By Michaela Hillam
I DISGUST myself. I’m a hypocrite, a fraud. I’m no better than a Pharisee.
I was walking briskly out of Toowong Shopping Centre when a man who was clearly homeless called out to me. I mumbled something about being in a rush and continued on. I was late and I was on my way to Mass – the irony.
Granted, he caught me off guard, but with every step I took towards that church and away from that man, my self-disgust increased.
Just turn back, Michaela. Just turn back. But I didn’t. I continued on my way even though I knew being late for Mass was a pitiful excuse for denying Christ to this man. I’ve since realised there are two common lies at work in my mind.
1. It’s not safe for a woman to help a stranger. Do you think Blessed Mother Teresa or St Elizabeth or St Gemma allowed these fears to prevent them from loving strangers? Hello. Ever heard the story of The Good Samaritan?
The Samaritan could have ended up in the same state as the man he helped – who knows if robbers were still lurking. Yet he helped him all the same.
2. Don’t give them money, because they’ll just spend it on booze or drugs or both.
I’ve heard of people who will give the homeless (who ask) their lunch or buy them a coffee instead of giving them money.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: ‘Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you’; ‘you received without pay, give without pay’.”
I wonder, though, what this says to them? Do they see it as kindness or as a big fat sign saying you are not trustworthy enough to buy your own food with this money?
I’ve heard of another idea – taking them out to lunch. It means holding a conversation with them. It means connecting with them. And now here’s a really radical thought: Ask them what they actually want.
They ask for a dollar, you stop, look them in the eyes and with complete genuineness, ask them what it is they really want and need and be willing to spend a little bit of time or money on getting it for them.
After all, the meeting we are going to be late to, the children we were meant to pick up 15 minutes ago, the lunch break that is wearing thin is tiny – absolutely miniscule in relation to the value of the human life you are about to change by being Christ to them.
Treat them as a fellow child of God. Treat them as a human being.
Pope Francis said in July: “Not uncommonly, the poor and needy are regarded as a ‘burden’, a hindrance to development. At most, they are considered as recipients of aid or compassionate assistance.
“They are not seen as brothers and sisters, called to share the gifts of creation, the goods of progress and culture, to be partakers at the same table of the fullness of life, to be protagonists of integral and inclusive development.”
These works are called mercy. The Catechism says: “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbour in his spiritual and bodily necessities.
“Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.
“The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.”
I cannot imagine the courage or desperation that it would take someone to let go of their pride and ask a complete stranger for help.
No wonder they always ask for so little.
Michaela Hillam is a young Catholic blogger from Brisbane.