The Pope encouraged almsgiving in his Lenten message, dated Oct. 30 and released today by the Vatican. The theme of the message is "Christ Made Himself Poor for You."
The Holy Father said, "Lent […] stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters."
He recalled the specific Lenten tasks proposed by the Church -- prayer, fasting and almsgiving -- and dedicated the message to a reflection on giving alms, "a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods."
"The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: 'You cannot serve God and mammon,'" the Pontiff noted. "Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor's needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness.
"This is the aim of the special collections in favor of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church."
Benedict XVI noted how the Gospel teaches that we are only administrators, not owners, of material goods.
They are "means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of his providence for our neighbor," he explained.
The Holy Father said the invitation to stewardship is even greater in predominantly Christian countries: "In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity."
The Pope clarified, however, that Gospel charity should be hidden.
"Everything, then, must be done for God's glory and not our own," he said. "This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God's glory and the real well-being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision.
"In today's world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: Rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave his entire self for us."
Benedict XVI considered the benefits of almsgiving for the one who gives.
He said: "In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters.
"Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with his joy."
"Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow [Christ's] example," the Pope added. "In his school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love?
"The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value."