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Alms and Charity

June 24, 2019 (385 words)

The full title of the Cross Catholic Outreach official who led our little traveling party of American visitors in Guatemala last week is “International Vision & Mission Trips Officer.” He told us that in his twenty years of leading such visits in various parts of the world, every person on every trip has seemed to attend at what turns out to be a pivotal moment in their lives.

That has certainly proven to be true in my case. The native people we met with who either work for or benefit from the various Cross Catholic initiatives we visited all made quite an impression. And so have my traveling companions.

I can’t remember ever feeling as comfortable as quickly with a group of people who started out as total strangers.

The week was full of lively conversation as we shared meals and long bus rides through the Guatemalan countryside. One of the many topics discussed was the difference between alms and charity.


these two words are not synonyms, and the difference is more than semantic…


I confess to never having given the subject much thought. I assumed the two words were synonyms, with the only difference being semantic.

Alms, it turns out, are what we offer the less fortunate almost without thinking. It’s the spare change in our pocket, the scraps of bread from our table.

Charity, on the other hand, is a conscious act of Christian love. It is a responsibility every mature and rational adult must shoulder. We all have an obligation to share what we have with those who have less.

There is no political or economic system known to man that will ever be able to accomplish a thoroughly equitable distribution of the material resources of this world. It’s up to those of us who have been blessed far beyond our basic requirements to “give back” what we don’t really need.

So a tip of the cap is due my traveling companions – and our tireless, saintly Mission Trips Officer – for helping me grasp the difference between alms and charity. Along with the timely help they provided in my grasping a few other important distinctions, over the course of an eventful week spent together in Guatemala.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
June 24, 2019

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