On Call with Dr. Pepe
Changing Hearts, Healing Wounds
Almsgiving. One of the most lasting memories I have from my childhood observances of Lent was the rice bowl that my home parish distributed at the start of the Lenten season. My family faithfully took one home every year, and it always found a prominent place in our kitchen. We were encouraged by my parents to put money in it throughout Lent. At times, it was a real sacrifice, debating between keeping those coins in my pocket to buy a snack after school, or to contribute to those most in need. The reward of making that sacrifice was having a full rice bowl to bring to our parish. Seeing all of those rice bowls in the sanctuary made me realize that others were making the same sacrifice. It felt good to be involved in something so charitable.
As I learned as a child, Lent is a time to focus more intently on "almsgiving." The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines almsgiving as “donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity, a work of justice pleasing to God” (CCC, 2462). Through the years, I have come to know the deeper meaning of almsgiving. Certainly money and goods are needed, but almsgiving (one of the three pillars of our Lenten practice along with prayer and fasting) is more than that. It is meant to be a prayer that leads to a new viewpoint and, hopefully, a change of heart. It’s a means of conversion. We are supposed to examine our lives and remove our sins and temptations for a new way of life that enables us to get closer to God. It’s also an opportunity to be generous with the poor – hopefully a practice that will continue throughout the year.
In my role as CEO at Catholic Medical Center, I understand that we have a moral responsibility to give alms throughout the year, and to do so with generous hearts. I realize that in our giving we need to be mindful of the many blessings God has given to both our organization and to us individually as caregivers. It is our duty to share our gifts with the poor and vulnerable. As healthcare providers, we witness daily the many challenges that the poor and vulnerable face. We encounter them in our emergency room, at our primary care practices, and certainly in our healthcare for the homeless program.
Poverty has a profound and often very negative outcome on health. In recent years, our staff have witnessed the devastation of the opioid crisis and the impact it’s had on people of all ages and walks of life. For the poor, who do not have access to costly 28-day residential treatment programs, achieving sobriety can seem impossible. I often wonder what it must feel like to be a parent who is unable to get a child the treatment he or she needs.
In the spirit of almsgiving, we at CMC are in the process of building an outpatient facility where the poor and vulnerable population with substance use disorder can get medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This practice not only will provide MAT to help people achieve recovery, but will also offer the counseling support they need to address other issues. A large number of our patients face mental health issues in addition to addiction. Treating those mental health issues is vital to achieving recovery. The MAT facility will be a place in which people are not judged, but treated with compassionate care.
On behalf of the CMC community, I hope your Lenten practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving will draw you closer to God and, through that encounter, help you find your own way to care for the poor and vulnerable in our community.
Dr. Joseph Pepe is the president and CEO of CMC Healthcare System: Catholic Medical Center, New England Heart & Vascular Institute, and several subsidiaries. He and his wife reside in Manchester.