While in earlier times charity meant love, my discussion of the virtue today will center on the way we commonly use the term today. We think of charity as giving, frequently money, to those in need. Sometimes we think of large organizations such as the Salvation Army as a charity. But my thoughts today are around the tension I feel when confronted with people asking me for money.
It’s a rare day when I can drive without seeing someone, usually a man, standing next to the traffic lane with a piece of cardboard hand lettered with a message saying something like “homeless, hungry, willing to work.” Unfailingly I will arrive at a stop light and sit for a time next to the person with the sign. I doubt his sign; I doubt my charitable heart; I drive on wondering about the encounter.
Our church, in a poverty stricken downtown, attracts a number of the homeless. We feed them sandwiches each day; we hand out gloves, hats and socks; our friars give out bus passes, food gift cards and medical co-pays. In the dead of winter we are an emergency warm up shelter. Still individuals ask us directly for money. Our priest has asked us to send anyone on to him and not give out money. So we don’t, but it is challenging to look at someone obviously struggling and say no.
So yes I know that many of these people are addicts. Yes I know that many of them would just use the money for drugs or alcohol. So yes I know that would be enabling. So my charity would be enabling I guess. So I put extra money in our poor box, trusting our friars to know what to do and who to help and how to best help each poor soul. That was my act of charity today.