Yesterday afternoon, it was necessary for me to make a brief trip to the parish office. My intention was to get in and out as quickly as possible. However, I had not been inside but a few minutes when a raggedly dressed gentleman came knocking on the door.
“Can you give me some help with my light bill?” he asked.
I had seen this fellow before. He frequently drops by, making the same request.
“Sir,” I said to him, “no one is going to be turning off your lights right now.”
I went on to explain to him that, because of the present circumstances, utilities companies are pretty much giving everyone a break. After a minute or two, the gentleman left, apparently satisfied but still with a look of disappointment.
It goes without saying that I have to be very discerning and judicious in dispensing aid from my benevolent fund at the moment. However, this encounter has caused me to ponder a very sobering reality. Most of us probably assume that the ones who are intent on continuing life as usual during this coronavirus crisis are the privileged few who arrogantly ignore all the warnings, believing themselves to be somehow invincible. This poor soul hardly fits that category. Yet, his life is continuing as usual, quite possibly because he is entirely unaware of the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic and he, being of advanced age and considerably diminished physical capacity, is among those at greatest risk.
This gentleman is not alone. There are so many more just like him. Their life as usual means continuing to make the monthly sojourn to the church down the street (or, more likely, several churches throughout the neighborhood), repeating the same story they’ve told many times before, and begging for some small gesture of charity. They don’t live for it. They merely exist for it — and that is the tragedy of it all. Giving such persons a small financial donation, ostensibly to help them pay off an insurmountable accumulated debt, is not a gesture of charity. It’s just a way of getting them out of our hair. What they need is something of greater value than a few measly bucks to pay off a light bill. They need to know they can have a life that is far more fulfilling than mere existence. They need to hear the Good News that they are precious in the sight of God, who created them in his image and sent his Son to die for their sins.
“How can we tell them,” we ask ourselves, “when they are not willing to give us the time?”
Perhaps the question should be, “How much time are willing to give them?”