helping the poor

December 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

There is a Chinese idiom which says that helping others makes one happy inside.

But if one is happy, there are a few possible reasons:

1) One is genuinely a saint.

2) One has not given enough, till it hurts.

It does me no harm to buy tissue from some old or crippled person, or to help a blind man reach his destination when I’m pretty free. I feel happier thereafter, and it doesn’t hurt.

But introduce the kind of poor person who literally leaches onto you, who sees you as not so much a person or a friend but as a source of income, who wallows in self-pity and continually complains, even about the people who have helped her. Then see if helping him or her makes you feel happy inside.

I encountered just such a person yesterday. I didn’t like the sight of her, the way she looked and talked. But it was obvious she was not only poor but unpopular. And it was not right to leave her be. Was I courting trouble? I treated her to dinner and smiled at her constantly. I later offered to buy her some food provisions when she told me of the very unhealthy food she was eating (I am a Pharisee when it comes to eating). I told God this is mortification.

She asked for $20 for transport money. I gave $10.

But along the way, she stopped and admired more than food provisions. And hinted that she wanted them.

I know now what it means to give until it hurts.

It was not so much the amount of money. I can give $10 away without feeling much of a pinch if I love the person. But giving $10 to a person whom you didn’t like, a person who asked when you were coming to church again so you would, as she expressly states, give her $20 once in 2 weeks,  it hurt.

Yesterday, I saw the negative side of the human race and it was distasteful. Fulton Sheen compares God becoming man, to man consenting to live among serpents. I understood that analogy better yesterday. The irony, I am also man. I also have a most pathetic and distasteful side. Thus, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” is the verse from the Our Father I keep in mind when I encounter such distasteful behavior from others, knowing that God has to endure much more from me. In this case, he has to endure my reluctance to give money, even when he has given me quite a bit of it! He has put persons in my life who have been extremely generous, most notably the French family I stayed with while in Paris, the elderly woman who invited me to her house for home-cooked asian meals…But look at my reaction when I have to be generous!

Ron Rolheiser speaks about a similar idea in his article most eloquently, “LOVE BEYOND NAIVETÉ AND ROMANCE”.

“Only two kinds of people think that love is easy: saints, who through long years of self-sacrifice have made a habit of virtue, and naïve persons who don’t know what they’re talking about.” (Jacques Maritain)


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