what is charity…

… I see a homeless man and offer to buy him food instead of giving him money. This is not charity. If the alms I offer are under conditional terms, this to me is not true charity. Have you ever had to decide between foregoing a meal due to a financial obligation else where? I have. I am in no position to judge.

What if this hypothetical destitute individual has a cell phone, or even a laptop? Does that make them any less poor? How much of their dignity must be completely stripped before I deem them worthy of my one dollar alms?

Now my charitable act has turned into sin of pride and judgment. I have a dollar but get to determine if you are worthy to receive it. Certainly this is not charity. I am eternally grateful that Christ on Calvary did not use this same measure of value with our salvation, as we are all unworthy to receive Him… but only say the world and I shall be healed.

And here’s the real stinker… if this homeless person before me, with his hand outstretched, does indeed have plans to buy a pack of cigarettes or a 40 ounce of Schlitz then who am I to deny a poor man what may be his only comfort from living on the streets!

What a poor man does with what he is given is not my responsibility. My only responsibility, and the one I am ultimately judged on, is to provide where there exists a need and to give with love, not with judgment. A dollar now is surely worth more than begging Lazarus later for a drip of water from the depths of hell.

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  • Yes.Charity is charity.I don't think that wanting to help someone by buying them a meal rather than giving them cash is necessarily a judgment;each case is different…Mother Teresa is the best judge on this one, in my estimation;we just listened at dinner today from her book, "Come Be My Light", that a dying man wanted a cigarette; she happened to have given her some very good cigarettes; she gave them to him.And her remark, "How good God is to have provided these cigarettes for this man, so alone, so much in pain, to give him comfort."That turns our whole American attitude on its ass, if you ask me…that's a Saint talkin' folks!

  • Wonderful. Thank you!

  • Kat – charity doesn't have strings – charity believes all things. Just love and do what you will.

  • humm, working in the wine business and the surrounding area, I tend to see a lot of addicts and junkies, especially ones who are strapped for cash all the time. I have a very strong repulsion to tweakers and addicts because they demand hand outs. I like your points, I think they are very much in line with Dorothy Day's fervor, but I also think that we provide so many services and opportunities to these individuals through shelters, CRS, Catholic Charities, soup kitchens, heck Napa Valley even has a methadone clinic! I have a very hard time giving these people money when there are services everywhere where they can get a job, a warm place to stay and a warm meal. I think its more important to give your money to the food bank or meals on wheels, your money is being spent with mercy, not abandon.But hey, everyone needs a good cigarette once in a while!

  • I think helping someone is helping someone regardless of how you do it. I have given someone a bus token because they asked for change for the bus and I didn't have it.

  • Nowadays, you may not have the cash to give . . . but a meal can be paid for on plastic.That's not you being judgemental; it's you suffering from the modern lifestyle too.

  • Be careful. We have feral guys from the methadone clinic near my job and I don't want to give them any ideas when I open my purse. Unless the cash in my pocket I don't give. I'm just not interested in being dragged into an alley or stabbed on the street.

  • And if he's going to buy meth, crack, or heroin, does that get put down as his "only comfort from living on the streets" as well? What if he were to _tell_ you that he's going to buy a fix of something of this kind? How self-destructive does his planned behavior have to get before we start worrying about harming him by enabling it? And how loving would that be?

  • Thought provoking post. What if the money is used for coke?

  • Exactly, Rick. Hey, I have an idea: Maybe the homeless shelters and the Salvation Army should provide free whiskey in the basement. It might result in some deaths in gutters from alcohol poisoning, of course, but it would be worth it to provide "comfort" to the homeless, right?

  • Again, I reiterate; "What a poor man does with what he is given is not my responsibility. My only responsibility, and the one I am ultimately judged on, is to provide where there exists a need and to give with love, not with judgment."

  • I understand. You can't control what a person does with the money. It's not like you condone drug use.It's like those who gave to CCHD only to be shocked in finding that the monies were disbursed to pro-abortion groups. So, people who didn't know are not culpable. But once we know that CCHD is mishandling the funds, then we become responsible.

  • I'll be sure to remember to ask the next homeless person I see to submit to a drug screening and interview first. Charity should be given like love in order for it to be a true act; and that is unconditionally.

