Fr Ray posts about a drunk tramp in England who doesn’t ask for money, but a blessing in Latin.
It reminds me of one of Alice Thomas Ellis’ rants. She was in Westminster Cathedral and a prissy young priest told the congregation not to give money to the tramps who gather outside the door after Mass begging. His argument was that “the cathedral runs a shelter for the homeless. Encourage them to go there. If you give them money they will only spend it on drink.”
This made Alice huffy. She didn’t like to be told what to do with her money, and she didn’t like the priests self righteous tone. Besides, if she were homeless and depressed there’s nothing she’d like better than a stiff drink.
Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Rom. 6:4.) I have utter sympathy for the person who, despite a fear that the gift may be misused, gives nonetheless because Jesus said to. (Luke 6:30.) But I also sympathize with the leader who runs an operation giving food and shelter to the poor, and wants to discourage his people from giving alcohol to the depressed.I hope Alice is not the crank she seems to be. And I’m betting that the priest is not really all that prissy.
Alice Thomas Ellis was a professional curmudgeon. Her words were extreme on purpose and meant to be satirical.
One winter’s day I came out of Mass to be greeted by a homeless man asking for money.I very reluctantly gave him some suggesting he needed a pair of gloves because of the weather.I walked away convinved the money would be spent on booze.The following day I came out of Mass to be greeted by the same man showing off his new pair of gloves.I felt rather guilty…
It’s difficult when one is approached by a homeless (and, not infrequently, seemingly “nutty”)person. Not just because we’re confronted with the reality and ugliness of poverty and that makes us uncomfortable, but also because we may be fearful for our lives. In St. Louis, the crime rate for assault has skyrocketed. Youth on the streets were interviewed (and left anonymous) by a local T.V. reporter about the level of violence, and their response was that they hoped the drug dealers & others involved in crime would kill the cops. I was flabbergasted and so saddened. I attended Mass on a Sunday afternoon at our Cathedral Basilica, which is in a wealthier part of the city but still adjacent to “the ghetto.” I was approached by a possibly homeless person asking for money & directions, but afraid for my personal safety, tersely said from a distance “hey, man, that’s ok” and hurried into Church. I felt so guilty. I wish I had more trust in others but until then I’ll give my money to trustworthy charities via USPS.
At one time, I stopped giving money because I thought it was better to give referrals to shelters or offer to buy food. But one night, in the midst of a terrible storm, a homeless woman asked me for $10 so she could get a room. I referred her to a shelter but she was afraid and declined. And even though I had the money, I did not give it to her.The image of that woman, wet, full of distress and left standing in the rain by me haunted me for some time. Finally I told God that I had to give, that I needed to give as he did – without judgement and with hope. I also told him to keep those who should not receive such gifts away from me. So now, when I have it and if I can do so without exposing myself to danger, I do give money to homeless people. It’s just the way I am and what I must do.
From what I’ve been told of homeless shelters, the woman might have been safer on the street. Oddly enough, I’ve had fun talking to homeless people. They can be a bit odd, but they’re often interesting. Then again, I’m a professional curmudgeon, so I enjoy the looks I get while doing it. 😉
O/T:You’ve been tagged for the Eight Facts and Habits meme!
I really miss her “Home Life” columns in the Spectator. She “wrote drily ironic and acutely perceptive domestic tales which drew on her own family life and her devout Roman Catholicism” as her Telegraph obit put it better than I ever could.Anna Haycraft, aka Alice Thomas Ellis (1932-2005). May she rest in peace.
well of course we have this problem in Birmingham..i feel our priests had to take a hard line..it is nice to be able to go to Mass without being accosted for money. Unfortunately those begging never believed me when i said i’ve got 10 kids no money!
Just another thought..giving money to the depressed is a sick act..being no stranger to depression..but fortunately a Pioneer, & with myriads of alcoholics in my family i feel i know a thing or 2. but i take the lighthearted slant of Ellis..as just that..
When I’m approached in this way, if I have a bit of time, I say “I can’t give you any money, but I’ll be happy to get you something to eat” and then accompany the remark with a gesture to the nearest diner. In my experience, 85 to 90% of the those who ask for money decline the offer of food, leading me to conclude that it is almost always the case that they all they’re really seeking is the means to buy the next fix of whatever poison has destroyed their lives.Which leads me to this question: If you had a flask of bourbon in your pocket, or a bottle of powerful prescritpion barbiturates, would you give those away to a homeless man who told you the truth about what he was seeking?I love curmudeons, but putting poison in the hands of an addict is not an act of charity, and they are shrewd enough to play on the powerful sense of guilt so poignantly testified to by the posts above.In the US today, there are two chief causes of homelessness: 1. Unmananged mental illness, and 2. Addiction to drugs and alchohol. Often, of course, these go together. What these souls need is not $5 towards the next hit, and all too often the best we can do is stop, ask their name, look them in the eye to acknowledge their humanity, offer a kind word, speak the holy Name of Jesus with reverence, and commend them to the mercy of God. Naturally, if we can more do in a given situation, we should, but in my judgment, that would never involve handing over cash. Never.
i agree entirely with Fr Newman..aptly named!
