Alms for your own soul
"Dont delay converting to the Lord; dont put it off from day to day. For his anger will come suddenly, and in the time of vengeance he will destroy you (Sir 5:8-9). So dont put it off; dont let the door still open close against you. The giver of pardon opens a door for you: why are you delaying? Youd rejoice if he opened it at your knock; youre not knocking, and he opens the door, and you remain outside? So dont put it off. Scripture says somewhere, with regard to the works of mercy, Dont say: Go away and come again, and tomorrow Ill give to you, when you can give at present (Prov 3:28), because you dont know what might happen the following day. Youve heard the command not to put off being merciful to another, and you still put off accepting pardon. If you dont put off showing mercy to another, show mercy also to your soul by pleasing God (Sir 30:24). Give alms to your soul, too. Im not saying that you give it, but dont push away the hand of the giver. (Augustine, Sermon 87, 11; PL 38, 536-37)
Why does he say, Give alms, and behold all things are clean to you (Lk 11:41)? What does it mean, Give alms? It means show mercy. And what does that mean? If you want to understand it, start from yourself. How can you show mercy to another if you are cruel to yourself?.... Your soul is begging you; return to your conscience. Whoever you are, living wickedly, living unfaithfully: return to your conscience, and there you will find your soul begging, youll find it needy; youll find it poor; youll find it miserable; and if you dont find it needy, its because its need has deprived it even of speech. For its begging; its hungry for righteousness. When you find your soul like that, inwardly, in your heart, give alms to it first; give it bread. What bread? If the Pharisee were to ask that, the Lord would tell him: Give alms to your own soul. This is what he said to him, but he didnt understand when he listed the alms they were performing, which they thought Christ did not know about. He said to them: I know what you are doing. You tithe mint and anise, cummin and rue; but Im talking about other alms: you scorn judgment and charity (see Mt. 23:23). With judgment and charity, give alms to your own soul. What does judgment mean? Look and find: be unhappy with yourself; pass judgment on yourself. And what is charity? Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37, 39), and you have shown mercy first to your soul, in your conscience. But if you neglect this alms, then give what you wish, donate as much as youd like; withdraw half, not just a tenth, of your produce; give nine-tenths of it away and keep one tenth for yourselfwith all that, youve done nothing if you havent done anything for yourself, and you remain poor in yourself. Feed your soul before it dies of hunger. Give it bread. What bread? he asks. The bread that is speaking to you. If you listen to him and understand and believe the Lord, he himself will say to you, I am the living bread that came down from heaven (Jn 6:41). Should this not be the first bread you give to your soul, the alms you give it? If you believe, then, you must first feed your soul. Believe in Christ, and the inside will be made clean first and then the outside will be made clean (see Mt 23:25-26). (Augustine, Sermon 107, 4; PL 38, 626-27)
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.