+St. Teresa of Avila+
The next few blogs will be dedicated to dispelling some misunderstandings that have arisen around certain Catholic moral topics as they apply to the world we live in today. The first subject to be addressed will be almsgiving.
In a day and age when the true sense of Catholic almsgiving has been almost obliterated, it is important to keep in mind the longstanding teaching of the Church in these matters, which along with so many other moral and dogmatic teachings has been lost in the neo-pagan shuffle. Great discretion in almsgiving is required today owing to the many scams and con artist operations run in this world, by both cunning individuals and fraudulent organizations. Many of the younger set especially believe it is perfectly acceptable to aid the anonymous “homeless” person, or beggar with a sign stopping traffic on the street, but those who read what is below will understand that this is neither wise nor does it constitute true charity.
Discretion in Almsgiving
Proverbs 6 — vs. 6-11
6 Go to the ant, O sluggard, and consider her ways, and learn wisdom:
7 Which, although she hath no guide, nor master, nor captain,
8 Provideth her meat for herself in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
9 How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou rise out of thy sleep?
10 Thou wilt sleep a little, thou wilt slumber a little, thou wilt fold thy hands a little to sleep:
11 And want shall come upon thee, as a traveler, and poverty as a man armed. But if thou be diligent, thy harvest shall come as a fountain, and want shall flee far from thee.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins, Matthew 25
- Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride.
- And five of them were foolish, and five wise.
- But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them:
- But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps.
- And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept.
- And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him.
- Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
- And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.
- The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
- Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.
- But at last come also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us.
- But he, answering, said: Amen I say to you, I know you not.
- Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.
“Charity begins at home.” — St. Augustine
The above verses remind us that we are not obligated to support those who are willfully lazy and do not provide for themselves, even in times of great need. As one author writing about hospital care sponsored by the Church wrote: “Hospital care was so good that precautions had to be taken not to permit sturdy beggars to take advantage of it… by pretended ailments and thus secure for themselves a nice easy life or at least a refuge during the colder months until they could take to the road again” (The World’s Debt to the Catholic Church, James J. Walsh, 1924). With the many homeless now populating metro areas, this would seem to be a good bit of advice. Better that such funds be used to benefit some family one knows personally to be truly worthy and in need, and St. Cyprian says such people do not need to be Catholic. The risk of the homeless or random beggars using these funds for sinful purposes is simply too great, and this would amount to cooperation in sin. More on this is explained below.
Rules for almsgiving
(The following is from the article on Almsgiving, Catholic Encyclopedia.)
Discretion in almsgiving is counseled in the Apostolic Constitutions: “Alms must not be given to the malicious, the intemperate, or the lazy; lest a premium should be set on vice” (Const. Apost., ii, 1-63; iii, 4-6).
And this from the Didache, or non-canonical book, The Teaching of the 12 Apostles: “In addition to its innate characteristics, almsgiving should be vested with qualities tending to garner fruitfulness for giver and receiver. Hence, almsgiving should be discreet, so as to reach deserving individuals or families (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Sirach 12:4); prompt, so as to warrant opportuneness (Proverbs 3:28); secret and humble (Matthew 6:2); cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7); abundant (Tobit 4:9; St. Thomas, Summa Theol., II-II, Q. xxxii, art. 10). The harvest of blessings to be reaped by almsgiving amply suffices to inspire noble-minded Christians “to make unto themselves friends of the Mammon of iniquity.”
First of all, almsgiving renders the donor like unto God Himself (Luke 6:30, 36); nay more, it renders God Himself debtor to those giving alms (Matthew 25:40 sqq.). Moreover, almsgiving adds special efficacy to prayer (Tobit 4:7), tends to appease divine wrath (Hebrews 13:16); liberates from sin and its punishment (Sirach 29), and thus paves the way to the gift of faith (Acts 10:31). Daily experience proves that those lending a helping hand to stay the miseries of the poor frequently prepare the way for the moral reformation of many whose temporal misery pales before their spiritual wretchedness. Finally, almsgiving tends to guard society against turbulent passions whose fury is often checked by almsgiving.
“Give to everyone that asks thee, and do not refuse, for the Father’s will is that we give to all from the gifts we have received. Blessed is he that gives according to the mandate; for he is innocent; but he who receives it without need shall be tried as to why he took and for what, and being in prison he shall be examined as to his deeds, and “he shall not come out thence until he pay the last farthing.”
“But concerning this it was also said, “Let thine alms sweat into thine hands until thou knowest to whom thou art giving.” (The Didache)
Moral Theology on almsgiving, McHugh and Callan
- (b) As to the need of the receiver, a person should give his share towards providing for the case before him. Thus, if there is no one else who can or will give, and a neighbor is in grave necessity, a charitable person will bear the whole expense, as was done by the good Samaritan. But if the necessity is ordinary (as in the case of street beggars), or there are others who will help, a smaller alms suffices. Steady employment is a better charity than temporary doles, inasmuch as it gives permanent assistance.
