When it comes right down to it, we’re all ‘have-nots’

by Father Mark Goldasich

It’s sad, but because I didn’t take the time to know about it, I obviously couldn’t teach it.

I’m talking about the U.S. Catholic bishops designating January as Poverty Awareness Month. It’s definitely a topic that deserves our time and attention. With regard to poverty, we usually think in terms of the “haves” and the “have-nots,” but the following story from an unknown author may change your perspective:

“I was parked in front of the mall wiping off my car. I had just come from the car wash and was waiting for my wife to get out of work. Coming my way from across the lot was what society would consider a bum.

From the looks of him, he had no car, no home, no clean clothes and no money. There are times when you feel generous, but there are other times that you just don’t want to be bothered. This, for me, was one of those “don’t want to be bothered” times. “I hope he doesn’t ask me for any money,” I thought.

He didn’t.

Although he came and sat on the curb in front of the bus stop, he didn’t look like he could have enough money to even ride the bus. After a few moments, he spoke, “That’s a very pretty car.” He was ragged, but he had an air of dignity around him.

“Thanks,” I said, as I kept wiping.

He just sat there quietly as I worked. The expected plea for money never came. As the silence between us deepened, something inside me said, “Ask him if he needs any help.”

“So, do you need any help?” I suddenly heard myself asking.

He answered with three simple, but profound words that I’ll never forget. We often look for wisdom in great men and women, expect it from those of higher learning and accomplishments. I expected nothing but an outstretched grimy hand from this guy. But he spoke just three words that shook me.

“Don’t we all?” he said.

Here I was, feeling high and mighty, successful and important, better than this bum in the street, until those three words hit me like a sledgehammer.

“Don’t we all?”

Yes, I needed help. Maybe not for bus fare or a place to sleep, but I needed help — help with humility, help with generosity, help with gratitude. I reached in my wallet and gave him not only enough for bus fare, but enough to get a warm meal and shelter for the day.

Those three little words still ring true. No matter how much you have, no matter how much you’ve accomplished, you need help, too. No matter how little you have, no matter how loaded you are with problems — even without money or a place to sleep — you can give help. Even if it’s just a compliment, you can give that.

You never know, even when you see someone that appears to have it all. They’re waiting on you to give them what they don’t have: a different perspective on life, a glimpse at something beautiful, a respite from daily chaos. Maybe that man was just a homeless stranger wandering the streets, but maybe he was more than that. Maybe he was sent by a power that is great and wise, to minister to a soul too comfortable with itself.

Maybe God looked down, called an angel, dressed him like a bum, then said, “Go minister to that man cleaning the car, that man needs help.”

“Don’t we all?”

Honestly, we’re all “have-nots.” That’s why Jesus came down to do what we could never do on our own: Bring us salvation. He reminded each of us of our ultimate dependency on God for everything, even life itself. He entered into people’s daily lives, as messy and hopeless as they appeared, and showed them life, healing, hope and light. And after they received these gifts, Jesus over and over again encouraged them: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15).

Use these final days of January to come to a deeper understanding of the issue of poverty, especially in our country. An excellent place to start is with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s initiative at: www.povertyusa.org. There, you’ll find a poverty quiz of 14 questions to see just how much factual information you know about the problem. (I scored 86 percent.)

But don’t stop at the theoretical knowledge. Do something practical to interact with the outwardly “have-nots.” Hear their stories, learn from them and relieve their struggles in some concrete way.

We all have a lot to give one another, whether we’re rich or poor, young or old, Catholic or not. God knows, I constantly need help remembering this.

But, really, don’t we all?

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