I must say I am having a crisis of sorts after events in the past four weeks. I am questioning a longstanding precept in my walk of faith. It is found in the words of Jesus; "...give to all who ask...". Even as I try to follow the gospel imperative to take care of the poor, to give to those in need and to not turn away from those who ask for help, my faith is put to the test!
Consider the case of a single mother of 5, none of the dads are involved. She is on welfare and Medicaid and recovering from…..cosmetic surgery! Perhaps, the unemployed father of two children who tearfully asks, not for a handout but for a short term loan so he can get to a nearby state and a job, … as he has been doing repeatedly for about a year! The disabled “veteran” who shows up at the doorsteps of the parish office, by coincidence, on Memorial Day, with the story of being discharged from the hospital with no money, no care , no follow up, and of course was robbed and has no source of income! Or the homeless guy who curses at your car when you offer to buy him the food his sign says he will work for, instead of giving him the cash he requests! Let’s not forget about the needy couple with kids, showing up at church for benevolence after they blew their paychecks on a weekend getaway, or the nice lady in the Lexus who comes to the free clinic with the 3 u’s; unmarried, unemployed and uninsured!
It really touches your heart, but after a while you come to realize it is merely heartburn and not any kind of spiritual or laudable sensation. Did God really intend for us to believe and always respond kindly to these kinds of con?
After years of service as a priest, a volunteer at free clinics and of caring for people with limited means, it is disheartening that these types of stories are not all that rare. Sadly, I am much more likely to be a little skeptical of these narratives, and the folks telling them, than when I was a starry eyed youngster! Back then, I was certain that all people needed was love, an affirming smile and a hand to help them get through a rough time! Helping the poor, the friendless and needy is a gospel imperative, being a perpetual enabler of the irresponsible or the gullible prey of con artists …not so much!
The parish I serve is rich on generosity from people who live on very fixed incomes, some who make under minimum wage, have multiple jobs and still struggle monthly to make ends meet. Even so they give of their time, treasure and talent to serve God and help others. It hardly seems fair, godly or good stewardship to be careless with their gifts and offerings. It is with people’s faith, their precious time, their very hard earned money that we play when we extend our charity lightly to those who would take advantage of others.
Perhaps St. Paul’s admonition should be part of the spiritual directives we consult when faced with a request for aid from a less than credible source, “if anyone is unwilling to work, let them not eat…”! I once heard a conservative Baptist politician make similar Bible references and cringe at entertaining similar thoughts but, alas...I can not help but think it merits prayerful consideration!
May God give us love, patience and wise discernment as we strive to love God, neighbor and give to those who ask.