Once, when I was a teenager, I sat down at my desk with a piece of paper and scheduled out an entire week. I planned time for exercise, studying, eating, sleeping, chores, school and the fun stuff. It was an informative exercise and I wish I had saved my work (if only to see what my teenage self was thinking). While I don’t remember if I followed my plan exactly, I do remember realizing that there was not a lot of time in a 168-hour week left over for the “fun stuff.”
Our time is one of our greatest gifts. Money, often considered a great gift, actually pales in comparison. Most everyone can always make more money. But no one can make more time.
Still, money is a gift and one that is meant to be shared, particularly during Lent, when the Church encourages us to increase our generosity in almsgiving. As Lent begins, it’s a good time to reflect on how we plan to spend both our money and our time during the coming 40 days.
The Bishops weigh in on Lenten almsgiving…
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reminds us that during Lent, Catholics are “asked to focus more intently on ‘almsgiving,’ which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity.”
3 Lenten almsgiving ideas
There are many ways to give alms during Lent. The key is to find a cause that helps your neighbor in need through the corporal works of mercy (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned as well as burying the dead).
Here are just three simple ideas to get you started on your Lenten almsgiving mission.
- Service: Seek out a service project with a local charity. Give time. Example: Volunteer to pound some nails with Habitat for Humanity, find your local food bank and offer to organize the donations that come in or help at your local soup kitchen. Better yet, organize a small group of friends to join you with the service project.
- The piggy bank: Set up a Lenten almsgiving “piggy bank” in your home. This is especially instructive and fun for children. It will help to teach them that Lent is a season grounded in sacrifice and service. As a strategy, let’s say you typically eat out once a week. During Lent, give up eating out and drop the cost of that meal into your piggy bank. At the end of Lent, you will probably have a hundred dollars or more. Before dropping a check to your favorite charity, check out a watchdog website called CharityNavigator. The site provides an independent analysis of where thousands of charities spend their money. You might be surprised at the percentage of your donation going to administration fees, rather than those in need.
- Think like a Medici: Thanks to modern technology, each one of us has the ability to be like a small scale House of Medici, the family of influential patrons of 14th-century Italian art. Through crowd funding sites, Catholics can easily invest in people and projects that align with our tastes, values and beliefs. Crowd funding directly supports people, projects and ideas. For Catholics, there are a couple of crowd funding websites trying to unite and support Catholic endeavors. Check out WonderWe and Catholic Funder. Unlike Kickstarter and GoFundMe, Catholic Funder only charges the credit card fee and relies on donations to run the site, rather than “taxing” donations made through its site. The site has been around a couple of years, though it is currently in development for a re-launch. According to Brian Schardt, the founder of Catholic Funder, the site “aims to be more than just crowd funding but really a center for all Catholic donations, e.g. parish donations, alumni school giving, etc.” Keep in mind, to claim your donation as a tax write-off to something like Catholic Funder or Kickstarter, the Internal Revenue Service requires donations be made directly to a 501 (c) 3 registered charity.
Almsgiving is just one of three pillars of Lenten service, the others being prayer and fasting. The three go hand in hand and should be a regular part of your Catholic life and not just a once-a-year Lenten sacrifice.
There will be 960 hours in Lent. How will you spend them?