Inside Notre Dame cathedral, covered in dust and years of grime and oil, is a small tin box set into a pillar that reads, "For the Poor". It is very easy to miss as it is far out of sight of any glory to behold within the church itself and certainly out of view from the arrays of candles that tourists can pay 2 euros for to light and say a prayer.
I'll be honest, I definitely took advantage of the copious amounts of tourists taking photos and joined their ranks inside the church. And I also took this photograph outside.
As the woman sat down by the pillar, I watched the line immediately begin to shift away from her. So greatly did they move away that she moved to the next pillar and they again began to move away.
I didn't even notice the little boy until I was going through the photos later. What will his parents explain away about the woman? That she's probably just going to use it for drugs or alcohol. She isn't that poor. Someone else will stop and help her.
Men sleeping on benches in the church garden, clutching newspaper to their face in subways. Young women with imploring signs, old women outside the church gates.
The poor you will always have with you... If that is the case, does that mean nothing can or should done to try and alleviate the problem? Though my parents brought me up to believe many good things and instilled quality morals and values in me, I remember the day I first saw a homeless person. At the time, I was about five and we were going up into the "dangerous part of the big city" (three blocks from my house last year) and there was a man with a typical sign. The impression I recall receiving when I asked about helping him was that we didn't do that sort of thing because he would likely buy alcohol or drugs with the money. Though I was often in trouble as a kid and usually thought my parents were wrong, I remember that as the first time I thought they really weren't right and that someday, I would do something different.
And the day before I left, only a few streets away from that very corner, a friend and I were asked by two men if we had any change. We didn't give them anything but the young guy truly thanked us anyway. One of the men appeared to have something wrong with one of his eyes- a trait I had often searched for in the homeless men of Rochester as he and my dad were once friends. We turned them away when we had enough money in our pockets for some dinner for those guys. If he was the man my dad knew, that man also has a daughter around my age. We forget the homeless have families, had friends and a life before homelessness. If they are on the streets, we blame them. We are unforgiving and unkind towards broken hearts and trampled lives. We are unkind, impatient, rude, selfish, seeking wrong in their lives to validate our lack of generosity and we have no hope for them. Few love the homeless. Many of them bled in wars for us as sons today now bleed overseas.
I read Radical, by David Platt and have begun The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns and found the quote below within its pages.
Maybe some people do deserve the life they have, but after several years of beginning to search out the answer, "what if we're wrong?" I've found this is not often the case and when it isn't, it's in a terrible way.
Even attending church my whole life, I feel in many ways the true teachings of Jesus were taught out of me in one way or another. So in my heart, for years I've always felt in the deep spots of my heart that the untouchables in our societies should not be kept at arms length and in our blindspots. I ignored those thoughts.
To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.