My favorite day of the week in college. Now, before you start thinking, "Obviously. You're a priest." My reasons were not pure. On Sundays, I could sleep as late as I wanted and I got to go to Mass -- sinner that I am and was I have always loved the Mass -- plus, on many Sundays of the year, they would send me home with the leftovers from our Campus Ministry meals. There was one week when we ordered way too much fried chicken; I didn't have to buy food for over a week.
The thing of it is, I didn't have to worry that much about money and food in college. As comfortable and blessed as I was in college, I was ever too happy to take a hand out and ever too ready to keep what I had (and had in abundance) to myself.
For many in college, we feel as if we should be the one's receiving, not giving, alms. College (and everything connected with it) is very expensive. Thus, during Lent, we can fall into the trap of prioritizing the Lenten practices of prayer and fasting while almost completely neglecting almsgiving. This is understandable. This is contrary to our call as disciples.
It is true I can't give money or things away I do not already possess -- Robin Hood, notwithstanding -- but I can and I must in some way provide for those who are worse off than I am. How, then, can I do this on a small budget with limited time?
First, seek resources. In most college towns, there are many opportunities to serve those in need. On campus, in the community, at the Newman Center, you probably don't have to look far to find a good cause. In our parish, we have the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Interfaith Winter Shelter, who work specifically with the poor. In Bloomington, there is a food pantry (Mother Hubbard's Cupboard), several soup kitchens, a Women's Care Center, and many more. All you need to do is ask.
Second, small gifts are as meaningful as big gifts. You might be able to only spend a few hours a week or month serving others or you might only be able to put $5 a month in the collection at Church. This might dissuade you from serving or giving, but every gift, no matter how small is infinite in its capacity for the good. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus lauds the widow who gave what little she had. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.” (Luke 21:3-4)
Third, the poor are everywhere. We have tendency to think we must prioritize and serve only the materially poor. The reality is there are many types of poverty. On a college campus like IU, we might not find a large number of materially poor, but there are a huge number of spiritually and emotionally poor people. Serve who the Lord puts in your midst.
Finally, the gift of time saves souls. I have only been a priest for a short time, yet I cannot count the number of times I have heard something along these lines, "All he/she was spend time with me. He/She loved me and that was what I needed most." When we give our hearts and love to others, we give them the greatest gift we can. Don't be afraid to spend time listening and comforting. You might save that person's soul with a simple, profound gift of yourself and the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.