People who don’t give money to the homeless because they think it will be spent on alcohol and not food should ask themselves what guilty pleasures they are secretly spending money on, Pope Francis said. “There are many excuses” to justify why one doesn’t lend a hand when asked by a person begging on the street. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)
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 months ago when I was leaving a movie theater, having spent an evening out with friends, I saw a homeless man with a sign asking for money. Engaged in conversation, I quickly walked passed him. I was pretty sure I didn’t have any cash on me anyway. But later, upon reflection, 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, partly for not giving him some money, but more so because I hadn’t looked at him directly. Looking someone in the eye honors their dignity; it acknowledges WHO THEY ARE.
I have considered more that “tossing money and not looking in (their) eyes is not a Christian” way of behaving, either. 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 honors the dignity of the other, regardless of whether we feel the other is deserving. In this way, we face our own judgments of another, our implicit bias.
When encountering people who live on the street, the pope said he always greets them and sometimes inquires about their lives and background. He always chatted with a homeless family and couple that lived next to the archbishop’s residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said, and never considered getting rid of them. When “Someone told me, ‘They’re making the chancery filthy,’ Well, the filth is within” one’s heart, he said. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)
Several days after walking by that beggar, my husband and I encountered the same scene, 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 after having a lovely dinner on the way to a concert, then it says more about me than the beggar. Continue reading “God Loves a Cheerful Giver”