Many people, myself included, are reluctant to give money to people begging on the city streets. Fearing the the recipient of cash will use it for alcohol, some people forego giving at all or give food or gift certificates to sandwich shops. Worried the person begging doesn’t really need the money, some won’t give anything at all.
This past week, Pope Francis had a response to this concern: Give money anyway. Giving money to someone in need, said the Pope, “is always right.” If one is able to help, we ought to recognize our blessing and be generous in meeting others’ needs.
There were two challenges to us in the Pope’s response. First, regarding the concern the people might use the money they receive for alcohol, the Pope’s response was “that’s OK” – perhaps the person’s only happiness is a glass of wine. The challenging part was his invitation that we ask ourselves “what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness” do you seek in secret?” There is a good question for reflection!
Second, the Pope reminded us that how we give matters. Look people in the eyes, touch their hands, show interest in them, he encourages. Essentially – remember their human dignity and perhaps remind them of it as well.
This is perhaps the bigger challenge. It is so easy to avert one’s eyes while feeling good about oneself for dropping a few coins in a cup. Not really seeing the person in front of us, and certainly not making eye contact.
How we encounter a person in need makes an enormous difference. “One can look at a homeless person and see him as a person or else as if he were a dog, and they notice this different way of looking” at them, said the Pope.
It is no accident the Pope shared these thoughts as Lent was beginning. As we commit ourselves to greater almsgiving during these days, perhaps one of our Lenten resolutions can be to accept both of the challenges in the Pope’s statements.