Pope Francis borrows words from the First Epistle of John as the title for his message for the First World Day of the Poor, 2017. “Let us love, not with words but with deeds” It may not be a new challenge. But it certainly is still as radical as when St. John issued the challenge in his First Epistle.
Vincent had his own way of saying it. “Let us love God, brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows” We have many contemporary ways of saying it. Among them, “Put your money where your mouth is!”
While it may not be a new challenge it is still quite radical. At least if we understand it as Pope Francis does.
He makes the challenge very specific.
“It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, which falls this year on 19 November, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.”
Invisible People, a blog devoted to telling the stories of the homeless, gets even more specific about how we can interact.
- Make eye contact. It’s hard to be homeless and being ignored can be painful. Make eye contact and greet the person with a hello or good morning.
- If you feel like giving money then give. It’s okay. Like Pope Francis said, “it’s okay to give homeless people money and we should not worry about doing so.”
- Keep in mind your safety must come first. Do not open your purse or take out your wallet if you feel it may be dangerous.
- If you don’t feel like giving money, simply say “sorry.” It’s never a good practice to lie and say you don’t have anything.
- If you’re not the type to give money than an alternative is to carry a few pairs of socks to hand out. I walk around with Hanes socks in my backpack. When someone asks me for money, I normally hand each person two pairs of new socks. It’s a great way to start a conversation and get to know the individual. Carry socks in your purse, briefcase or glove box. Other items to give include gift cards or bus tokens, but I find socks are needed and easy to carry.
- There are occasions when a homeless person is overly aggressive, has severe mental health issues or is intoxicated. If you don’t feel safe, don’t engage with the person. However, remember to have compassion as to why they may act that way.
- Last but far from least is to simply listen. Homelessness is horrible, and people experiencing homelessness are often in crisis. They may have a simple need that you can help with. You just have to start a conversation and listen.
Can you accept this challenge for at least one week?
Can you find time to read Pope Francis’ short but almost poetic message?