Christianity and the Poor

Brandon over at Sirius linked to this article, which talks about what we are supposed to do when we encounter a poor person begging for money.  I thought the author’s response was reasonable, and she offers some wonderful anecdotes. 

When I was first interviewing for my seminary in DC, I had a break between meetings and I decided to go to the National Shrine to take some pictures.  As I was walking up the main stairway, I encountered a man who was obviously not well off.  Now at that time I tended to be of the mindset of “you-don’t-know-what-they’ll-do-with-that-money.”  But I don’t know what got into me that day; maybe I had already become unconsciously exasperated with some of the things that were happening in my other seminary at the time, or maybe my daily reception of the Eucharist really was melting my stony heart away. 

Whatever the cause, I took the time to acknowledge this man.  He didn’t get in my face or anything; as a matter of fact, I wonder if he would have said anything if I hadn’t first made it clear that I noticed him.  The man asked me for some money.  I pulled out a little bit of what I had and gave it to him.  The man said thank you.  Then, after a brief pause, he broke down in tears, saying that I was the first person who had acknowledged him all day.  He turned his back on me, effectively ending the conversation.  Since it was completely foreign to me to give money to strangers, I was positively dumbfounded by what had just happened, and I had no idea what I should have done.  There is a guy at Theological College who is incredibily holy, who regularly meets and comforts such people; but I was not (and still am not) capable of doing that type of thing. 

I’ll never forget that man.  He did not make a salespitch when I walked past, but merely asked for money after I said hello.  Afterwards I began to wonder how many people just like him I had walked by in my life, people who were genuinely poor.  I came to the same conclusion that the author of the article I cited above came to:  if the person abuses the gift I give him, then that is his fault; if I fail to be generous with what I have, that is my fault.  I also like the list of rules that the author gives.  I have made the mistake of giving to people who I knew were guilt tripping me, etc.  I think I might adopt those rules for myself.

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3 Comments on “Christianity and the Poor”

  1. jh Says:

    Great post. I linked it

  2. AYEOBINU MIFHA Says:

    I guess I am in love with your article please can help me more on the relationship a christian is expected to have with the poor in the church and the society atlarge.
    Thanks in Christ

  3. phamilton Says:

    AYEOBINU MIFHA,

    While helping the poor with their material needs is important, what is more important is giving them the best that we have, which is the Gospel. Christ never separated the Gospel from His healings, and so neither should we.

    I’d say the best thing you can do is to let each person you meet, whether they be rich or poor, know about Christ. Don’t be afraid to evangelize like so many of us suburbanites are in America. Befriend them. Take the time to buy them something to eat and sit with them. Don’t fawn over whatever suffering they are experiencing, but still treat them with respect. Remember: the moral teachings of the Church are good news. Don’t rub it in their faces, but let them know about the Church’s teachings because we cannot be happy without Christ.

    The Gospel is a very simple thing, even though we tend to make it complicated. Live simply and chastely as an obedient child of God so that Christ may work in you rather than in spite of you.

    The poor will always be with us, so don’t approach this part of the Gospel as a social worker. It is the hope of the Christian that in seeing the brokenness of other people who know that they are broken, we may better see our own failings. The point is to learn to see Christ in others.


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