(An excerpt from the booklet How to Keep Lent, + Imprimatur by Patrick Cardinal Hayes, February 6, 1935).
The Gospel shows us what value God sets on works of charity. These works are the standard by which He will judge all men at the last day.
St. Augustine thus explains this Gospel truth: "It is written: Redeem your sins with alms, because, in effect, our Lord loves the charitable above all things, and recompenses His elect principally in consideration of the relief they have given to the miserable. As if He should more clearly say: It is a difficult matter diligently to examine your life and use mercy towards you; nevertheless, go enter into the eternal kingdom; for I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; so that the kingdom of heaven is not given to you because you have not sinned but because you have redeemed your sins with alms."
St. Peter of Ravenna goes a step farther: "It is an admirable thing to see how pleasing to God the relief is that is given to the poor, since that, in the kingdom of heaven, in the presence of angels, and in that great assembly of men raised from the dead, there is no mention of the death that Abel suffered, nor of the world which Noe preserved, nor of the faith that Abraham had, nor of the law which Moses gave, nor of the cross to which St. Peter was fastened, but only of the bread that is given to the poor."
The day of judgment will be a day of surprises; but the greatest surprise of all will be to see how easily we might have redeemed our sins, how easily we might have attained heaven, and how we have gone out of the way to reach hell.
"Charity covereth a multitude of sins."
Almsgiving must be the faithful companion of fasting. Persons who do not fast may give alms more liberally but almsgiving must not merely supply the place of fasting. There is a poor-box in every church. Sometimes a special box is placed for Lenten alms. Few know of the many and varied calls made on a priest in every large city. How often the sick and poor of the parish stand in need of things and the priest has not the wherewith to supply the need.
Day by day in Lent we call on God for mercy. God is liberal to us; le us be liberal and generous with temporal goods. We ask for mercy, but we cannot hope to receive it unless we ourselves are merciful. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
Under almsdeeds come all the works of mercy. There is no man so poor who cannot perform this good work. The poor, pinched as they are by poverty often perform works of mercy. They suffer so much they have more than their share of sympathy for those in distress. When we are unable to assist the poor, the sick, the suffering with temporal goods, we have it still in our power to perform one or other of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Above all we can assist them with our prayers.
St. Gregory says: "He whose heart is touched with compassion gives no less than he who exercises liberality toward the poor; for the one gives his wealth, and the other his soul, which is much more precious than all the worldly wealth."
St. Augustine says: "Of all the works of mercy with which we may obtain pardon for our sins, there is none greater or more prevalent than willingly to pardon those who have offended us."
St. Peter Chrysologus says: "Consider, brethren, that you cannot be without sin, and that you always desire your sins should be forgiven you; if, you will, then, be forgiven, you must forgive, and so know that your happiness is in your own hands, and that in pardoning others, you pardon yourselves."
St. Caesarius says: "If you have not wherewithal to relieve the captives or clothe the naked, be at least very careful to banish out of your heart all kinds of ill-will against your neighbor. Render not to your enemies evil for evil; on the contrary, love them and pray for them. Living thus, ground yourself securely on the mercy and promises of God, and fear not to say to Him with confidence: Give me, O Lord, for I have given; pardon me because I have pardoned."
Remember the word of the Lord Jesus, how He said: It is more blessed to given than to receive (Acts xx. 35).
"He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brethren in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him; how doth the charity of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth" (1 John iii. 17,18).
"Give alms out of thy substance, and turn not away thy face from any poor person, for so it shall come to pass that the face of the Lord shall not be turned from thee" (Tobias iv. 7).
"Let each one love his brother in charity. We have each our faults. He who has to put up with his brother's fault today, will have to be borne with himself tomorrow." - St. Alphonsus Liguori