  • Guilty as charged. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  • I reiterate: It is not love to knowingly enable severely self-destructive behavior. Parents should know this. If you found out that your teenager was spending his allowance money for drugs, it wouldn't be loving to keep giving him the allowance money with "no strings attached."

  • Again; "I'll be sure to remember to ask the next homeless person I see to submit to a drug screening and interview first."I see your point Lydia and we can respectfully disagree as my mind will not change on this matter.

  • I had a brother who was addicted to cocaine. So, I only gave him food, clothes & a sleeping bag – never money. I was thinking of getting a court order to manage his assets, but I had to prove that he's an addict. He hit rock bottom before any of that happened – lost it all -house, car, boat, girl. But the power of prayer saved him http://divine-ripples.blogspot.com/2010/08/cocaine-addiction-in-family.html

  • I'm not suggesting giving the person a drug test. You use the evidence available to you. It will vary from situation to situation. Obviously, in Rick's situation with his brother, he had information that would have made it irresponsible just to give his brother money. In some cases it would be legitimate to decide that you couldn't tell and to give money and leave the further responsibility between the individual and God. It would all depend on context. But there is nothing wrong with having a concern about how that money is used and whether it will be a true and loving help to the person simply to supply money. And if there are grounds for that concern, there is nothing wrong with giving food, etc., instead. That doesn't make one a bad, judgmental person. That can be an expression of love.

  • There's a happy medium here, of course. If you know, or have reason to suspect, that money will not be used for something beneficial to the person involved…you find some other way to give. You give out a bus token; you give out McDonald's meal coupon books…or you give out what I did once in Times Square: "doggie bag" Chinese food leftovers from a great restaurant that many of us couldn't bear to waste, but knew we wouldn't exactly be able to store well in our hotel rooms, either. The woman to whom I gave the bag was trembling when she took it from me, and I saw her digging into that food almost immediately…which really made my night, in more ways than one.OTOH, the person who regularly gives out McDonald's coupon books readily says he can tell when the beggar who asks for "money for food" really doesn't intend to use it for that–because he's actually had those gift books thrown back in his face with a few choice epithets attached (and it wasn't because the homeless person had a cholesterol problem!). "Wise as serpents and guileless as doves" comes to mind for situations like that. :-)Do the best you can, but also don't be afraid to use your common sense. That's why God gave it to you. JB

  • Mmmmm. Are Christians enablers?

  • Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you do an alms-deed, sound not a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does.(Matthew 6:1-3)

  • How do we know that God won't change their hearts and actually use the money for food?

  • I usually give a dollar bill wrapped around a Sacred Heart badge.

  • s-p

    This is why I never give to "charities", only to people. Amen. Amen. Amen.

  • s-p
  • Frank, the point of my post was not to be laudatory of anyone's generosity, only to illustrate that we should give unconditionally and with out judgment. This post is actually a further response to the one a few posts down.

  • Wonderful post!

  • Janny, well put.

  • @Crescat: Noted. I think the right hand not letting the left hand know what it's doing here kind of makes your point, see?

  • Oh, the conversion we all have to undergo (myself, included)…"To give unconditionally…" Yikes!I, by nature, DO NOT want to give unconditionally…but our Lord Jesus teaches us to do this very thing…Lord, help me, to love without conditions…You have given me examples of this, far too many to remember, but You remember; help me to be Your light, Your Love, Your presence, especially to those who I feel do not deserve Your Love…because You, Lord, know all things; You are Everything. Amen.

  • I think it would be worthwhile to remember though that alms is only one of the ways in which we do the works of mercy. Whether you give a coupon book, a doggie bag, or a dollar, the intention of you, the giver, is to "give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty". If it becomes clear to you that the pleas of hunger are a ploy (like the incident given above of the coupon book being shoved back), it would seem that you are likely dealing with someone with ulterior motives.For my own part, I always hand over all spare change to people trying to get gas money. I keep my windows and doors locked when dealing with those panhandling at the interstate off ramps in my city. I always offer a prayer that one of the charities will aid them, but I have a car full of kids and most of the homeless in my very large city would have been rightfully institutionalized in a previous era. We ought to give unconditionally, and once the money leaves our hands think no more on it, but prudence and charity are both virtues and both ought to exercised when giving alms.

