(Post #4 of 4 in "Spring Training")
You know that scene in Disney's "Robin Hood", where Robin is disguised as a beggar and goes around crying, "Alms? Alms for the poor?" Do you know what alms are?
The dictionary defines alms as "something (as food or money) given freely to relieve the poor." During the Lenten season, many people use the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl to collect their spare change and give that to the poor. Some raise money for their local Pregnancy Centers. Others hold food drives or spend time working in the local soup kitchen. There are many things we can give freely to relieve the poor, not just food or money. We also have time and talent.
Now, I have never really been an almsgiver. It's not that I don't care. It's simply that, many times, I have been among the poor receiving the alms. So, this is all new to me. I have been brainstorming to see what I have to offer. What could I give freely to relieve the poor?
I have talents. I could share them. But do the poor need music? I think the answer is yes.
There is very little beauty in poverty. It's a very ugly way to live. It makes you do things and be places that you never thought you would ever be. I have done things to make the rent that I never thought I'd do. I have considered breaking the law in order to keep a roof over my head and to keep the heat on.
Knowing that you are unable to provide adequately for your children is a burden for a parent that you cannot imagine. You see yourself as the worst parent in the world. You begin to turn inward and blame yourself (even if it's not your fault) and self-destruction begins to take over. Nothing brings you joy and all you can do is numb yourself to the pain. This is why there are such problems in poor neighborhoods with drugs, alcohol and sexual sin, and all the crime that accompanies those vices. Anything that kills the pain is good. Anything that makes the pain more real, like facing down those demons, is bad. Then, it all becomes a vicious cycle. You feel bad, so you anesthetize yourself, so you can't crawl out of the hole you're in, so you feel worse, and so on, and so on.
But notice: the focus is always on the self.
I am a bad parent.
I caused this situation.
I am the only one that can get us out.
Here's the trick: Fixing the problem is not something that we can do alone. What breaks the cycle often is turning our eyes to someone else. Looking to the outside of our own little disaster, and seeing that there are not only people much worse off than we are, but that there is still beauty in this world. It requires reliance on God. It requires prayer. I had to allow God to open my eyes to see the beauty around me..
Sometimes that beauty is a smile. Sometimes it's being able to say that you managed one small thing all by yourself (well, okay, with God's help). Sometimes it's sharing the gifts that God gave you. Like the Light of Christ that we share in the passing of the Paschal Candle's flame at Easter Vigil, the beauty is divided and shared but, rather than being diminished, it becomes bright enough to light the night.
That is why I teach people how to sing. There is a joy that cannot be wiped away in seeing someone come from being silent and afraid, to being confident and unafraid. There is a sense of the connectedness we have as human beings when we sing together (even if we do it badly).
Beauty is the key that unlocks Joy, and I think it's the best gift that you could give to anyone. The thing I can give freely is the gift of music God gave me and I share it every chance I get.
This Lent, I am not sure how I will give to the poor, but I am sure that God will direct me. And, I am hoping that I'll be ready to go where He sends me.
If Lent is Catholic Spring Training, then Prayer is the coaching, Fasting is the conditioning and Almsgiving is the scrimmage. It's all a practice so we can get out there and live our mission as God intends us to. If we follow through on all three, we'll be ready for Opening Day. The day God opens the tomb, that is.