Question from Ben on 2/14/2008:
I know that in the Lenten season we are to be especially sensitive to almsgiving. I want to ask: what should I do when someone begs me for money on the street? On the one hand, I am reminded of Jesus' teaching to "give to everyone who asks you" (Luke 6:30). On the other hand, I am afraid that if I simply give money the person may go buy alcohol, or be encouraged to keep begging rather than try to find a job or do something productive. On some occassions, rather than money I have offered an apple I was carrying or an unused bus ticket -- which the panhandler usually refuses.
One example that wrenched my heart over this question took place at a church a few months ago. During Mass, a pre-teen boy and his mother ran in at the end to receive the Eucharist. They then left immediately and were smoking outside the church doors, such that smoke came into the church. As the worshippers left, the boy and woman aggressively begged for money. Some of the parishoners harshly rebuked them and angrily said things like, "Get a job!" This wrenched my heart because on the one hand, the beggars I think were behaving inappropriately. On the other hand, we learn in church to forgive sinners and love others as our brothers.
What is the Christian response to such situations?
Answer by Fr. Jay Toborowsky on 4/5/2008:
Yes, the Lord asked us to be generous, but you can do so in your life using means that will directly help people, such as giving to Catholic Charities, food pantrys, etc.
When I'm going to the city and assume I'll get stopped by beggars), I cary a few dollar bills in my pocket. I presume they're honest (though I'm realistic), but what they do with the dollar is on theirt conscience, not mine.