While America is a rich country, many millions of Americans are living in poverty. And the COVID crisis has only made that situation worse. When we see the statistics about poverty and homelessness in our very own communities, it can feel overwhelming. How can we help the poor around us when what we have to offer feels like what we can offer won’t make a difference?
Fr. Marcel Taillon, a regular Morning Air® contributor, recently shared some ways we can help our brothers and sisters living in poverty in a material way, but also in a spiritual way by acknowledging their human dignity.
Acknowledging the scope of the issue, Fr. Taillon acknowledged that it can be overwhelming, but that should not keep us from doing what we can to help the poor. In fact, as Catholics, it should spur us into greater action. As Fr. Taillon said, “It’s overwhelming sometimes. The need is great, the harvesters are few, so we’ve got to get to work.”
While it is very important to give of our resources to help those in need, there can still be a disconnect in those interactions. Rather than being transactional in our approach, as Christians, we should seek to encounter the poor in our communities as our brothers and sisters made in the image and likeness of God.
Fr. Taillon suggested that even if you’re simply handing some money to a homeless person on the street, that is still an opportunity to pause and acknowledge the humanity and dignity of that person as a child of God.
“I find one of the things, even when we distribute food on the streets, is asking someone their name,” he said. “Even if you are moved to give something to someone at a traffic light, say, ‘What’s your name? My name is Bob.’ And it’s funny, but asking their name is a form of respect and dignity for that person. Asking their name is sometimes even more important than giving the dollar. You know, give them $1, but ask their name and then move on with a prayer for them. Say, ‘I’ll pray for you today. Please pray for me.'”
“I think those kind of exchanges go right to the heart of the real human need, which is communion with another person and with God.”
Maybe you look at the statistics of poverty or homelessness in your community and feel as though you could never make a difference. But a listener named Denise called in to Morning Air to share her story, and showed that even if you can only help the person right in front of you, that can make all the difference.
Denise shared, “I am a survivor of domestic violence and a long-time marriage that led to homelessness. I was living in Connecticut at the time, and one evening I wasn’t able to get into the shelter, because the shelter was full. So I went over to a church in New London, Connecticut, and slept by the Grotto where Our Lady was. In the morning, the priest found me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I’m homeless.’ And he goes, ‘You can’t sleep here, you’ll freeze to death.'”
“Fr. Washabaugh has a ministry to the homeless and is very dedicated to homeless people,” Denise explained. “He took me in his car over to the Red Roof Inn and paid for my hotel room. He said, ‘Get cleaned up, get something to eat. I’m going to come back later with my parish administrator, and we’re going to figure out how we can help you.'”
“And from that day on my life completely turned around,” she said. “Because, after having suffered such horrible domestic violence, he gave me back my dignity. And today I have a Master’s degree, I’m a paralegal, I’m totally self-supporting, and I am just in love with the homeless and dedicated to the homeless because that man was like Jesus lifting Mary Magdalene off of the ground.”
Denise encouraged listeners to never underestimate the difference an act of charity can make for the poor or homeless. She said, “I was homeless for a year, and that one incident with Father Washabaugh completely turned my life around. He helped me find a person, another single person, that I could stay with that was willing to take me in as a roommate. And from there, it was just a new story and a new chapter in my life.”
Listen to the full conversation below: