An effective way to secure paradise: almsgiving - by Don Bosco

Source: District of Canada

Don Bosco

1. A very effective, but also very neglected means of gaining paradise is almsgiving. By almsgiving, I mean any work of mercy exercised towards one’s neighbour out of love for God (1). God says in Sacred Scripture that almsgiving obtains forgiveness of sins, even very many sins: “Charity covereth a multitude of sins” (I Pet 4:8). And the divine Savior expresses himself in the Gospel: “What is beyond your needs (NB. Vulgate: ‘Quod superest’), give to the poor” (Lk 11:41) “He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner” (Luke III). God assures us that everything we do for the poor he considers as his own. “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt XXV). 

Do you still want God to forgive you your sins and deliver you from eternal death? Give alms. “Alms deliver from all sin, and from death.” Do you want to keep your soul from going to the darkness of hell? Give alms. “Alms will not suffer the soul to go into darkness” (Tob IV, 11). In short, God assures us that almsgiving is a very effective way to obtain forgiveness of sins, to find mercy before God and to lead us to eternal life. “Alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting” (Tob. XII, 9).

2. If, then, you desire God to have mercy on you, begin by showing mercy to the poor. You will say, “I do what I can.” But be careful that the Lord asks you to give to the poor all that is superfluous: “What is beyond your needs, give to the poor.” So, I would like to point out that superfluous concerns the acquisitions and the increase in wealth that you make from year to year. Superfluous is that search you have for table services, for meals, for carpets, for clothes, which could be of use to the hungry, to the thirsty, to cover the naked. Superfluous is that luxury in travel, in theatres, in balls and other entertainments where you can say that what belongs to the poor will be spent.

It is true, there are some who say that giving one’s superfluous to the poor is a counsel, a simple advice, not a precept (2). Do not believe such words. The Saviour spoke in imperative form and not as advice; better still, so that no one should be deceived and dispense with taking his words seriously or inventing pretexts for refusing to make proper use of his riches, He added that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Not that it is impossible for the rich to save themselves, but he wanted to point out how much they are in danger of losing themselves through the misuse of their wealth.

Someone will say: “I must maintain my social rank and prestige, and there is nothing superfluous left for me to give alms.” Good. Maintain the decorum of your condition, but do not forget that the poor are your brothers. Those precious jewels that you keep in your safe unnecessarily, the heaps of costumes and clothes that end up being eaten away by moths, the immoderate luxury in furniture, at parties, at balls, in theatres and the like, all these expenses are largely superfluous, they seem incompatible with the existence of the poor, your brothers, who sometimes suffer hunger, thirst and cold. Incompatible with the sad end of many, whom with a little help you could save from the ruin of soul and body.

Perhaps you will say: “I am not rich.” If you don’t have riches, give what you can. Besides, you don’t lack the means and ways of giving alms. Aren’t there any sick people to visit, to assist, to watch over? Are there not abandoned young people to be taken in, instructed, welcomed in your house if you can, or at least to be led to where they can learn the knowledge of salvation? Are there not sinners to be warned, those beset by doubt to be counselled, the afflicted to be comforted, quarrels to be appeased, insults to be given? You see how many ways you can give alms and deserve eternal life! And again, can’t you make some kind of prayer, go to confession, receive communion, recite the rosary, attend Mass for the relief of souls in purgatory, for the conversion of sinners, or for the enlightenment and faith of unbelievers? Is it not also a beautiful almsgiving to send perverse books to the flames, to spread good books and to speak in every favorable occasion about our holy Catholic religion?

(1) Don Bosco therefore understands “almsgiving” in the broad sense of every gift to one's neighbour for love of God (this is in fact the biblical and liturgical meaning of the term), and not only the gift of money or material objects. In fact, in its development, he first insists at length on material gifts. Then, at the end of the second point, he points to various other forms of active charity, prompted by so many other forms of poverty. 

(2) Remarkably, this paragraph and the following one were absent from the first edition. Don Bosco therefore saw fit to clarify his thinking and to insist on the possessed. He never ceased to insist forcefully that “to give one's superfluous to the poor” is “a precept”, a strict requirement of the Gospel, and that one must be careful not to look for pretexts to escape from it. By the tone used here and the concrete examples given, Don Bosco finds the accent of the prophets: “The poor are your brothers”. He will use it again in the conferences of the Salesian Cooperators.