  • "My only responsibility, and the one I am ultimately judged on, is to provide where there exists a need and to give with love, not with judgment."Giving the dollar and leaving it at that is almost a cop-out.What do we really give whenever we give a gift?What does the man in the street really need?Is the dollar really what's needed? Is giving money enough of an expression of love?

  • Matt, short of violating public decency laws and giving some one the shirt off my back, I fail to see your point. Please elaborate on where exactly you feel I have made a "cop out". Do you feel my dollar is not enough? Perhaps you presume to know what I am capable of giving that the other commenters here do not. Accusing me of something and then asking a rhetorical question in lieu of offering a valid point does not make compelled to give you comment another moment's thought.

  • I almost never carry cash. When I lived in Los Angeles, I often encountered people begging in the grocery store parking lot. Many of them said, "Can you spare some money? I need something to eat." I didn't have cash to give, but I'd buy a sandwich or something from the deli and give that. On two occasions, my offering was rejected by someone who said, "I wanted a HOT meal!" or, "Just gimme some cash, lady." It's hard not to be jaded after encounters like that.On the other hand, the smile on the face of the woman my own age (college-age, at the time) when I handed her a few dollars, a bottle of water and a banana couldn't be beat.

  • This is not meant to be a judgment of anyone, it's only my own observation of what works for me. For some reason, beggars can see me coming from a mile away. I used to cram a few one-dollar bills in my pocket every time I took a walk in Center City to hand out until it struck me that it was easy to put money in someone's hand. Buying them a sandwich or handing them a care package (disposable wash cloths, toothbrush, change of underwear) requires a little more effort. Yeah, some people are ingrates and refuse the gesture but most are so grateful that someone took the time to think of them, they cry. One of my "regulars" has a dog so I even have to bring Queenie some treats when I give her owner a care package. The man who owns her never takes a bite of his own food without first offering something to her. One "God Bless you" from a homeless soul living on the streets is worth more than we know.

  • To prove my point about beggars sniffing me out… when we were returning from a medical mission in Panama last November, a man was selling some crude drawings he'd created for $5 each. Of the 45 of us standing around waiting for our flight, he picked me out of the crowd to coax into buying one of his creations. How could I say no?

  • Hmmm, I'm sorry about that. I don't mean to accuse *you* in particular…or anyone really. I just think that alms giving (or any form of charity) should not be seen any differently as gift giving.I haven't exactly crystallized my own thoughts on it to even try to explain in my own words yet, but one of the bigger things I'm just considering is this excerpt from this book about Theology of the Body, "Called to Love" by Anderson & Granados:"An anecdote from the life of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke illustrates the creative possibilities of the gift. One day Rilke and a friend happened to pass a church where an old woman was begging at the gate. Rilke’s companion offered her some change, and the poor woman, accustomed to the mechanical gestures of the passersby, took the money without even raising her eyes. Rilke, like a true poit, bought her a rose and presented it to her when the two friends passed by the church again later that day. The woman’s respsonse to Rilke’s apparently useless offer was totally different from her reaction to the change proffered by his friend: She raised her eyes and smiled and was not seen at the gate of the church for a whole week afterward. When Rilke’s friend asked him what she had lived on during that week, Rilke answered without missing a beat: She has lived on the rose.Rilke’s rose was a unique and personal gift that touched the very dignity of the personwho received it, reawakening her to life, whereas the change handed her mechanically by the passersby did not evoke any real human response in her soul."So then it just makes me think about those questions. I think they merit some personal reflection…at least a short evaluation of how we see people, of how we give.And it's not just a sweet anecdote. Most of them really do appreciate a sincere conversation (it doesn't even have to be long…maybe even just the few minutes while waiting for the light to turn).You mentioned something about presuming how much each can give…that didn't even come to mind earlier, cause really it's one of those things I don't like thinking about especially in these economically challenging times: "how much do I really have to offer"? But just in the actual "how much" is a real pain if we would have to seriously consider just how far "love your neighbor as yourself" actually goes.Again, I'm really sorry if I appeared offensive. I meant no harm or criticism. This post just really re-ignited some reflections about these things I’ve had the past few months….And what I don’t like about confrontations or judgments, well, sometimes even the bible really, is that it is always a double-edged sword. The moment I begin to measure another, is the very same moment I begin to start scrutinizing myself…and vice versa at times. So yeah, my bad…totally meant no offense. = )

