I’ve been thinking about the decision to give (or not to give) to a beggar on the street since Pope Francis suggested that giving “is always right,” whether one thinks the other is truly in need or not. A few evenings ago, as I was leaving a movie theater, having spent a lovely evening with friends, there was a homeless man with a sign asking for donations. Engaged in conversation, I quickly walked by him. I was unsure if I had any cash on me at the time, but as I reflected on my thoughts and actions, I realized that I did not (or could not) look the man in the eye, and I wondered why. If I had money with me, would I have given it to him? Would I have looked him in the eye then? I felt a sense of shame–some for not giving him money, but more so that I hadn’t looked at him directly. Looking someone in the eye honors their dignity–it acknowledges WHO THEY ARE.
I am considering more that “tossing money and not looking in (their) eyes is not a Christian” way of behaving. Pope Francis suggests the way one reaches out to the person asking for help is important and must be done “by looking them in the eyes and touching their hands.” It is really about honoring the dignity of another, regardless of whether we feel the other is deserving.
Last evening, after my husband and I enjoyed a lovely restaurant meal, we encountered the same scene from earlier in the week–a homeless man with a sign asking for money. As we walked by, not looking at him directly, I paused. We had a quick discussion about giving some money or not–and I remembered Pope Francis’ advice: It is not my job to determine whether this man is truly in need or to be concerned about where the money shall be spent. And it’s not even about whether I can afford a dollar or two, of which I am quite able. If I can’t spare a dollar on the way to a concert that cost $150, then it says more about me than the beggar. I shall give out of gratitude.
So I gave the man some money and I looked him in the eye. I will make this a habit. I
believe it will be a practice in withholding judgment and freely giving. Perhaps God is simply training me for other situations that will require a radical generosity of heart. We are all poor. Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) Blessings, Jodi
Fr. Mauritius Wilde looks at this poverty in his most recent blog post, “I am poor, too.” He writes,
Whenever I see a beggar, homeless or poor person in the streets, I have this moment of “Shall I or shall I not?” Pope Francis encourages Christians to give something, in any case. I know that many beggars are part of a bigger, very well organized group. What a shame that the poorest are misused in this way. So, shall I give a donation?
Recently I found myself begging for something before God. I cannot remember what I asked for. It must have been something of minor importance, but I remember the intensity of my begging – and felt ashamed. To my surprise, it seemed that God had nothing against me begging. On the contrary. “Ask and it will be given to you,” Jesus says in Matthew 7:7, describing God as a good and loving father.
Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received. (Rule of St. Benedict 53:15)
Read more at WildeMonk, Cherishing Christ Above All.