Augustine of Hippo: Alms and Deeds of Kindness

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Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I. Isaiah 58:6-9

“With the help of the mercy of the Lord our God, the temptations of this age, the crafty traps of the devil, the toils of this world, the allurements of the flesh, the swirl of turbulent times, and all bodily and spiritual adversity, are to be overcome by almsgiving and fasting and prayer.

Christians ought to be fervently engage in these things throughout their lives; much more so then at the approach of the great festival of Easter, which rouses our minds as it comes round again each year, renewing in them the salutary memory of what mercy our Lord, the only Son of God, has bestowed on us, of how he fasted and prayed for us.

“Alms,” of course, comes from a Greek word meaning “mercy.” What greater mercy, though, could there be toward the miserable, than that which pulled the Creator down from heaven and clothed the Founder of the earth in an earthly body; which made the One who abides equal in eternity to the Father, equal to us in mortality, imposing the form of a servant of the Lord to the world; so that bread itself would be hungry, fullness be thirsty, strength become weak, health would be wounded, life would die?

All this to feed our hunger, water our drought, comfort our infirmity, extinguish our iniquity, kindle our charity. What greater mercy than for the Creator to be created, the Master to serve the Redeemer to be sold, the One who exalts to be humbled, the One who raises up to be slain?

We, in the matter of giving alms, are instructed to give bread to the hungry; He, in order to give Himself to us in our hunger, first surrendered himself for us to His enemies’ anger. We are instructed to welcome the stranger; He, for our sakes, came to His own place, and His own people did not welcome Him…

And so let us perform our alms and deeds of kindness all the more lavishly, all the more frequently, the nearer the day approaches on which is celebrated the alms, the kindness that has been done to us. Because fasting without kindness and mercy is worth nothing to the one who’s fasting.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Sermon 207.1 “On the Beginning of Lent” in Essential Sermons, translated by Edmund Hill, edited by Daniel Doyle (New York: New City Press, 2007) 259.

Augustine of Hippo is first of the Four Doctors of the Western Church that we will explore on the topic of kindness.

Whenever it gets into February my family starts talking about what we will give to, fast from, and pray about during Lent, which begins late this year on 6 March 2019. When we do these practices, we shift our focus off ourselves and toward God and making His grace and mercy known our through almsgiving and fasting and prayer.

I don’t know what we will give to, fast from, and pray about this year, but Augustine with passion and eloquence reminds us to make sure we add kindness to our practice of the Lenten disciplines. In this way, they will surely reflect the love of our generous God to the world.

Jenni and I arrived safely in Sydney and served Christian Super today (pictured above). We shared “31 Tips for Thriving” with the entire team and also spent time with key staff. God showed kindness to us in giving us unexpected stamina. What a rich time together! We love Christian Super!