has the potential to bring them back from the lifelessness of all that weighs them down.
When we choose to invest in people by being present in whatever creative way we are able, it reminds them of their dignity and calls them forth to live it more fully.