I've been reading the discussion about giving to the poor that is being held in several places on St. Blogs, including Smock's post below.
One thing I want to say up front. On one of the sites (and sorry I can't remember which one at this point!), someone responded in the comments box and said that it was good to have the discussion about "whether or not we help the poor." I hope this was just a comments box shortening of what the commenter meant to say. That is, it is impossible, in my opinion, for us EVER, as Christians, to debate whether or not we help the poor. We are called to help the poor. "Even as ye have done it to one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me." I know that I'm not interested in facing Christ after my death and having to explain why I thought it was more important for me to have my luxuries than it was to do what was in my power to make sure that others had the bare necessities.
Now what we CAN have is a discussion of the BEST ways to help the poor. I must consider very seriously the words of those who are working with the poor on a daily basis who tell me--"Don't give to panhandlers. Put your money where it will truly be a help." I have to consider that in coming up with the way I have to handle the situation when I am confronted with it.
Another factor that goes into my thinking are the thoughts of our parish secretary, who is faced time and again with the same people coming to ask for money--who are obviously coming up with a story that they think will touch the heartstrings and open up the pursestrings for the next $20, $30, $100. She fears she is becoming too cynical. That she has lost the assumption of need. Or the assumption of innocence. When resources are limited (and they are at every parish, no matter how much they might be), is it WRONG to try to discern where TRUE need is? Do we truly do a service to the poor if the brash and conniving take the allotted money every month, leaving the meek and retiring poor to get nothing? The meek may inherit the earth, but that's not keeping their electricity turned on.
We tried, in the parish office, to make up "care packages" that we could give to those asking for help. We don't want our secretary to have money around when she is there all alone. The packages went to waste, for no one, not even those who needed "money for food" wanted the sacks we had so lovingly fixed. And that's the truth. How does my knowledge of that affect my ability to give to those bold enough to ask?
It's a hard question. So I decided long ago to respond based on my best "gut instinct" and hope that that instinct is led by the Holy Spirit. I almost always give something, if I have something in my pocket. I have followed people from the church to 7-11 (right down the street from the church and on a busy street--not a dangerous place)and filled up their gas tanks with gas, if they needed it to get somewhere. I have handed out McD's coupons (I have, in the past, stocked up at Christmas and kept them in my glove compartment). None of these feels perfect. But in case of error, I have decided to err on the side of giving rather than of not giving.
We've been told to be as gentle as doves and as wise as serpents. Well, I'm not very good at being either. But I don't want to miss Christ in the guise of the woman with bad teeth who needs a cup of coffee. I just don't.