Together with fasting and prayer, giving alms is at the center of these 40 days.
“Almsgiving” has become a somewhat old-fashioned expression with a negative connotation. People prefer using terms like “sharing” and “solidarity” these days. It’s a real pity, though, because “almsgiving” is not just a philanthropic gesture to alleviate material poverty. “Alms” comes from a Greek word that refers to God’s mercy toward humanity and later that of humanity toward their less fortunate brothers and sisters. “Mercy” or “tender compassion toward a miserable sinner” is the exact translation of this word. It stands for the love God has for the poor and for the path that leads to Him. That is why, together with fasting and praying, almsgiving is at the center of the 40 days of Lent.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40
Almsgiving is not optional.It’s not an “extra” activity, but an actual extension of fasting and prayer. It’s a duty of any Christian regardless of the state of their personal finances. This is why we must help our children experience this side of Lent, even if they don’t possess any material or financial means. Of course, charity requires effectiveness in the service of our less fortunate sisters and brothers.The “make-do” under a pretext that we mean well is just not enough. But it’s not the sole purpose of almsgiving nor is it its only significance.
Although children can’t give much, what matters most is what their sacrifice symbolizes for them. We all remember the story of the poor widow from the Gospel of Luke: “This poor widow has put in more than all the others” (Lk 21:3-4). So, how can we actually let our children experience this aspect of their spiritual life and teach them about almsgiving?
Transform things you chose to give up into money that can slide into a piggy bank.
During Lent some of the things your child has given up of their own free will may be converted into money. You don’t need to put a price tag on everything or confuse almsgiving with fasting. It is simply a way to let them see with their own eyes the concrete fruits of their sacrifice. For example, money saved by giving up on candy and cookies can be given to charities.
If your child receives some pocket money and is old enough, you can put a piggy bank or a money box on their desk to drop a coin whenever they wish to do so. You can let young children take part in family fundraisers by placing a stash of coins next to it: each may secretly slide a coin inside whenever they have given up on something. It’s an excellent way of learning how to enact the commandment of Christ and give in secret (Matt.6:2-4).
Should we curb our children’s generosity?
Children tend to be more generous than adults. We are often tempted to curb their generosity, because it seems extravagant or unwarranted. It’s worth our while to remind the child that they can’t promise or give just anything, especially if it involves money coming from someone else’s pocket. But aside from this, almsgiving knows no bounds: “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Lk. 6:38).