I have spent the last eight years working with people experiencing homelessness.
On one hand, this has resulted in some of the richest experiences of my life. On the other hand, while I have opened my heart to people living in poverty, I have often kept one hand on my wallet.
One of the perennial question I am asked in this work, is what do you do when someone asks for money? My response to this question is often vague. There have been times when I have helped people, but more often I just don’t carry cash with me so I can honestly claim that I don’t have anything.
But, as has often happened, my role-model, Pope Francis, pushed my boundaries on this. In an interview with a homeless magazine, Francis gave the best outline of how to respond to requests for money:
Pope Francis: “There are many arguments to justify oneself when you do not give alms. ‘But what, I give money and then he spends it on a glass of wine?’ If a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that is fine. Instead, ask yourself what you do secretly. What ‘happiness’ do you seek in private? Or, on the contrary to him, you are more fortunate, with a house, a wife, children, which leads you to say, ‘Take care of him yourselves’. Help is always right. Certainly, it is not a good thing just to throw a few coins at the poor. The gesture is important, helping those who ask, looking them in the eyes and touching their hands. Tossing the money without looking in the eyes, that is not the gesture of a Christian. Teaching in charity is not about offloading one’s own sense of guilt, but it is touching, looking at our inner poverty that the Lord understands and saves. Because we all have inner poverty.
What do we do when someone asks for money? Instead of ignoring and walking away, Franics invites us to help, to recognize the humanity of the other, and to look with compassion.