7 "But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving."
In this passage, we see an exhortation (that is, a strong urging) to almsgiving. Along with prayer and fasting, almsgiving is one of the spiritual acts of penance to which we are particularly called during Lent. It is a way of giving of ourselves for the benefit of another, just as Christ gave His everything for us that we might live. It is also an act of worshiping God, by giving something that we want for ourselves up to God and letting Him have control of it, because He is God and we are not. The most basic way of doing this is to tithe, but alms entails giving over and above that.
So almsgiving is all well and good when you have the wherewithal (ie, money) to give, to the poor or charity, or maybe your friend who’s hungry and forgot lunch money and doesn’t particularly need to fast today. What if you don’t have money? (a circumstance I find myself in plenty of the time, maybe some of you can relate.)
We can give the alms of our time to God. This Lent, I really wanted to pray a mystery of the rosary a day, but I knew I would not be able to set aside the full 20-30 minutes that would entail. However, I noticed I had a lot of little random pockets of wasted time in my day, particularly walking to classes and taking the bus. I felt that, rather than just letting my mind wander, the Lord wanted me to consecrate this time to His Mother. So I started praying the rosary during these times, usually just a decade or maybe two at a time. In this way, I’ve said a full 5-decade rosary every day this Lent; or at least every day I’ve had somewhere to walk! This is almsgiving: finding where we have a little extra we’re not using, and letting it go somewhere useful.
We can also give the alms of our love and/or attention to our brothers and sisters. This one is often hard for me. I get preoccupied with my own thoughts and feelings, and don’t always want to give my patience to someone else and listen to them, or take the time and thought to pay a compliment, or make the effort and take the risk of smiling at someone I don’t know very well to let them know I think they’re a great person, made in the image of God. It entails finding in myself the love God has given me and, rather than hording it to make sure I feel ok with myself, dispensing it to someone else. But every time I do this, I find I receive so much more in return, from God and my fellow creatures, and that God is changing me and giving me more to give away.
In almsgiving, too, we come one step closer to really being poor for the sake of the God who became poor for us. This is the greatest blessing; for when we have nothing, we know that we need nothing but Him.