Today we bring to conclusion our reading of the story of Tobit. Tobit calls his son aside and instructs him to give the man who has accompanied him on the journey a bonus. It is then that Rafael reveals that he is no man but an angel and gives them one parting instruction.
Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than abundance with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life....
Can we buy our way into heaven? Of course not, but here we see the Old Testament biblical foundations for our concept of penance. It is not enough to simply confess your sin to God. The three practices we associate with Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) are ancient acts of penance, but the angel Rafael tells us that first among these is almsgiving.
"almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin"
And in the 21st century we have made it so easy, with e-giving for churches and organizations like Catholic Relief Services you don't even have to get out of your chair. A few clicks and its done. There are also clothes collection boxes all around most cities, and many parishes offer places and opportunities to donate food. What excuse is left?
As Rafael points out at the end this should become a regular part of our life, not just something we Catholics do in Lent.
With the instruction on almsgiving Rafael ascended back to his place in heaven. His name means God heals.