Charity and the Heart

Fr. Mike Boutin

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by people. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2-4)

Check out one of my favorite Catholic writers and speakers these days, Fr. James Martin, S.J., talking about almsgiving and joy on YouTube.

Occasionally, I celebrate Mass at a downtown Boston shrine, located a block from Park Square.  It's a fairly congested area, and frequented by a lot of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks right outside the chapel. 

Imagine the scene: me in my Roman collar, carrying my Mass robes in my arms, walking through, over, and around this group of people sleeping across the sidewalks, and of course, all the while, trying to figure out what's the best thing to do as they beg for some money to eat.

I grew up in a staunchly lower middle class city north of Boston.  Lots of beggars and poor people... always homeless people looking for a meal... drug addicts and other unsavory types walking around, looking for trouble.  I grew up convinced that, even as a practicing Catholic, I should ignore them. "Give to service agencies that can actually get them the help they need. If you give them your hard-earned money, they'll just shoot it up or drink it down." 

Problem is, once the homeless person was out of my sight, I never did manage to find that social service agency that needed my money. Out of sight, out of mind...

Then I heard someone speak about charity and almsgiving.  "Charity is not for the poor," he said. "Charity is for you. Charity changes your heart, and reminds you that what you have is gift, not your hard-earned money."  "God gives, and God takes away," the scriptures say. "There but for the grace of God go I," our popular wisdom reminds us.

In other words, almsgiving reminds me that everything I have is from God. My life and my "toys" are all God's blessings to me.  That poor man on the street could be me... That alcoholic woman, that drug-addicted boy: they are my brothers and sisters. That schizophrenic science teacher is my friend in Christ (and on some days in the office, not very far away from me, that's for sure!).

Almsgiving is really not about what the recipient is going to do with it.  I don't live on the street.  I don't know what that life is like.  But I do know that my heart needs to learn to be more generous. I need to learn to trust in God's providence a bit more today, and to depend less on what I have in my wallet or in my checking account.

I need to remember that it's not just the pretty people who smell sweet from deodorant and perfume and expensive colognes with whom I am called to live and pray. These people, with their dirt and grime and "fragrance" are my sisters and brothers in the Lord.

They will be sharing eternity with me...

Or sending a drop of water from Abraham's bosom to cool the fires that damn me...

The choice is mine to make....

Now pray....


Father Mike Boutin is the co-pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Walpole, MA, and travels widely, leading pilgrimages throughout the world to various Catholic religious sites. He is a frequent speaker on liturgy, music, spirituality, and pastoral ministry.

3/8/2010 5:00:00 AM
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