The Practical Practice of Almsgiving

Catholic Clergy

One of the dreariest tasks of a parish priest is to stand up and ask for money. One can almost hear the moans of the parishioners and hear them thinking, “Here we go again. Father’s always asking for money. That’s all he ever thinks about is money.”

This complaint is more accurately aimed at the complainer. Father Frugal — like most priests — loathes asking for money. It is the grudging parishioner — Mr.Cashback — who is always thinking of money — otherwise he wouldn’t be grumbling about it.

During this season of Lent we stop and remind ourselves that almsgiving is one of the three expectations for a good Lent along with fasting and prayer. A request to give one’s money away is most painful because the request for alms is about far more than money.

Money itself is not the issue. It’s not money. It’s what money buys: security, prestige, power, control — and most of all power over oneself and one’s decisions. If we gave up our money we’d have to trust in God instead of our bank account, and that is the real test.

Fr Frugal does not ask for money for himself.  He asks for money to save your soul.

It is really quite simple. You cannot get into heaven if you worship some other God. You cannot serve God and money. This simplest of Sunday School lesson is somehow the one most difficult to understand. If you wish to get into heaven you will — sooner or later — have to overcome your love of money. You thought the priest was asking for money so he could have control over you. In fact, the good priest asks for your money not so he can have control over you, but so that your money will not have control over you. He does not ask for money to enslave you, but to set you free.

When we give sacrificially we tell our money who’s boss. We take control of the money rather than the money taking control of us. It is all too easy to be possessed by our possessions, and all too easy to forget that if we are possessed by anything other than the Holy Spirit we are possessed by a kind of demon, and the way to exorcise the demon of greed and the false idol called mammon is to give our money away.

What we cannot see is that most of us are hooked on money just as certainly and demonically as a drug addict is addicted or an alcoholic is dependent. Drugs and booze make them feel good about themselves and their world. Drugs and booze give them an artificial high. Same with money. It makes us feel good about ourselves and the world, and like any other artificial stimulant — the high soon fades and we need more and more and will never be satisfied. Giving alms is like giving up a drug, and it is just as difficult.

But just like giving up a drug, the practical effect of sacrificial giving is an authentic freedom. When we give alms we are breaking the chains that bind us.

This is how it works: when we give generously — I mean really generously — we shift our values. Our mind is changed. We come to realize that we do not need so much. The old car we have will do. Soon we don’t care so much about the clothes we needed to impress people and the extra luxuries we needed to reassure ourselves and build our self esteem. By giving generously we become more contented and we really do need less. The sooner we realize we have enough, the sooner we have enough.

Until Catholics in the United States learn this lesson, the church will continue to be ineffectual, weak and complacent. As long as American Catholics continue to rely on cash rather than Christ, the church will be a sleeping giant.

Finally, every action of sacrifice releases spiritual power into the world. Through sacrifice God’s grace is poured out and great things are accomplished. They are accomplished not just because good people now have the money to do God’s work. They are accomplished because through the sacrifice of giving alms human will aligns to God’s will. Pride and the worship of mammon are broken and God’s great and loving power is unleashed on a dark and needy world.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is “The Romance of ReligionVisit his blog, browse his books at

Catechesis teaches us what to believe and how to behave, but Catholics also need down to earth advice for putting their faith into action. Lent is one of the times to make a new resolve, roll up our sleeves and make some spiritual progress.

Fr. Longenecker writes here on the need for almsgiving. He also provides practical advice on prayer and the Catholic life in many other places. For help in your practice of the Catholic faith sign up for FaithWorks! — Fr Longenecker’s free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith.

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About the Author

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He conducts parish missions, retreats and speaks at conferences across the USA.

His latest book is The Romance of Religion - Fighting for Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Visit his blog, listen to his radio show, and browse his books at

Catechesis teaches us what to believe and how to behave, but Catholics also need down to earth advice for putting their faith into action. For help in your practice of the Catholic faith sign up for FaithWorks! -- Fr Longenecker's free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith.

Visit Fr. Longenecker on Facebook:

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. Fr Dwight was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson.

Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. He spent the next ten years working as a freelance Catholic writer, contributing to over twenty-five magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA.

Fr. Dwight is the editor of a best-selling book of English conversion stories called The Path to Rome - Modern Journeys to the Catholic Faith. He has written Listen My Son - a daily Benedictine devotional book which applies the Rule of St Benedict to the task of modern parenting. St Benedict and St Thérèse is a study of the lives and thought of two of the most popular saints.

In the field of Catholic apologetics, Fr. Dwight wrote Challenging Catholics with John Martin, the former editor of the Church of England Newspaper. More Christianity is a straightforward and popular explanation of the Catholic faith for Evangelical Christians. Friendly and non-confrontational, it invites the reader to move from 'Mere Christianity' to 'More Christianity'. Mary-A Catholic Evangelical Debate is a debate with an old Bob Jones friend David Gustafson who is now an Evangelical Episcopalian.

Fr. Dwight’s Adventures in Orthodoxy is described as ‘a Chestertonian romp through the Apostles’ Creed.’ He wrote Christianity Pure&Simple which was published by the Catholic Truth Society in England and Sophia Institute Press in the USA. He has also published How to Be an Ordinary Hero and his book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing was published by Our Sunday Visitor in May 2008. His latest books are The Gargoyle Code - a book in the tradition of Screwtape Letters and a book of poems called A Sudden Certainty, Adventures in Orthodoxy and The Romance of Religion.

Fr. Dwight has contributed a chapter to the third volume of the best selling Surprised by Truth series and is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine, St Austin Review, This Rock, Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Register. Fr. Dwight has also written a couple of children’s books, had three of his screenplays produced, and is finishing his first novel. He’s working on a book on angels and his autobiography: There and Back Again.

In 2006 Fr. Dwight accepted a post as Chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. This brought him and his family back, not only to his hometown, but also to the American Bible belt, and hometown of Bob Jones University. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He is the Administrator of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and an oblate of Belmont Abbey.

Fr. Dwight enjoys movies, blogging, books, and visiting Benedictine monasteries. He’s married to Alison. They have four children, named Benedict, Madeleine, Theodore and Elias. They live in Greenville, South Carolina with a black Labrador named Anna, a chocolate lab called Felicity, cat named James and various other pets.

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  1. Though I’ve not been one to think our parish and other priests I’ve known are being overbearing when they give the sermon on the amount, I’ve also never seen the virtue of almsgiving in quite this light, either. Thank you, Father! I hope I will remember this always.

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