Mar 30, 2019 filed under Beatitudes, Humility.


Almsgiving is one of the “pillar” virtues of Lent, along with prayer and fasting. We give alms because Jesus commands us to and because it covers a multitude of sins—and most of us can use that! But are some kinds of alms-giving better than others?

There are three kinds of alms-giving in my life. The last is the most important.


The first is writing a check. And as the number of checks I write mounts during the year, I feel good about it. After all, money going to the poor isn’t being spent on myself. So that’s a sacrifice, right?

Well, yes and no. If I give money that I won’t miss, it’s a good thing, but I’m not giving of myself in the way I see Jesus doing in scripture. So I need to look around for more ways to give.


Pretty much all my spare time goes to Virtue Connection. I write, make videos, upload instruction, posts memes—and take courses on how to do all that. But it’s mostly spent pecking away at my laptop. Which is still not the kind of “giving of self” that looks like what Jesus did. My readers and students say that my teaching and writing is bringing them closer to God, but meanwhile I’m sitting comfortably in my own house three feet from my fridge, doing what I enjoy.


What does it mean to give ourselves, in addition to money and time? Let me share some stories of what my faltering experience of “giving of myself” has taught me. I used to work in downtown Washington DC, and on the way to noon Mass every day, I’d pass a dozen or so homeless folks. Here are some of my almsgiving adventures (and misadventures!) I hope these snapshots bolster your courage to, as Mother Teresa put it, “give till it hurts.” I found that the pain was usually to my pride.


Antoinette was a 16-year-old begging outside the CVS drug store. She said she couldn’t live with her mother anymore and was staying with a woman who gave her a bedroom, but zero supplies for her personal hygiene or for school. The school was willing to let her attend for free, but she needed school supplies to start, and a uniform that cost $112. I looked into her eyes, then looked around—to see whether she was being trafficked. It seemed she wasn’t. I pray she wasn’t.

We went inside the store where I invited her to pick out what she needed. As she chose a pack of 3×5 cards or a ball-point pen, she asked, “Is this OK?” “Can I have this, too?”

This is where it gets painful. I knew I would buy a $3.60 cup of coffee later and think nothing of it, and Antoinette was asking whether she could have a ball-point pen. What “giving of myself” meant then was to recognize that I couldn’t make everything all right for her, but I could give her a word of hope. I told her she was beautiful and strong and smart and that I could tell she had what it took to get good grades and be a success in life. She smiled.

Then I thought of the cash I had withdrawn from the bank. It suddenly seemed loathsome sitting in my wallet, as if it had been stolen, as if it did not belong to me. I gave her money for a uniform. Then I gave her more for toiletries and cab fare to pick up her uniform. God, please let Antoinette be the one who escapes, who makes it to the finish line. Give her the support she needs at each step of her perilous journey to adulthood. Amen.

I didn’t talk with him long enough even to ask his name, but after I handed him a “care package” with water and peanut butter crackers, he screwed up his face and announced, “I’m not eatin’ that!” The next day, I replaced the crackers with sausage meat-sticks.

I walked past Jane in the morning and Lorita in the afternoon on the same day. I knew their names and I knew neither one had a chance of ever being employed. But I looked straight ahead and kept walking. Why? Because I fell for the trap the Enemy set for me: I suddenly had doubts that what I would give them would be enough.

Of course it’s not enough. But a smile? A recognition of each woman as a unique person with a name? Asking them how they are doing? That costs nothing. So…I blew it that day.

Joe stood at the subway entrance looking downcast like a faded Santa Claus, with white hair and beard and sporting a stained Ralph Lauren pajama top for a shirt. I handed him two meat-sticks. “Do you know how to get into these things?” I asked. He said he did. I asked him his name. I told him mine and asked, as I often do, if he would pray for me.

A request for prayer often brings a smile that comes right up from the sidewalk, and breaks in a smile like the sun coming out from clouds. A face a moment ago grey and downcast now beamed with the joy of real connection. “Yes, I will,” he said. “Thank you,” I answered, “I’ll pray for you, too.”

Wesley was occupying his usual spot on the heat grate when I approached him. I like Wesley because we both like colorful markers. Wesley is tall. I offered him a small meat-stick, the kind I can carry everywhere and they have protein. A wave of inadequacy come over me, like, “Is this teeny sausage all you can manage to give this big guy? Really?” I was holding it in my hand, but apparently not really giving it to him. He took it from me and then said, “Do you want it?”

I believe in the adage, “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing badly.” Yes, just get out there and do it, even if you don’t know how. But sometimes it hurts our pride: we don’t enjoy looking like fools in front of ourselves, let alone being shown up in generosity by a man who has nothing.

This is where the virtue of courage kicks in. I’m not going to give up even if I keep failing. If I have a hard time giving of myself to the poor, it’s because I have forgotten how to be that “little child” who inherits the Kingdom of God. It’s because I’ve forgotten that each of us is equally loved and equally dependent on Divine Providence, including the poor ones who make me rich by revealing my true poverty.

Lord, let us not forget to laugh at our inadequacy before you, and remember that you love to see us try our best to imitate you. Amen.

Love always,

“When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.” St. Peter Chrysologus

21 Responses to “Almsgiving: Where’s Your Comfort Zone?”

  1. Bridget Touhey

    Rose…I want bloom where you are planted! I know you will!;)

  2. Mary

    Dear Rose,

    May you continue to be led by the Holy Spirit inasmuch as Virtue Connection is unfolding so
    beautifully in every direction.