  • Han

    @The CrescatGood for you! The way I see it, God has given to me when I asked, even though He knew that I would squander the gift. Because God does this, I think that we ought to do the same. More significantly, we give because we see Christ in the beggar. It is an act of shared humanity. If we take it upon ourselves to decide (on the fly) what is best for the beggar, do we really recognize his human dignity, or have we reified him and used him as a tool for further our own sense of righteousness? How do you all think that the beggar feels when he is given a leftover, or a meal coupon by somebody who obviously distrusts his judgment–more or less human? I once knew a man, a lawyer working at a downtown law office, who when approached over lunchtime by a beggar asking for money for food did not give him cash, did not give him food, but rather invited the beggar to dine with him, sat with him throughout the meal, and paid the cheque. Perhaps if we all did then when we give food rather than cash, we would really be humanizing the poor.I think the case of the stranger begging for money is quite different from the case of a family member or close friend with a substance abuse problem. In the latter case, one actually knows what the problem is–it is not speculation. Moreover, in such cases a real special duty exists because of the existing relationship. The continuing relationship makes it possible to monitor the situation and provide far more than just financial support to the loved one. This continuing relationship is what distinguishes tough love from judgmentalism.

  • "I once knew a man, a lawyer working at a downtown law office, who when approached over lunchtime by a beggar asking for money for food did not give him cash, did not give him food, but rather invited the beggar to dine with him, sat with him throughout the meal, and paid the cheque. Perhaps if we all did then when we give food rather than cash, we would really be humanizing the poor."That's it exactly, actually seeing and being with the person, being the gift. Just the first few meals, it was so clear to me that these guys hunger for so much more than food for the day. That is why I asked if giving money was enough of an expression of love. And after that, how much do I really have to offer.

  • Just because a man lives on the streets doesn't make him a drug addict. If you don't know he is a drug addict before giving him money then you cannot make that assumption just because he is poor. If you DO know he is a drug addict then sure don't enable him(God did give us an intellect and reason to make good choices), but to assume a beggar is a drug addict with no other evidence than the fact he is a poor beggar is just bad judgment(and sinful quite frankly). I totally agree with Kat. Beware you may be entertaining angels who are testing you.

  • I don't have the answer, but I do have some experience.1. Many/most people on the streets in a current day US city are addicts or have intentionally untreated mental conditions, which they self-medicate with booze/drugs.2. I am an addict. I've never quite been homeless, but I've spent plenty of time with homeless and other junkies. Addiction is horrific. It's awful. It totally destroys and degrades a person. Talk about being a slave to sin, that's it. If you give money to street panhandlers on a regular basis, you are, no doubt, buying them booze/smack/ice. Those drugs are not an escape from the streets – they're the reason they're on the streets, and it's a living hell. You might want to read this:http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/addiction.pdfDrug and alcohol abuse is the #1 cause of homelessness.3. I've spent my entire lunch hour and more trying to figure out how to say this last bit. I don't want to tell you not to give to panhandlers/homeless, and I'm sure you see a great deal of good, but I just have to tell you that people like you helped me sustain my habit for a year or more and it was a brutal hell. At the end, when I was having a really hard time scoring because I was so strung out people would just not help anymore, I tried to kill myself. I'm sure you're really nice and trying to help, I don't want to seem like I'm coming down on you, but addiction is horrific and even sort of accidentally helping people stay in it is something that's hard for me to deal with.

  • I'm not trying to say it's the fault of the people who would give me things to try to keep my life together that I tried to kill myself, but I'm just saying addiction is incredibly powerful and totally dominates your life. Maybe I'm too much of an NA hardcase now, I don't know.

  • There is a "to give or not to give" problem posed on http://www.bustedhalo.com/category/moral_dilemmas

  • a quote from St John Vianney…"There are those who say to the poor that they seem to look to be in such good health: "You are so lazy! You could work. You are young. You have strong arms."You don't know that it is God's pleasure for this poor person to go to you and ask for a handout. You show yourself as speaking against the will of God. There are some who say: "Oh, how badly he uses it!" May he do whatever he wants with it! The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven't."