Charlene Rack continues her two-part article on loving and serving the poor, with sound advice on how to do so.
Last month, I introduced my readers to the real “treasure” of the Church. Now I’ll address how to care for, serve, and live in solidarity with this living treasure, in a legitimate and healthy manner.
Blessed Albert of Warsaw tells us the absolute importance of embracing poverty and/or the poor, by introducing us to what he referred to as a "sacrament of poverty." The expression has merit from a theological point of view. In more than one sense, poverty may be considered a "natural" sacrament, possessing a certain salvific power. (Paraphrased from The Starved and The Silent by Aloysius Schwartz, © 1966)
As mentioned in Part 1, helping the poor is a trickier job these days, particularly when assessing a spontaneous request for aid. Members of our parish are constantly asked for money on the sidewalks of our inner city church. We’ve had priests tell us not to hand out money, because we could be encouraging an “enslavement” at worst, or causing a danger to our parishioners outside the church doors.
Personally, as an older woman, I’m simply not comfortable opening my purse up and pulling out my wallet on the street. However, I don’t try to ignore the beggars. If they’re not staggering under the influence of some substance, I will look them in the eye and say, “Good morning, God bless you this day!” That might seem lame to some, but my goal is to “recognize” them, whatever their situation might be. I might ask for their first name, so I can pray for them. I sometimes even admit to them my discomfort in handing out money on the street (which usually elicits a sympathetic response!).
At our parish, we’re very blessed to have a new order of Carmelite nuns under formation, and they serve the poor on a daily basis. They regularly provide us with a wish list of items to have on hand for folks in dire need. So now we can direct the needy across the street to the Sisters’ convent door.
Aside from chance encounters with the needy, we must “schedule” encounters with them, in order to serve and love them as we should. To do this, we can volunteer at charitable organizations: serve at a soup kitchen, volunteer to help clients at a St. Vincent de Paul food pantry (or some other food pantry in your town). I’ve organized many mission trips for teens and young adults in the past, to places like Appalachia and Tijuana, Mexico. I’ve also done several local, inner city “mission trips,” where we traveled around to various non-profit agencies to help at food banks, childcare facilities, orphanages, etc. These were opportunities which opened the eyes and hearts of young people to real poverty, while serving the poor through sanctioned assistance.
If you have the time and energy to plan such trips, I highly encourage you to do so. They’ve always been as much (possibly more) of a blessing for me as they were for the teens and young adults. One of the “newer” priests in our archdiocese went on a couple of my mission trips years ago, and now, he’s leading his own such trips, and he credits me with getting him pointed in that direction! What a blessing to know that God allowed me to have such a positive influence on a young soul.
Apart from these more active pursuits, there are simpler ways to live in solidarity with the poor. The most important practice is to choose a simple life for yourself and your family. Whenever possible, buy used clothing and household items. There are many outlets for frugal shoppers, but the best are Catholic thrift stores. In my hometown, we’re blessed with an active St. Vincent de Paul ministry, including several thrift store locations. They’ve just recently added the option to “round up” the purchase price, as a donation to their agency.
We can also make the commitment to go to bed each night feeling hungry. I learned this on our trip to Mexico, when they requested we not snack after our supper. Just that simple action of lying in bed with a growling tummy makes one reflect on those who suffer from real hunger, and reminds us to pray for the poor. If we don’t force ourselves to turn away from materialism and overabundance, we will never open our hearts wide to the treasure of the poor.
As you can see, there are many ways to serve and support the poor, the most important aspect of all of these efforts being, “keep the poor always in mind,” and be open to what God is calling you to, in way of service, drawing you one step deeper into God’s merciful and mysterious plan of salvation!
Copyright 2021 Charlene Rack
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About the Author
Charlene Rack grew up in the "heartland," moved south to Cincinnati, married a Catholic man, converted to Catholicism, and had three children. Along the way, she's planned many mission trips, youth groups, and pilgrimages to the March for life for teens and young adults - all carried out with her goofy sense of humor and her enthusiastic sense of adventure. Read her blog at Grandma’s Coffee Soup.