  3. Nash Monsour

    “The one who is generous to the poor makes a loan to God.” -Proverbs 19:17

    Just keep up your inspired offerings.

  4. Tom Roberts

    Rabbi Hillel:

    “Do not do to others what is hateful to yourself. That is the whole of the Torah. All else is commentary. Go study.”

    To me one of the most hateful things is to be forgotten, ignored, not seen especially in time of need and especially when I have resources to share. Resources may be time, money, knowledge, love or things I never thought of that can fill the need of the moment. Then I just do it as an agent, no more nor less.

    Sacrifice conjures images of suffering, loss, burden, medieval icons of tears and sorrow, the Catholic ghetto. I don’t own the scales that measure such things; I’m an agent who checks that nothing has been forgotten in the transaction.

    • Rose Folsom

      Thanks, Tom. Yes, all real love is sacrificial, so why not just call it love? I read yesterday that Ven. Fulton Sheen said, “People today are in love with love, but have forgotten about love of a person.”

  5. Ann

    Thanks for asking us what we need/want from you. God has gifted you with an array of gifts. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    I look forward to your Sunday morning delivery. I can handle the once a week thought. I subscribe to a daily blog but I find I don’t open it regularly.

    You are self-aware and humble enough to share real life experiences. I hope I am humble but I know I struggle with being self-aware. I liked and learned from your sharing interactions with others, especially the multiple examples today. It was enlightening and touched my heart.

    I belong to a Faith and Race Dialogue that meets quarterly but just belonging to it keeps me aware of my interactions. It made me think that one new way of service might be to create an audience interactive method. It might work like this:

    1. Make 3rd Sunday, audience participation. Any Sunday but 3rd and 4th seem easier. We’ll call it X Sunday.

    2. announce the next topic on the 3rd Sunday.

    4. invite everyone to keep a journal about the virtue.

    5. invite people to email you if this has been an issue of growth for them.
    You either interview them and shares notes, or actually share the video/audio interview. I know you are gifted with each mode.

    6. Conversely, you can reverse the process. Teach us like you did today, invite people to keep a journal, interview on next x Sunday.

    7. An alternative is to host a 20 – 30, 45 min. less than 50 min. Sunday evening free conference call on that x Sunday and people can call in and share their experiences. It might develop as the Rosary call has, a great sense of community.

    Rose, thanks for asking. Thanks for your work.

    PS. When your gigs are open to the public, announcing them would be a service. Such as next Sunday’s at St. B’s Msgr. Stricker Room on lower left side of Church, entrance from lower parking lot. 10:30 to 10:50 between the 9 and 1100 Mass. Open to men and women.

    • Rose Folsom

      Great ideas! Hosting a live group discussion is definitely on the horizon. I like the idea of introducing a topic and giving examples, then welcoming people to call in and talk about their experiences with that virtue.

      I usually don’t advertise local talks on the blog because so many subscribers don’t live in this area (some are in Guatemala, Australia, and Ireland!) but I will reconsider that — it’s good for people to know what’s happening, even if they cannot attend. Thanks for your great input!

  6. Nancy Rowland

    Dear Rose,
    What I’d like in the coming year is that your Sunday reflections be like mini (really micro) weekly retreats — inspiring, based on scripture, spiced with everyday examples, giving us ways to see God’s presence and action in our lives. I’d like to have reflections that help me to live the week to come in charity, virtue, prayer, and holiness. I don’t think these “likes” are really a lot different from what you are already doing.
    And, I’d love to be chosen to have your artwork! The calligraphy is beautiful and the scripture expresses and affirms my faith in following God’s call to me.
    Thank you for your postings, they are always helpful to me.

    • Rose Folsom

      You’ve described what I aspire to do in a way I hadn’t quite thought of. Thank you for your clear eye and generous heart.

  7. Mary Kay

    Happy Sunday Rose!

    What I like best is that you stir our hearts to reflect on many various virtues and how we may possibly attain them.

    What I would like to see this year is an opportunity to study your reflections on patience with a free will offering rather than a certain dollar amount. My constant care giving for my older adult son with several disabilities requires the utmost patience and I need all the help I can get in this virtue.

    Thanks for asking.

    Mary Kay

    • Rose Folsom

      Mary Kay,
      Thank you, Mary Kay. I imagine there are other caregivers who would appreciate sharing their experiences and hearing the way others keep going in the midst of trying situations — let’s talk and see what we can do to help somehow.
      God bless,

  8. Linda Burr

    Hi, Rose,
    Hope you are having a grace-filled Lenten Season! Although I do read your beautiful blog, it is not often enough. So, I hope you will continue to share your insightful reflections.
    God bless you for all that you do! Your calligraphy is beautiful!!

    God’s Peace and Love,

  9. Maria Hamm

    Hi Rose– what i want most from you is what you already do. Everyday examples of how to live a virtuous life. i loved your examples of helping the poor which you included today. They parallel so many of my own.
    But at the end of the day– i most want connection to Jesus– bringing him alive and sharing what he share with you.

  10. Lana

    Great and true encounters, Rose. I’ll ask more people to pray for me because of your post!

  11. Pat Westrick

    Hello, Rose,
    Everyone has really great insights about your blog. I agree with them all!
    God bless you for your time and talents that you share. The calligraphy is beautifully done and a wonderful verse.

    Lenten blessings,