My Money, My Way?

person woman sitting old
Photo by Skitterphoto on

My parish sits near the intersection of a major interchange along a major cross-country interstate. My husband and I lead a music ensemble at church, and every so often at practice on Wednesday nights, we find ourselves facing people coming in off the interstate asking for help: out of gas, out of work, broken down…

It happened last night, and it underscored how unprepared we are, both as individuals and as a parish, for such situations. We tried to find someone from St. Vincent de Paul but weren’t successful, and this gentleman eventually left, apologizing for bothering us because we clearly couldn’t help him. And though he was polite, it felt like he was pointing out the disconnect between our self-satisfied perception of ourselves as people of faith and the reality of how unprepared (unwilling?) we were to help a person in need.

Situations like this always disturb me. I find myself caught between a desire to help and a gut-level suspicion that said seeker is preying on the hearts (and guilt) of those of faith. And of course, the answering twinge of conscience, because how is that attitude compatible with a Christian world view?

For forty-plus years, every time I’ve confronted this situation, good and faithful people have responded with something like, “Hey, it’s the way of the world. This is reality. You have to be suspicious or you’ll get taken advantage of by scammers.”

But is it really okay for suspicion and world-weary jadedness to be our first, let alone our final, reaction? I mean, how are we ever actually to know whether a person is genuinely in need or being lazy/irresponsible/reaping the harvest s/he has sown? We are never actually going to know that. More importantly, is it really our business? Isn’t our call to give, and let God sort out the recipients? And if the answer to those questions has anything to do with the words “it’s my money,” then aren’t we intrinsically putting mammon ahead of God? How does it damage me in the slightest to give the benefit of the doubt to those asking for aid, even if I do end up supporting the occasional scammer?

This morning, Bishop Barron’s Gospel reflection zeroed right in on this same issue: “God is not pleased with this kind of economic inequality, and he burns with a passion to set things right. …Even though it makes us uncomfortable—and God knows it does, especially those of us who live in the most affluent society in the world—we can’t avoid it because it’s everywhere in the Bible.”

It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone would come into a church at night, put themselves in the face of such humiliation, if they didn’t actually need help.

So today, this is the puzzle I’m wrestling: What is the right and proper balance of prudence with Christian charity? How do I keep from twisting the faith, in situations like these, to make it more comfortably align with worldly values—like, for instance, the attachment to the idea of “my money, my way”? Isn’t it just as likely that we react with suspicion because it absolves us of the responsibility to respond to the face of Christ in people who come to us for help?


Open Wide - Extreme nationalist-xenophobia

Read the entire pastoral letter here.

#intentionalcatholic #realfaithrealworld #faithinaction #socialjustice #humandignity #goldenrule #racism #OpenWideOurHearts

Soul Corruption

It’s easy to see the effect of racism on the victims, but it damages the oppressor spiritually too.

Open Wide - Racism causes harm, corrupts

#intentionalcatholic #realfaithrealworld #faithinaction #socialjustice #humandignity #goldenrule #racism #OpenWideOurHearts

Twisted Faith

It’s been coming to me more and more often, how much easier it is to see our faith in worldly terms than it is to see the needs of the world in terms of the faith. How easy it is to put worldly values first, and then twist our faith around to try to make our worldly preferences fit.

So this quote, from yesterday’s second reading (second Sunday of Lent, year C) really struck me. Most of the time, I think of “earthly things” in terms of a chase after wealth or power or money–and who thinks they’re doing that? No one I’ve ever met.

NAB-Philippians 3

But if I’m so protective of what is “rightfully mine” that I put my rights, my choices, my property, my privacy, and above all, my security, above Godly living and the social responsibility to care for the needs of the poor and victims of violence or discrimination or any other suffering…well, that’s putting the world first instead of God.

When conservatives talk guns and immigration; when progressives talk contraception, when dioceses use legal forms disavowing responsibility, even in cases of negligence–in all these circumstances, worldly concerns take precedence over Godly ones.

Yes, the intersection of the real world and the kingdom of God is messy. But that doesn’t mean we get to set the kingdom aside whenever it inconveniences us.


This quote struck me with particular force because so often the idea of formal apologies to the black community for enslavement, discrimination, and segregation evokes such strong negative reactions among whites. Like, Why should we have to apologize for something we had no part in? Reading this document is an examination of conscience, inviting me to recognize that this is a cultural and generational problem–that it is not, in fact, a problem relegated to the past, but something very real today. And for that reason, it is my problem.

Open Wide - racism festers

Read the whole document here.

Unexamined Bias

Sculpture on display at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

One of my kids is studying Westward Expansion right now. This weekend, after finishing his homework on Lewis and Clark, he ran to his brother: “Did you know Lewis and Clark were the FIRST PEOPLE EVER TO SET FOOT IN THIS AREA?”

Thankfully, I was right there, so I could correct this gross misunderstanding of American history. “Uh, no,” I said, “they were not the first people to set foot in this area.”

“Well,” he said, “the first Americans, then.”

“No,” I said again. “Not that either. The Native Americans were Americans long before anyone else. Lewis and Clark were just the first white people.”

It’s not the first time I’ve had to correct such errors in my kids. They’ve brought home statements about how “all the shootings” take place in THAT park, which is why we can’t go there (something their classmates were told by their parents). And so on.

And I think, How in the world are they picking these things up? They’re not getting it from me or my husband! (Are they?)

But then, so much of it is just in the water, in the air. We are whites, surrounded by whites, and this is how we look at the world.

I’ve had white friends say, “Are there really more police shootings of unarmed black men, or does the media just highlight every one, so it sounds that way?” (If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, read this and this.)

I’ve had white friends say, “Those people shouldn’t block the interstate with their protest. They don’t have any right to disrupt the community.”

I’ve had white friends say, “Those football players should be playing football, not making political statements.”

I’ve had white friends say, “A bunch of those people in ___ were a bunch of professional activists that travel around. They weren’t even locals!”

And the more of these comments I hear, the harder I wince. Because what, in any of those comments, acknowledges the injustices suffered by minorities? Don’t they all boil down to: “I don’t believe you”? Or: “I can’t be bothered”? Or: “Accepting what you say would force me to change how I talk/think/act, so I’m going to go looking for reasons to justify ignoring you”?

Hardly a Christlike attitude.

I think in general, we really all do believe that “God’s skin” is “black, brown, yellow, it is red, it is white, every man’s the same in the good Lord’s sight,” as Hi God taught us as kids.

Where we run into trouble is—as usual—in the nitty gritty, practical details. It’s a lot more comfortable to act like racism was all taken care of by the Civil Rights Act and desegregation. Who wants to hear that if there are disparities in education, in earning, in opportunity, in policing, it’s because there is still institutional, communal, societal racism?

Open Wide-accomplices
Those of us who have benefited from the system sometimes get defensive about having it pointed out to us. We sense a threat to our way of life. Or at least, to our mental and emotional comfort. Because if we admit that such disparities actually exist, we’d have to change our opinions and attitudes. I think that’s why there’s such resistance to the term “white privilege.”

I’ve come a long way in the past few years, but I still routinely discover unexamined biases and presuppositions popping up in myself. My ongoing challenge as a Catholic Christian is, first, to be honest about those biases, and second, to be open in mind and heart to people of color when they say, “This is what I have experienced.” To take them at their word. Not to suggest that they’re overreacting or being stirred up by some outside nefarious influence (how insulting is that, anyway?)—in short, not to look for excuses to dismiss the cry for justice.

Only then can I start to discern how to stand in solidarity in the quest for a world that better reflects God’s kingdom, where all are equal and beloved.