What is true charity?

The Christian struggle of encountering a homeless person on the street

Coming across a homeless person on the street can turn into a real battle for Christians. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, some feel guilty for not helping and others ignore the situation. A mixture of skepticism and the calling of Jesus to help the poor can cause a real discomfort that leads to the golden question: “Should I give money to the homeless person?”

Mike Sinnett, Director of Shelter Services for Catholic Charities of Denver, thinks there is a better way. He believes Christians can practice true charity in two ways: by acknowledging the person’s presence and dignity and connecting them to a place that will give them the opportunity to get back on their feet.

“One of the things we [Catholic Charities] talk about is that we try to see the face of Jesus in anybody that is in need,” Sinnet said. “The primary goal is to restore their dignity and get them out of the street, get them on a trajectory of recovery that allows them to go back into housing.”

Sinnett said the primary step is to recognize a person facing homelessness as a human being.

“One way you could respond is just to ask them their name and see if they have any immediate needs: Are they hungry or thirsty?” he pointed out. “You can recognize them by saying, ‘Hey, Joe, I’ll pray for you tonight and I hope God gives you the direction you need to get out of the street.’ Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”

Recognizing a homeless person’s dignity leads to step number two: offering real help.

A place of rebirth

Rather than giving people money, Sinnett recommends being a bridge to finding true help for them — help that can assist them with getting back on their feet. This is due to two reasons, he explained.

On the one hand, “We don’t understand where they are in their life journey: Are they on their way to recovery or are they continuing to slide down?” Sinner said. “We should try to offer resources to them because the professionals that take care of those experiencing homelessness understand better the needs and boundaries that are necessary in taking care of someone [struggling].”

On the other hand, there are many resources people don’t take advantage of and, to the surprise of many, one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to connect people experiencing homeless with the programs that offer resources for them, Sinnett explained. Helping a person find these services can go way farther than two dollars, for it can help them find a good job, overcome addictions and find a home.

Sinnett believes an important way Catholics can respond to Christ’s call is by understanding what Catholic Charities is about: “We are the charitable arm of the Archdiocese of Denver and our mission statements says that we extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need,” he said.

Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”

More concretely, Samaritan House, a ministry operated by Catholic Charities, has helped people earn living wages and affordable housing since 1986.

It walks with people facing homelessness in a journey of around 120 days which helps them find a job, save money, secure sufficient food and clothing, and find an affordable home.

Answering the call

Other than helping people in need find these resources, he also encourages Catholics to help by giving of their time, talents or treasure with Catholic Charities and the Samaritan House, which are always in need of help.

“[You can always help], whether that’s by donating your time teaching a class at Samaritan House, working at the kitchen to serve the meals we serve each day, [or] maybe you’ve been blessed and you’ve got money you can send to Catholic Charities that we will put into services to those experiencing homelessness,” Sinnet stated. “You can also help with your talents — if you’re good at something in particular that could help us at CC, where we wouldn’t have to go out and hire someone to do that.”

The perfect opportunity to do exactly that will take place this Aug. 13-27, as the 32-year old Samaritan House will undergo improvements. During the two-week project to remodel the kitchen, Samaritan House will need assistance feeding the people it is caring for.

Catholic Charities is asking the community for support with time, talents or treasures — whether that be by serving meals, cleaning or donating to buy disposables.

“The beauty that we see is that those that actually walk through the doors of our shelters are not there to scam us. They’ve made a decision to get help,” Sinnett concluded. “They’ve made the decision that they’re done living the life that they were living and that they want to make a change. So, we invite them into a trajectory of recovery …. That person experiencing homelessness can be Jesus in disguise.”

Serve at Samaritan House

If you are interested in helping, visit samhousedenver.org or email shdvolunteers@ccdenver.org.

COMING UP: Meeting Christ in the Mass and sacraments

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As Catholics, we recognize Jesus’ Eucharistic presence to be the source and summit of our faith. Nonetheless, we can take His presence at Mass and in the tabernacle for granted. We pray through our liturgical rituals, but our words and gestures can lack meaning when we simply go through the motions. When we use the beautiful ritual of the Mass and sacraments to guide our prayer, however, they can lead us into a deeper encounter with Christ.

Two recent books can help us to understand the Mass and sacraments better and to approach them with fresh eyes: Christopher Carstens’ A Devotional Journey into the Mass: How the Mass Can Become a Time of Grace, Nourishment, and Devotion (Sophia, 2017) and Msgr. Nicola Bux’s No Trifling Matter: Taking the Sacraments Seriously Again (Angelico, 2018).

Carstens takes us on a “devotional journey into the Mass” to approach it in “a more profoundly spiritual way” (29).   He writes with a broad sacramental vision which embraces not only the Mass but also the symbols surrounding it. A great example of this comes from the first chapter, “how to enter a church building,” which reflects upon how to approach the physical building of the church itself. “So the door to the parish church, which stands before us now — is no ordinary entrance. It appears different because it is different: it is a mark of God’s house and a sign protecting those within, as at that first Passover. It is an entrance into the Great King’s city and His Temple . . . where we touch God, as in Jerusalem” (13-14). Carstens uses a “sacramental principle” to help us recognize “how God communicates with us through sensible signs” (9).

This devotional journey takes the reader through the stages of the Mass to perceive the deeper reality that we access through faith. In order to reap the fruit that God wants to give us at Mass, Carstens teaches us that “proper disposition . . . is paramount” (88). Through all of the outward actions, signs, and rituals, God aims at “something deeper:  . . . the heart of man. . . . the undivided love of man” (60; 61). For this reason, in the need for intimacy with God, “silence is an essential ingredient for both individual and corporate prayer” (35). The participation and prayers we offer at Mass should foster our relationship with God. The “conversation should take the form of prayer — a prayer of surrender” (92). Taking a devotional journey through the Mass, with Carstens’ help, should prepare us to enter into this conversation of surrender more fully each week.

Msgr. Bux, an Italian priest and professor, takes us deeper into the sometimes-forgotten history, theology, and liturgy surrounding the Mass and the sacraments. He walks us through each of the sacraments, building upon the teachings of the saints (especially St. Ambrose and Padre Pio), but also the difficulty of experiencing the spiritual reality of the sacraments in the modern world. He also leads us deeper into the Mass, “the greatest and most complete act of adoration,” noting the “interdependence between the Eucharist and the other sacraments: . . . they flow forth from the Eucharist and flow together into it as to their source” (86). The centrality of the Eucharist comes from the fact that through it we enter the heart of God.

The other sacraments reinforce this contact, as “we touch Christ” through them. This entry into the divine life begins at baptism and deepens in confirmation. Bux supports restored order confirmation, speaking of the need for strengthening and equipping for battle at an earlier age, rather than giving into the flight that usually occurs after it is received in the teenage years. When it comes to confession, Bux speaks of how “Christ pardons everyone who recognizes himself to be a sinner,” though the sacrament aims at “sincere, overwhelming interior repentance that brings the soul to be reconciled with the Creator” (103; 104). He also speaks beautifully of how through the sacrament of marriage, “spouses participate in the power of [Christ’s] love” in their love for each other. “Their love, responsible fecundity, and humility, their attitude of mutual service and their mutual fidelity, are signs of Christ’s love, present in them and in the Church” (166).

Both authors teach how to appreciate and enter into the Mass and sacraments more fruitfully, so that, in Bux’s words, we can experience “a prolongation of the liturgical life of the Church” in our own lives (196).