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32. Almsdeeds

1. An alms is "something given to the needy, out ofcompassion, and for the sake of God." Almsdeeds are works ofcompassion or mercy; mercy itself is suffused with charity; hence,almsgiving can be called an act of charity.

2. The different almsdeeds are well enumerated ascorporal alms and spiritual alms. These arecommonly called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Thecorporal works of mercy are seven: (a) to feedthe hungry; (b)to give drink to the thirsty; (c) to clothe the naked; (d) toharbor the harborless; (e) to visit the sick; (f) to ransom thecaptive; (g) to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy arealso seven: (a) to instruct the ignorant; (b) to counsel thedoubtful; (c) to comfort the sorrowing; (d) to reprove sinners; (e)to forgive injuries; (f) to bear wrongs patiently; (g) to pray forthe living and the dead.

3. By their nature, spiritual almsdeeds are more excellentthan corporal almsdeeds. Yet in particular cases, the corporaldeeds may be of greater value. It is, for instance, more valuableto feed a hungry man than to instruct him.

4. Corporal almsdeeds may have a spiritual effect; theymay, for example, lead a man to pray for his benefactor.

5. Almsgiving is a matter of precept; it is involved inthe precept of loving one's neighbor. We are therefore obligedto give alms out of what we possess as surplus, that is, out ofgoods remaining to us after we have taken care of our own needs andthe needs of those who are under our charge. The precept ofalmsgiving binds us to help those who are in need. We cannot helpall who are in need, of course, but we can, and must, help thoseneedy persons whose need would not be relieved unless we relievedit. Thus the precept of almsgiving binds when two conditions arefulfilled: (a) our having available means; and (b) a case of needdependent on us for relief. In other cases, in which these twoconditions are not both fulfilled, almsgiving is not of precept,but of counsel.

6. A man may sometimes sacrifice what is commonlyconsidered necessary to his position, so that he can relieve theneedy. So long as he does not act inordinately, or do an injusticeto others (such as wife, children, dependent parents), such asacrifice is noble, and may even be heroic. Ordinarily, however,there is no obligation on a person to make such a sacrifice.

7. Alms are to be given out of the donor's ownproperty. To use the surplus of a rich neighbor to relieve theneedy, is to be guilty of theft. The goods of others are not oursto dispose of without their direction or permission.

8. Therefore, a person who is under the direction or ruleof another as to the disposal of goods, must have that other'spermission before he bestows alms.

9. The claims of those more closely united to us are to beconsidered in giving alms, when otherwise the conditions amongclaimants are fairly equal.

10. We are to give alms according to the means available.Scripture says (Tob. 4:9): "If thou have much, giveabundantly: if thou have little, take care . . . willingly tobestow a little." And the abundance of our almsgiving shouldrather appear in the relief of many needy persons or causes than inan oversupply bestowed on one.

"Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it."
St Philip Neri

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"A man should keep himself down, and not busy himself in mirabilibus super se."
St Philip Neri

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"Obedience is the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our hearts."
St Philip Neri

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