VATICAN CITY – Almsgiving helps Christians conquer the constant temptation to become slaves to wealth and material goods, Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2008 message for Lent.

The practice of almsgiving "represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods", the pope said in the message.

The theme of the message is "Christ Made Himself Poor for You". Lent begins Ash Wednesday, which this year is Feb 6. Easter is Mar 23.

Jesus recognized that material riches possess an enormous "force of attraction", but he was resolute in confirming "how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol", the pope said.

"Almsgiving helps us overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbour’s needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness," he said.

The Lenten season is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which aid in an "inward cleansing" that allows the Christian to welcome Easter with renewed spirit, he said.

The pope said he wanted this year’s message to reflect on almsgiving so that it would not be an empty, loveless gesture of philanthropy or an egotistical attempt for attention or applause.

"There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory," he said. Christian almsgiving must be hidden and, as everything, "must be done for God’s glory and not our own", he added.

The pope made special mention of those who particularly feel burdened by "the weight of the evil they have committed".

Sinners can often "feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to him", the pope said, but by reaching out to others through almsgiving "we draw close to God" and this can lead to "authentic conversion and reconciliation" with God and one’s neighbours.  cns

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