I live in Austin, Texas, which is a decent-sized city. On a given day driving around, I probably see at least two or three people begging for money on the side of the road at stop lights. Usually, I only get approached by them once per two days (due to the probability of where my car is at the light, how fast they walk, etc.).
I do not know whether it’s best to give these people money or not. So I have done many different things in regard to these people. Here are some of them:
- Don’t give them anything; say a prayer for them; then remember this passage from the Bible (James 2:16)
- Give them a dollar or some change
- Give them a St. Vincent de Paul brochure and tell them where they can find it for help
- My latest: Give them a prayer card/booklet called I Thirst For You, with a dollar inside it
That passage from James is a killer, making it hard for me to see how I should not help them materially (part of this could be me being scrupulous). Giving them a dollar, however, doesn’t help very much and doesn’t do anything for them spiritually. Also, I have read that many of these people are scam artists who are not really in need, or at least, just “professionally” make their living off begging, without ever trying to improve their life. Should I give such a person a dollar?
Giving people a St. Vincent de Paul brochure has been good, though I don’t know how many of them took me up on the offer. Some people knew about them and had even been to them; most seemed hopeful when I told them how SVdP would help. Only one time I recall a man was quite bitter about SVdP and churches in general saying “They didn’t ever help me any.” When I was in SVdP, we helped everybody we could, any oftentimes helped people multiple times over the course of years, so I had my doubts about his statement that they wouldn’t help him, but I didn’t argue it.
The last thing I have been doing I like the best: The prayer cards are really good and powerful, and the dollar is helping them materially. I say a prayer for them, that they will read the card and God will help them. Do we Christians have an obligation to give these beggars any money at all?
I had adoration today at St. Louis parish. It was an unusual day in adoration, to say the least, for a few reasons:
- Workers with heavy equipment were making terrific noise and vibrations as they crushed the concrete steps and sidewalks outside the main entrance. They are working to expand the parish, which is great and we’ve been waiting for it for a long time, but it is teeth-rattlingly loud.
- I spoke with an elderly black woman at some length who had an amazing story.
She told me her name and said she was from Tanzania originally. I, being quite ignorant of both geography and history in any part of the world other than Texas and the United States (and even for those, I don’t know as much as I should), only had a vague idea of where or what Tanzania is. She proceeded to tell me how she was quite well off decades ago in Tanzania when Socialist and Communist ideologies began making their way into the country. Eventually, all people with bank accounts more than $250,000 were targeted as being too wealthy. She said she had more than this in the bank, and so they came for her, froze her money (or stole it), and then put her in a detention center no bigger than our adoration “chapel” (the baby cry room at St. Louis).
The only thing they left her with was her rosary, and she prayed it over and over. Eventually, she began to lose hope that God would help her and thought about flushing the rosary down the toilet. But then, she said she felt Jesus come to her and start to pray the rosary with her. So she kept praying it. Everyday she spent locked up in this detention cell, for over two years. After those years, she was told she could leave.
Immediately she called her daughter who was living here in the United States. Her daughter sent her a plane ticket to Kenya, which was the only way the Tanzania authorities would let her leave. “When are you coming back?” they asked her. “Next Tuesday,” she said. Of course, she got out of there and once in Kenya made her way to London and then to the United States!
While we talked, she would turn to the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance and say “I love you Jesus” and “Thank you Jesus”. I tried to imagine how I would endure having everything taken from me and being locked up without a trial nor contact with my family or friends for two years. I can’t fathom how I would make it. The grace that God has given to this woman must be tremendous.
How is it that I still complain to God about my life in light of such sufferings others undergo?