An incident like this happened to me onve. It was just after my Baccalaureate Mass when a homeless woman came inside the church to beg some money for her first meal that day. She went around the church, but she was ignored. I was talking to our school chaplain when the woman approached me. She asked me fors ome money, but I ignored her. The chaplian did not have any money with him, either. Then I remembered I had around $2 worth of coints in my wallet– but I was going to spend that on a cheeseburger.Then, to my utter embarassment, the woman slid into a horrible tantrum. She asked me why I even bothered going to Mass if I can’t even bear to part with such a small sum of money? During Lent, of all times? I’ve pondered on this thought for some time in the past: how can man learn to fish for himself if he doesn’t have a fishing rod to begin with? Too often, there is a risk that we must all take when giving charity to the homeless. That is the saddest part of it all. Remember that the heretic never cares about the heresy, but only what it promises (in vain) to give him.
“drunk on the glories of English church architecture”:)That is the problem with clergy, give them money and they spend it on drink, whether it is Bollinger or books on architecture.
I often drive through certain areas of Minneapolis populated by the homeless, and some of them stand on corners with signs begging for a job or for food…not for money. I have seen people at the lights give them money. As I’m a woman and I deal with certain crimes professionally, I do not do anything or bring anything for these people for personal safety reasons, although I do say a prayer for them. One day, as I sat at a light, I watched a young adult crossing the street towards the homeless man with a sign. I had been wondering if the sign was just a ploy, trying to think good thoughts about him (I worked extensively with teh mentally ill – much of the homeless population), and I watched the young adult pass him by. They may have acknowledged each other. Then, the young man stopped, seeming to reconsider something. He pulled off his backpack, pulled out an apple, and went back to the man with the sign. He tapped him on the shoulder and as the man turned around, he offered him his apple, somewhat apologetically, yet casually. The man with the sign took the apple with obvious gratitude, complete surprise, and literally LIT UP with delight. Even as the young man walked away, the man with the sign continued to express his gratitude, and immediately went to work on the appple. I feel privileged to have been witness to such a moment. If someone is asking for money, I will never give it, but will point them to where they can get help. If they are asking for food and I have some, I don’t think, especially after that scene, I’d be able to live with myself if I didn’t provide the assistance.
Two weeks ago I was driving back to Sacramento for my flight home and pulled off the road to get a bite to eat. When it comes to fast food I am partial to Taco Bell, but I no longer eat it often enough to have complete familiarity with the menu which seems to change weekly. They used to have something called a chili cheese burrito which was small, cheap and tasty, and, importantly, easy to eat while driving. They dropped that some time ago. So on this ocassion I ordered a combo meal with two stuffed burritos. I figured if it had two, they must be fairly small and would be easy to eat. Maybe, I hoped, thay had returned my old fav under a new name. As I reached into the bag and pulled out the first burrito, I was struck by how big it was – it was huge. I didn’t think I would be able to eat one, let alone two, and it seemd like it would be a challenge to eat while driving. As I got to the exit of the shopping center, an apparently homeless woman was just setting up to beg. Her sign said simply: “Hungry, Please Help.” Thank you Lord, the perfect solution. I rolled down the window and asked if she would like the burrito (still fully wrapped). As ATD commented, her face lit up with joy – I think as much for being recognized as a person as for the burrito, though maybe she was really hungry.As I pulled onto the highway, I reached into the bag for the other burrito, to discover to my perplexity, that it was empty. I slowly realized: it wasn’t two burritos, it was the number 2 combo meal. I hadn’t given away half my dinner, I had given away all my dinner. On a moment’s reflection, I was glad I had, and hope I will the next time as well, when the virtue will be real and not based on misapprehension.50 miles down the road I pulled off again and got something smaller and more manageable from another Taco Bell. This was her gift to me – avoiding calories I certainly didn’t need.
Dear Fr. Longenecker,Off topic, I’d be interested in your opinion on my post regarding Anglicnanism. I’d be particularly interested in know if you feel my arguments are cliche’ or unfair. All the Best, B
Good post Father, and interesting reponses. It got me thinking about the time I worked with the long term unemployed in Melbourne.Even in a country like Australia where there is a much better welfare system, the problem is never quite as simple as we like to make it.
I’m with Alice.A Missionary of Charity once told me it isn’t charity if you are worried as to how the money will be spent. “Love has no strings attached” she told me.
I was going to confession one time, and had just bought a breakfast for myself, when a man came up to my car and asked for money. I responded that I had no cash, but I offered him my food, which he rejected. My personal rule has usually been food or other types of assistance when possible, although sometimes if I have a buck or two, I will give that as well.
When working at the presbytery I frequently respond to the door bell ringing, to find on the other side, a ‘traveller of the road’. I have only on one occasion heard foul language from any of our ‘travellers’, almost all have been most humble in their request for a warm drink and a bite to eat. Occasionally there’s a traveller who asks for ‘extra sugar’ or has certain preferences for the amount of milk he likes in his tea (which makes me smile)…but rarely has anything other than gratitude has been shown to me …I have even handed over toasted cheese sandwiches and a cardboard cup of steaming tea to a recipient who standing in a downpour on the other side of the doorway, responded with “God Bless you Miss”.No, that’s a beautfiul thing.
ukok: extra sugar? Oh, must be a junkie!Kidding. That’s beautiful. God bless your sharing heart. That was Jesus on your doorstep (Mt 25).