I'd admit: I am not the most delicate of eaters. I tend to rush my meals because of an irrational fear that someone in a bear suit will appear out of nowhere, grab my lunch and run away leaving me hungry. Thus my on-going therapy, and the necessary gobbling of meals, all of which results in me habitually leaving unsightly food stains on my shirt. (Yew!)
The Office of Readings recently has St. Francis admonishing us to "give alms because they purify our souls from the stain of sin." I found the expression 'stain of sin' to be provoking. Obviously St. Francis did not mean that forgiveness of sin is earn by doing good works such as almsgiving. Forgiveness comes through grace by the cross made accessible by the sacrament. The 'Stain' that is left by the sin however, is another matter.
What are stains you ask? Well, besides a factor contributing to me not aceing that job interview, a stain is basically a discoloration that can be seen in contrast to the surface it is on, e.g. my white job interview shirt. It is caused by a physical or chemical interaction between two dissimilar materials, or in my case, dropping the overly-oily pork belly on my shirt, my clean sparkling white Interview shirt. Despite removing the pork belly, a stain ensues, a mark is left - damming evidence of my stupidity, general motor-skills and paranoia towards pouncing sports mascots.
I find that to be true in my spiritual life. Sins committed leave stains. A lingering after-effect. Sins are not confined to a singular event of sin, they leave impressions on our souls in ways that become part of our souls and leaves us susceptible. There is a Spiritual-chemical interaction that leaves a discoloration on our Moral Fabric. (see what I did there?) Most of the time, even having removed the pork belly of sin through the sacrament of reconciliation, I find myself returning back to my old patterns. (I am sure I am the only person who experiences this except maybe the two of you still reading this far.) Even though the sin and the guilt of sin is removed, there is still a discoloration remaining on my Will.
Enter the Francis Stain-Removal System® - Alms-giving. St. Francis advises rubbing a little Almsgiving on the stain of sin and letting it sit overnight before washing. Why? What is it about Almsgiving that removes the stain of sin? There are at least 5 reasons:
1. Almsgiving attacks the root of most sins - self-centeredness.
2. Almsgiving helps us turn our eyes to what is important to God's heart - the needy.
3. Almsgiving helps us to be more acutely and reflexively aware of our own spiritual neediness.
4. Almsgiving helps us to experience the fulfilling joy that comes from generosity, to the expanse of fleeting happiness from sin & selfishness that leaves us empty.
5. Almsgiving helps us to appreciate what we have received from God and so shared in gratitude.
Essentially what Almsgiving does, if done sincerely, is to incline our Wills to love - loving God, loving others and loving ourselves. It changes the patterns of our will and helps to restore the true hues of our soul - the colour of God's love. (Pantone 3:16) Generosity, Spiritual poverty, fulfilling joy and gratefulness are all very effective solvents on our moral fabric and strengthens our conscience against sin by inclining it towards good. The outward act of Almsgiving strengths our inner will to choose good over evil, generosity over selfishness, others over ourselves, joy over emptiness. This removes the stain of sin, turn our heart to God and helps us ace that eschatological job interview. (Or Last Judgement)
So let's take the advice of the guy wearing the hooded brown Lab Coat and rub some Almsgiving on the stain of sin today. And please, do yourself a favour and keep your pork on your fork.
"But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you." Luke 11:41