Monday, May 12, 2008


Years ago I used to carry dollar bills in my pocked (usually four or five dollars) whenever I went downtown. I’d give them out to anybody who asked and when I was out I was out. There was also the time that I was invited to see Dolly Parton downtown by a friend. (I know, I know, and I don’t want to hear about it.) The family invited me to share their loge with them and it was PACKED with catered food for three times the amount of people present. They informed me that the food is thrown away afterwards and so they had it all packed up (there was a LOT) and we set about in their car delivering food to those on the streets. The only unfortunate thing about that was that we did not make up good meals. One person got a full box of potatoes, another a full box of beef. We tried to connect them up though. “You might want to go and share with that guy down there, he has coleslaw!”

Now these sign are appearing downtown. There is always some amount of controversy about whether it is a good thing to give to beggars or not and I am torn by the arguments. A man did ask me for money for food while I was downtown on Monday and after reading this I sign declined to do so. But I was solicitous to him and he was very kind in return.

So what is one to do – or to quote that worn and now clichéd phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Who knows? Well. Who knows beyond this: It is not an option be pretend people are not there either physically or in social justice terms. By that I mean as Catholic we have an obligation to recognize the humanness and dignity of others even if that is not entirely reflected back. We should be kind and offer greetings when greeted. And if you are of the mind not to hand money out for whatever reason say so. “I give at such and so place. That is my way of helping.” (This is USUALLY met with kindness in return.) Then the second part of that equation is to actually do that charity because that is who we are. That is one more reason we are proud to call ourselves Catholic.


Unknown said...

I don't give out money, but I do give out baked potatoes and miraculous medals.

An odd combo on the face of it, I know... But by the time a person is reduced to begging, they can use some food and they need their Mother.

Fr. V said...

"they need their Mother."

I love that.

Are you serious about the baked potato? Do you just make them up and walk around downtown handing them out???

Anonymous said...

I had a similar situation where I was at an event at work and there was a lot of leftovers. Being downtown already I thought of St. Herman's House on Franklin. They did a thorough check of what it is and from who it was coming from over the phone. You could tell by the reception when we dropped it off that it was welcome, and as an added bonus for us, they had us write down any loved ones names on an index card and they would pray for them.

S.J. Fuhry said...

This is admittedly a tough one, but I am quite sympathetic with Chesterton's view:

"But there is something quite pestilently Pecksniffian about shrinking from a hard task on the plea that it is not hard enough. If any man will really try talking to the ten beggars who come to his door he will soon find out whether it is really so much easier than the labor of writing a check for a hospital."
-Chesterton What's Wrong With The World

Anonymous said...

I won't give money, but I will give food. I have sometimes passed the person, gone to the store and bought something, and then come back to give the food to them. The miraculous medal sounds like a good idea, though.

Anonymous said...

Speaking from within the other fellow's shoes, if someone handed me a baked potato, I'd be insulted enough to bean him off the back of the knee with it. And I'd give the medal away.

In a way, our beggar is Christ in distressing disguise, yet either way, how insulting to presume to know better than this person does, what his/her needs are.

If they drink it, they drink it. If we're not prepared to bodily lift them into sanctuary, then we at least shouldn't dishonor them on the street. Even the savviest beggar actually would prefer something better for him or herself.

(Carol, of course)

S.J. Fuhry said...

"if someone handed me a baked potato, I'd be insulted enough to bean him off the back of the knee with it"

haha, how humble of you :)

"In a way, our beggar is Christ in distressing disguise"


"If they drink it, they drink it."

Hell yeah! If I had to sleep out on the street I would definitely buy myself a beverage to get me through the night before I started saving up money to buy a house.

Odysseus said...

I understand the concern - you know some guys are going to go buy meth with your money.

But Christ, or the apostles, does say something about giving without thinking (help me out, Father, is it "cast your bread upon the waters?").

I always think it is a good idea to invite someone you suspect of drug use to buy them food. If they really are hungry (and not looking for a high or simply trying to make a living begging) they will go with you to McDonald's (or wherever).

Adoro said...

There's also something to be said for not indulging another in their sin or weakness.

If someone is begging for money and you give them food, it's not adverse to his dignity. For he needs food or knows someone who does. That becomes an opportunity for virtue for that person, and they DO excercise it.

There are many ways to give, and it's proper to figure out the best way according to each individual.

If I gave a homeless person a baked potato and they threw it at me, well, that would be that. It wouldn't stop me from giving a clean one to someone more deserving.

The reality is that while maybe someone begging for money really needs money, well, how are we to know? We have the right to discern what to give them and when...after all, WE aren't the ones begging. It's also completely legitimate to had the beggar a card with the information on a shelter or other service that can actually help them get on their feet. It's legitimate to hand them a Miraculous Medal.

They'll do with that as they will, too.

