Giving to the poor is a Christian standard – something most Christians wouldn’t dispute, though they might argue about who counts as “the real poor” and what the best way to give to the poor is.
One of our Western standbys has been to send boxes of toys and food to places around the world – especially at Christmas time. The boxes and stocking stuffers we gave out might just now be making their way to communities. But those boxes don’t have the effect we might hope for. The food, toys and clothes end up being useless, or preventing local vendors from earning their small amount of money.
It’s important to note the contrast between that vision of giving with the message Pope Francis has been giving this Lent: treat each person as a gift. Moreover, his version of giving is grounded in doing less wasteful things (using less water, and electricity), and making surprise in-person visits to people who are often forgotten.
These are the kinds of actions that, for Westerners, require more thoughtfulness and sacrifice of one of our most precious resources – time. Rather than trying to save time by buying food that comes with a lot of wasteful byproducts (plastic wrap, etc), or letting the water run as we quickly to load the dishwasher, or substituting a face-to-face with a store bought gift – Pope Francis urges us to spend our time.
That requires quite a change of pace and heart. I don’t think most of us are anywhere remotely near the kind of lifestyle that enables that kind of gift of time. But as we near the end of Lent, perhaps we can make a start in giving our time…