At the beginning of Lent, Pope Francis said to give money to the homeless and not worry about how it would be spent.
God allows the sun to shine on the just and unjust, pours out His grace on all the people of the Earth, offers the opportunity for salvation to all who are willing to hear His voice. Here’s the reality of that way of living: You’re going to be used. If you give to others, there will be others who will take advantage of your generosity.
Some of the people who came to listen to Jesus just wanted to see Him perform a miracle. Jesus even calls them on their need to see something amazing, rather than to hear what He teaches and take it to heart. “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4: 48). Pope Francis likewise allows himself to be seen entering prisons, visiting with the homeless, interacting with the poor. Some view his actions as mere photo opportunities. Others posit whether the pope is being used by others to advance themselves rather than Christianity. Here’s the deeper reality: when we give because we see someone in need, that may be the sign and wonder that causes someone else to begin to listen to Jesus. It’s not us that people see when we minister to the poor. It’s Christ.
Our Holy Father is neither a fool, nor someone who lets himself be used by the world. His job, like that of the Church, is to propose to every sou, how it is that we would be most able to experience God's love. That people have free will, and thus might opt not to take advantage of what is presented, is the problem we've always had since the dawn of time. Still, he is going out there, providing the invitation — being the doorman, if you will — to Christ's Church. It is up to each of us to accept the invitation to walk deeper in. Going deeper in always involves risk. That risk may mean we’re called to be fools for Christ.
Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners. Mother Teresa picked up the dying. Saint Maximilian Kolbe took the place of a condemned man. Saint Damien of Molokai lived amongst and ministered to the sick in a leper colony. They walked out into the unsafe world and gave, even though it seemed hopeless or foolish, and kept giving long after people stopped watching. Our daily trials with being asked to give a little do not rank as anything more as splinters by comparison, but when we encounter the homeless, or the begging, it is (whether the person intends or otherwise) Christ in disguise. We’re to give long after people stop watching.
This past week, I found myself face to face with a beggar who may not have been a beggar. I’d cracked my window when I parked, and gathered my papers. A man stood in front of my car. He told me a story of working all night and not being paid at the end of his shift by the person who hired him. This may or may not have been true, and I had no way of knowing. Not sure what to do, I asked his name (“Hector”) and told him I’d pray for him. He said, “Thank you,” and started to walk away. Giving the man what I had through a slit in the window (in part because it happened to be Holy Week), he asked me, “Are you Christian?”
His question shocked me and I said, “Yes.” He shouted, “Hallelujah!” and pumped his fist. He walked off part singing. I won’t say I didn’t feel nervous as to whether I’d been used, but the question, “Are you Christian?” rang in my head. Pope Francis told us to give because we’ll be given the honor of being asked, and what we answer with words won’t matter as much as what we answer with our acts.
If we give, we will be used. The Holy Spirit will use the poor to bring us closer to Christ. The Holy Spirit will use each act of generosity to help evangelize the world. We should be willing to be used, and hope to get used to it.