Columnists Mark my words

What will you choose: A table or a fence?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

Sometimes you come across a quote that’s so inspirational that it won’t let you go. Here’s one that’s been challenging me:

“When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.”

One fence that I’ve constructed over the years has to do with homeless people. For example, after enjoying a delicious meal in Lawrence, it’s rare not to encounter someone begging.

With a full stomach, more often than not, I focus my attention away from them as if they don’t exist. I smugly judge them as lazy, opportunistic, mentally unstable or addicted to alcohol or drugs. I justify ignoring them by saying to myself, “If I give them some money, I’m just enabling their disordered lifestyle.”

It’s easy to think this way when I have a roof over my head, health, insurance, a job, supportive family and friends, plenty of food and drink, disposable income and a car.

Always at the back of my mind, though, are the words of the late Father Ray Davern, a fellow archdiocesan priest. When criticized by parishioners for handing out money to those who came to the rectory door for help, he’d say, “If I don’t give them something, that’s on me. But if I do give them something and they misuse it, that’s on them.”

He knew clearly which side the Lord wanted him on.

The two-part series on homelessness — found on pages 7-10 in the March 29 issue and on those same pages in this issue of the Leaven — have expanded my vision. The reasons why people become homeless are varied and complex . . . as are the solutions.

I’ve heard people cruelly say to those who are homeless, “Hey, go get a job!” Easier said than done for someone who may have no permanent address to put on an application form, no phone where they may be contacted, no suitable work clothes, no transportation, no health insurance or nowhere to maintain their personal hygiene.

And even if they have a place to live, they may not have the financial skills to retain it (pay rent and utilities, for example) or money to buy furniture, cookware or food. I also never considered that homelessness may be the cause of alcohol or drug abuse or mental health issues rather than the reason for it.

The compassion — and frustration — of those who work with homeless people comes through powerfully in this series. Their commitment and practical suggestions to help them in their work are inspirational.

A few weeks ago, the youth group at Sacred Heart Parish in Tonganoxie began making “blessing bags.” Each one is generously stuffed with the following items: a Bumble Bee tuna salad kit, hand sanitizer, bottle of water, pair of white socks, wash rag, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, tube of body wash and an Oreo cookie. This is an ideal solution, especially for those who are leery of giving out money.

Will it solve the problem of homelessness? No. But it will tell one person that they have dignity and are worthy of care. These bags are available at no charge to our parishioners to hand out.

In this time when folks might be spring cleaning, consider donating to organizations that battle homelessness. The compassionate work of Catholic Charities, Uplift Organization and the numerous other agencies mentioned in this series in Topeka, KCK, Leavenworth and elsewhere would welcome your time, talents and treasures.

It’s said that we make a living by what we get out of life, but we make a life by what we give. I don’t know about you, but I’m using the wood from dismantling my fence to build that bigger table.

About the author

Fr. Mark Goldasich

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