I think one thing people lose sight of when comparing ourselves with St. Francis and his contemporaries is that we don't live in his society. They didn't have huge social service networks at the time. (Not saying the networks are always effective...I grew up on welfare, believe me, I know the system is broken.)

But feeling bullied into giving money because allegedly that's what Jesus would do or judge one on is not a reason to give. We have to discern what to do. Sometimes money is appropriate, and sometimes it's better to give food. Sometimes it's better to keep driving because the beggar is a carjacker.

Anonymous said...

If someone comes up to me for money I will either take them to a food outlet or accompany them to the railway station and buy them a ticket.

I have never forgotten one day while waiting for a bus overhearing two young fellows laughing about how much money they had been able to con people out of and I decided then never to give money.

Here in Australia the welfare system is pretty good plus there is rent assistance and no one should have to beg.

Anonymous said...

I was talking with one of the Priests at the Cathedral last year regarding the homeless in the streets. He disagrees on giving out money, but fully supports giving food.

When going to Church in the morning, there is one man, V., who stands at the corner of Superior & E. 9th. When the light is red, I will usually go say hello or chit chat a bit. I will also get him some food or drink after Mass.

I had not seen him for months, then just this week he reappeared. When I told him that I pray for him every morning, he looked surprised. It made him a bit uncomfortable so we joked about it - however since then I look forward to seeing him and he always has a smile for me to brighten my day. He's had a bit of bad luck - but with prayers, the grace of God, & the kindness of strangers he has pulled through.

I can't say that I know all of the names of the homeless, but I can say that knowing his name has given me a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

There's a Protestant pastor here in town who is known far and wide as a generous man. A few may know him as an easy touch. But so many who've been down on their luck have gone to him and asked now and then for a bit of help. He never refuses. There was one day when a well-meaning friend thought to inform him that he'd been ripped off by so-and-so. He looked at him and humbly said he was sorry to hear that, but that it wouldn't stop him from showing mercy in the way the one before him has asked him to. What if he misjudged one day?

Yes, there are snide chuckles or raised eyebrows here and there about possible/rip-offs. There is a soup kitchen fellow who waits until the end of serving, after seconds, and after dessert, and he asks for 6 or 7 dinners to "bring to his apartment house for those who can't get here." Well, who the hell are any of us to 3rd degree him? This is donated food, and this is supposed to be a work of mercy, as is the food pantry we've now regulated with paperwork/statistics to within an inch of a pauper's life, simply because the USDA (Caesar) gives us stuff to dispense.

The fact is, whomever it is before us, there but for the grace of God are any of us, or any of our loved ones.

It wasn't thought necessary for Damien to go to/remain on Molokai of the lepers, or Agnes alone to go to the dying slums of Calcutta.. beyond the scope of what anyone should order or expect. Well, we, too, have our Molokai and our Calcutta. We are our brothers' keeper.


Fr. V said...


I needed to hear all of this.


Fr. V

Deacon Bill Burns said...

I give whatever seems to be appropriate at the time. I do give money, but I'm a bit more careful about who I give money to. I also have a stack of inexpensive New Testaments to give away. I've only had one person turn one down outright. They either usually receive it gratefully or say they already have one.

Something that I think is really important (even though I sometuimes forget to do it) is to ask the name of the person to whom you give food, money, or whatever. One of the things these people are most starving for is human contact. It also helps to have a name to add to your prayer list.

Odysseus said...

-He looked at him and humbly said he was sorry to hear that, but that it wouldn't stop him from showing mercy in the way the one before him has asked him to.-

The pastor is on to something here.

After all, you won't go to Hell for being too generous or gullible!

uncle jim said...

i have a son who was homeless, living on the streets, begging, dumpster fishing ... and conning people and using the 'system'... to not have to sober up and get off the drugs and be responsible for himself.

we, his parents did all we could to assist and save him right up to the time I finally put him out on the street to fend for himself.

he eventually did and is doing well.

and he has told many stories of how you survive on the streets ... many are not pretty at all, and many are illegal and immoral and totally without regard for others.

i help by volunteering at a soup kitchen, and at a homeless men's sleeping shelter, and by collecting for the Salvation Army, and St Vincent de Paul, and by giving to similar charities that reach out to those in such circumstances.

and i refer beggars to those services - but i have stopped giving money directly to the 'man on the street' ... per my son's instructions.

Fr. V said...

Wow Uncle Jim,

Thank you for that. Powerful stuff about which to think.

God bless.

paramedicgirl said...

I always give money to homeless people. I have been known to pull over and hand $$$ out my car window to beggars on street corners who are holding the "Homeless, hungry and broke" signs. The way I look at it is this: I am helping them based on charity for what they say they need. If they go and spend it on drugs or booze, rather than food or necessities, that is between them and God.