- (a) Those in apparent need are such as pretend poverty, sickness, or misfortune, in order to get sympathy and financial aid (e.g., professional beggars). Alms should not be given persons of this kind, since they take what would be given to the really poor and needy. Rather they should be exposed and punished.
(b) Those in real need through choice should not be helped, if they take to begging because they are too lazy to work, or find it profitable to live off others; for they have no right to beg, being able to help themselves, and it would be wrong to encourage them in idleness and an imposition on others (II Thess., iii. 10). But those who are voluntarily poor for Christ’s sake, whether they belong to a religious order or not, are worthy of respect and it is meritorious to assist them.
(c) Those who are in real need against their will, should be assisted; for, even though they became destitute through their own fault, they are in fact unable to help themselves now.
- The Manner of Giving Alms
(a) One gives alms directly when one ministers relief personally to the needy, giving food to the starving and medicine to the sick, helping to put out a fire, etc.
(b) One gives alms indirectly when one pays taxes for the support of alms-houses, public hospitals, orphan asylums, homes for the aged, the insane, etc.; …
- Public charity done by the State is useful and necessary under the conditions of modern life, but it does not and cannot take the place of charity done by the Church or by private individuals.
(a) State-administered charity does not reach all, or even the most deserving, cases of need. Hence, those who pay their taxes for the support of state charities are not thereby exempted from the obligation of contributing to cases they may meet, especially of extreme or grave necessity.
Charity can demand a condemnation
Canon 1935 tells Catholics they have an obligation to publicly denounce those posing a danger to the faith, as does Can. 1325. Catholics often fall into the trap today of urging charity for those disseminating errors since they are in invincible ignorance (although we cannot always be certain of this), but this is not Catholic practice. Rather it is the practice of liberal charity, as Rev. Felix Sarda Salvany explains in his book, What Is Liberalism, a book personally commended by the Holy Office.
“It is often necessary to displease or offend one person, not for his own good but to deliver another from the evil he is inflicting. It is then an obligation of charity to repel the unjust violence of the aggressor; one may inflict as much injury on the aggressor as is necessary for the defense… The love due to a man inasmuch as he is our neighbor ought always to be subordinated to that which is due to our common Lord. For His love and in His service we must not hesitate to offend men… Therefore, to offend our neighbor for the love of God is a true act of charity. Not to offend our neighbor for the love of God is a sin. If the propagation of good and the necessity of combating evil require the employment of terms somewhat harsh against error and its supporters, this usage certainly is not against charity…
“The authors of heretical doctrines are soldiers with poisoned weapons in their hands… Is it sufficient to dodge their blows? Not at all; the first thing necessary is to demolish the combatant himself… It is thus lawful, in certain cases, to expose the infamy of [an] opponent, to bring his habits into contempt and to drag his name in the mire…The only restriction is not to employ a lie in the service of justice. This never. Under no pretext may we sully the truth, even to the dotting of an ‘i.’ As a French writer says: ‘Truth is the only charity allowed in history,’ and, we may add, in the defense of religion and society…When it strikes, let the sword of the Catholic polemicist wound, and wound mortally…This is the only real and efficacious means of waging war.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us further that alms also can be given in a spiritual manner: “As, however, the spiritual works of mercy deal with a distress whose relief is even more imperative as well as more effective for the grand purpose of man’s creation, the injunction must be supposed to extend to them also. Besides there are the plain references of Christ to such works as fraternal correction (Matthew 18:15) as well as the forgiveness of injuries (Matthew 6:14). It has to be remembered however that the precept is an affirmative one, that is, it is of the sort which is always binding but not always operative, for lack of matter or occasion or fitting circumstances. …Thus in general it may be said that the determination of its actual obligatory force in a given case depends largely on the degree of distress to be aided, and the capacity or condition of the one whose duty in the matter is in question.
“The law imposing spiritual works of mercy is subject in individual instances to important reservations. For example, it may easily happen that an altogether special measure of tact and prudence, or, at any rate, some definite superiority is required for the discharge of the oftentimes difficult task of fraternal correction. Similarly to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, and console the sorrowing is not always within the competency of everyone. To bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offences willingly, and to pray for the living and the dead are things from which on due occasion no one may dispense himself on the pleas that he has not some special array of gifts required for their observance. They are evidently within the reach of all. It must not be forgotten that the works of mercy demand more than a humanitarian basis if they are to serve as instruments in bringing about our eternal salvation. The proper motive is indispensable, and this must be one drawn from the supernatural order.”
