The Christian season of Lent starts next Wednesday. Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The period represents the forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
Lent is a time, says Margarita Mooney, when Christians engage in particular practices to remind ourselves of our nature as persons and our duties towards others:
For example, during Lent, Catholics and other Christians are reminded to practice almsgiving. For Christians, charity is a duty, not a choice. As Pope Benedict XVI’s 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is love) reminded us, giving alms must be accompanied by compassionate love for the other, or else it is not Christian charity.
During Lent, the Catholic Church calls its faithful to conversion. In turning our hearts back to God, not only do we work for our own holiness, we can better love others. Furthermore, Catholics generally are also asked to fast and abstain from certain things during Lent. In voluntarily giving up some things we normally like to consume, we act according to the idea that humans’ highest good is not found in the material realm but in the spiritual realm. The practice of abstaining from certain goods during Lent teaches the virtue of moderation when we return to consuming those goods.
At a societal level, the practice of almsgiving reminds us that no matter what economic system we have, some people need charity. In the American economic system, the market mostly coordinates the production and distribution of goods. Individuals, private charities, and the government (note: that order is important if you heed the principle of subsidiarity, according to which those closest to the needy should do the most to help) care for those whose needs are not satisfied through their own abilities to produce and/or consume through the market.