“Ask a Priest: How Can I Better Help the Needy?”

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Q: Every time the Word condemns the rich, I feel a little afflicted because of how harshly the writer or Christ is speaking of them. I live quite comfortably and wonder how to go about living with my blessings. By keeping them with gratitude or by giving them to charity? I have attempted to cultivate austerity. I removed the decorations from my room and intended to sell some clothing. I actually like dressing nicely and having decorations in my room, but am attracted to giving them away if God wants me to. I try to glorify God by doing well in my vocational duties because those efforts are offered as a petition of help for the less fortunate, but I have this desire to serve God beyond my school work. I want to firsthand feed the hungry and clothe the naked but feel afflicted in the enjoyment I take in having a comfortable bed and yummy food when I read certain Bible verses. I enjoy the blankets on my legs as I write this but would give them away if God asked me to — in my coldness I would pray for selflessness. I have done similar things to abstain from comfort because I wanted to suffer for God. Am I inventing my own suffering in addition to my vocation? How do I go about living with these comforts? It’s kind of confusing. – L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that you are taking the words of Jesus seriously as regards riches. We live in a consumerist culture where many people rarely think to question their attachment to material goods.

It is good to remember that material things and food, etc., are not bad in and of themselves.

Jesus himself accepted invitations to dine at the house of people, some of them well-to-do (think Zacchaeus), and I’m sure they served nice meals for Our Lord. He didn’t reject those meals.

Nevertheless, Jesus did warn about people who ignored the poor, so this is something to be taken seriously.

From what you describe, you don’t seem to be ignoring the poor. You seem to be aware of the need to help the impoverished.

Yet you seem to be inspired to sacrifice more. Perhaps this nudge is coming from the Holy Spirit. It might be God’s way of inviting you to a more radical following of Jesus. In that case it would be an inspiration worth paying attention to.

Sacrifices can be made in little things each day – a skipped dessert, an item of clothing donated to the poor, the price of a movie ticket given to a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.

It’s good to remember that the time God gives us in this world is time we have to give him glory and to become saints. So, it would be good to keep your sights high. God wants you to become a saint.

Helping you on the road to holiness could be those moments of privation that arise occasionally – a missed meal or a loss of a favored item, for instance.

The Holy Spirit could be nudging you not just toward giving more to the needy, but to a deeper and more intentional Christian discipleship. To that end, you might want to take time to pray through the short chapters in this book, 60 Days to Becoming a Missionary Disciple.

Also, it might help to seek out a regular confessor and/or spiritual director to guide you.

Whatever you do, don’t get too comfortable with nice clothes and yummy food. For Luke 12:23 warns, “Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.”

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