Duty to dispel ignorance
Ignorance in our times is legion. Much confusion has arisen as the result of deliberate mis-instruction in the faith owing to Modernism, ecumenism and the proliferation of non-Catholic sects. Many desire to know the truth but are lost in a welter of conflicting opinions and half-truths. To help readers better understand the true nature of ignorance and their obligations as Catholics, we return to the moral theologians McHugh and Callan for a reliable assay regarding ignorance.
“27. With reference to the responsibility of the person who is ignorant, there are two kinds of ignorance:
(a) Ignorance is invincible when it cannot be removed, even by the use of all the care that ordinarily prudent and conscientious persons would use in the circumstances. Thus, a person who has no suspicions of his ignorance, or who has tried in vain to acquire instruction about his duties, is invincibly ignorant.
(b) Ignorance is vincible when it can be removed by the exercise of ordinary care. There are various degrees of this species of ignorance: first, it is merely vincible, when some diligence has been exercised, but not enough; secondly, it is crass or supine, when hardly any diligence has been used; thirdly, it is affected, when a person deliberately aims to continue in ignorance.
“30. (b) Vincible ignorance does not make an act involuntary, since the ignorance itself is voluntary; hence, it does not excuse from sin. It does not even make an act less voluntary and less sinful, if the ignorance is affected in order that one may have an excuse; for such a state of mind shows that the person would act the same way, even though he had knowledge.
“31. Vincible ignorance makes an act less voluntary and less sinful:
(a) when the ignorance is not affected, for the voluntariness is measured by the knowledge, and knowledge here is lacking;
(b) when the ignorance, though affected, was fostered only through fear that knowledge might compel a stricter way of life; for such a state of mind seems to show that one would not act the same way if one had knowledge.
“The Commandment of Knowledge:
The first of the foregoing commandments includes three things:
(a) The doctrines of faith must be taught and must be listened to — “These words thou shalt tell to thy children” (Deut., vi. 6), “Teach ye all nations” (Matt, xxviii. 19), “He that heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me” (Luke, x. 16).
(b) One must apply oneself to understand what one hears — “Thou shalt meditate on these words, sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising” (Deut., vi. 7), “Meditate upon these things, be wholly in these things. Take heed to thyself and doctrine” (I Tim., iv, 15, 16).
(c) One must retain what one has learned — “Thou shalt bind the words of the law as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them in the entry and on the doors of thy house” (Deut., vi. 8, 9); “Have in mind in what manner thou hast received and heard” (Apoc., iii. 3).
There has been some confusion about the true nature of affected ignorance and the authors above do not sufficiently address this matter. Innocent Robert Swoboda, O.F.M., J.C.L., in his Ignorance in Relation to the Imputability of Delicts (1941) writes: “Affected ignorance is real ignorance and not merely simulated or pretended ignorance. A man who pretends ignorance or pleads ignorance in court contrary to fact is not ignorant at all; he is merely trying to deceive others… Affected ignorance can therefore be defined as a directly voluntary lack of obligatory knowledge which is procured by positive effort …” The gravity of affected ignorance depends upon the gravity of the motive on account of which the ignorance is directly sought. We have seen many who know they should investigate the claims of their Traditionalist sects further, yet fail to do so. The same could be said of some claiming to be pray-at-home Catholics. Their motives, which cannot be certainly known, determine the seriousness of their sin. This is something that can be positively determined only by a confessor.
It requires courage to face the truth, and many simply lack the intestinal fortitude to move from their comfy Traditional couches. On the other hand, those who at least try to inform themselves should be careful that theirs is not a selective process when it comes to a better understanding of the true nature of faith or morals, since all of us are easily capable of deceiving ourselves. The best precaution to take against such deceit is to read Fr. Frederick Faber’s chapters on this subject in his Spiritual Conferences, available at https://archive.org/details/spiritualconfer00fabe. If we wish to save our souls, if Heaven is truly our goal, we will leave no stone unturned in the quest for truth. May the Holy Ghost enlighten you all and guide you in that quest.
What a blessing to learn the Church’s wisdom about almsgiving. As always, Her rules make complete sense, and they free a person from feeling any unnecessary guilt when discerning whether or not to give aid to one who is begging. That this discernment is actually required of us is so very good to know. I love our Church’s rules. It makes life so easy and carefree as long as we obey Her.
And the notes on ignorance are so much appreciated also. Those who are on the fence of leaving the non-Catholic sects of Traditionalism and Novus Ordo and returning to the true Church must meditate on these points. Very, very important for their salvation depends on it.
I am convinced that if any person would study with all the strength they can muster the teachings of our Church, they would leave those false sects and work out their salvation with the fear and trembling that St. Paul says we must. This does not mean they will not have peace–the loss of which they fear which actually inhibits their learning process. This union with our true Church would bring to them the real peace that they seek, the peace that Jesus promised us–the one that surpasses all understanding.