The Do’s And Dont’s When It Comes to Helping the Poor
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We’re already halfway through the Year of Mercy, a time when the Church (that’s us!) is invited to discover God’s mercy for ourselves, as well as for those around us. Pope Francis has been very clear on the importance of this and has encouraged us to “assist others by communicating God’s love and mercy through words and deeds”. He also says,
“Faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit… on such things will we be judged”. With that in mind, we have turned to the Corporal Works of Mercy, which are 7 acts that are based on Christ’s teaching and are a blueprint as to how we should treat others. They are very simple, but it can still be difficult to know where to begin with them.
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With this in mind, our intrepid author Genevieve Philip will be spending the next few months finding ways to carry out the Works of Mercy and sharing her experiences with us. In doing so, she will offer tips and advice on how you can go about it yourself. We hope that these help you to feel inspired to continue with Works of Mercy that you already do, or to try something new so that others may know and feel the love and mercy of God in a very real and tangible way.
The Corporal Works of Mercy: Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Shelter the Homeless, Visit the Sick, Visit the Prisoners, Bury the Dead, Give Alms to the Poor.
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“I might be homeless, but I have hot sauce,” one of my companions humorously commented.
It was Cinco de Mayo, and I was eating tacos in a Catholic church’s educational building with a few other volunteers and many people who did not have a place to call home. My companion with the hot sauce had her hair and makeup beautifully styled and wore business-looking clothes. I hadn’t thought she was one of the homeless we were housing.
Eight of us sat at the same round table, eating the tacos together, helping serve each other by offering food or cleaning up the area, and talking about what stores had better deals than others. My hot sauce companion truly had a servant’s heart. She helped put extra food away, offered us cookies, remembered to set food aside for a man who was still at his work shift, and knew all about the funeral service next door. As she pointed out, this place is her home for now, and of course, she’d know about everything going on.
Because it is the Year of Mercy, I am interested in more actively living my faith, but sheltering the homeless seemed the most impossible, circumstantial, and impractical act of charity on the list. I wondered how one should go about sheltering the homeless.
I could not simply walk up to a stranger, ask if they needed a place to stay, and volunteer my apartment. I did not have enough money to build everyone a house. I own no company to hire people so they can pay rent. That’s why Operation H.O.M.E.S. and other organizations which house the homeless have found ways not just to give people a place to sleep, but also support their search for employment and provide companionship with the help of volunteers.
My future mother-in-law had mentioned Operation H.O.M.E.S. in passing, and by God’s grace, everything worked out so that I was free the same day she had volunteered.
“You didn’t do it right,” a young girl, who was in the program with her mother, laughed at me while I tried to do cartwheels with her. She was a cheerleader and wanted to be a gymnast, so her cartwheels were much better than mine.
She observed, “You are doing cartwheels like a crab.” She was very active and social—we cartwheeled, played ball, colored, and headed to bed tired.
The male volunteer stayed up because he needed to pick up a man from a double shift. Working that hard, I wondered how he could even have time to find a place to call home. The volunteer stayed up talking while the man ate his dinner.
The whole night, I felt more like the volunteers were neighbors helping neighbors—equal in dignity, just like Jesus treated others while he ministered to them, healed them, and loved them.
How do they end up without a place to call home? What about their family? How can they get a job without a home address?
None of these questions should stop you from helping others in need. I’ve always logically known by my faith that homeless people are first and foremost people. The “homeless” part is just an adjective that, God willing, doesn’t describe them for long. In other words, we should not think of them as “homeless” but as “people who are homeless.” In this Year of Mercy, try to think of people first as foremost as people, children of God, and your neighbor rather than their physical state of existence, worldly titles, or what they can do for you. It didn’t matter to me how they became homeless, just that there was a way to help safely shelter them.
That night, we slept in the same building as our guests, not because we wanted to brag about being good Christians or because we were forced to be there by our parents. We went because we recognize that anyone could end up on the streets and those who are homeless are people just like we are, except without a home. Thank God for my family, my education, my job—all these blessings have kept me in a place to call home. Without the support of my family, I could easily end up homeless, too.
Think you can’t tackle this work of mercy? Try it! It might be your calling to serve others. Just keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. Use prudence.
Like I said, you never know someone’s story, so it is not wise or practical offer a person on the streets a room in your house. Prudence, as well as the other virtues, will guide you to help others in ways that are best for everyone. In operation homes, everyone is comfortable because we had established rules and respect for each other.
2. Use compassion.
Don’t just give people things; give them companionship even if it’s only for a dinner. Recognizing the human dignity of others is the fundamental part of our Christian life. Compassion means to suffer along with someone else. Be the companion that others need and get to know them as people. Make it less a work of mercy to check off your list and more a way of life of helping others, a way of being Christ to others. I didn’t use names in this post because I wanted to respect their privacy, but please, remember those you meet and pray for them by name.
3. Use your resources.
Yes, it is possible to shelter to homeless. There is a way. Talk to others, and doors will open not only for you but for those this ministry will help house. A short list of online resources for beginning your journey to shelter the homeless is below. There are many more options, including simply asking around your local parish or charities, to figure out how you can help those without a home:
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