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Is almsgiving the same thing as philanthropy?

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Philip Kosloski - published on 02/27/24

While philanthropy and almsgiving often overlap, they are not always the same, as it depends on the disposition of the person giving

In the modern world, philanthropy typically refers to the giving of large sums of money to organizations in need. This is often highly praised, and many wealthy patrons pride themselves on their philanthropic work.

Philanthropy can be a way that someone participates in almsgiving, sacrificing their hard-earned money and giving it to people in need.

However, philanthropy and almsgiving are not always the same, as it depends on the disposition of the giver.

Pope Benedict XVI explains the difference in his message for Lent in 2008:

Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us.

Christian almsgiving

He further comments on how almsgiving should not seek the attention of others, but be done “in secret”:

The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus asserts, “so that your alms may be done in secret” (Mt 6:3-4).

Benedict XVI praises those who participate in almsgiving in this way, “How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty?”

The key to Christian almsgiving is not in being recognized by others as generous, but in simply giving to those in need out of a sincere love of neighbor.

If we want to fulfill Christ’s command to care for our brothers and sisters, we must do so without any desire or need to be recognized as a philanthropic hero.

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