Pope Francis once again caught the ears of the world's journalists this week when he spoke about the problem of panhandlers in Italy. In an interview he gave in Milan, he said, "There are many excuses" for not giving. "But giving something to someone in need 'is always right,' and it should be done with respect and compassion, because 'tossing money and not looking in (their) eyes is not a Christian' way of behaving."
Around the globe, Christians have begun the observance of Lent, which is a time of sacrifice and penance prior to the Easter Sunday celebration. Many people give up bad habits, or try to; others do Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy. What Pope Francis is calling followers to do is to ask themselves under what conditions are they doing these acts.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks to his followers, answering their questions on many subjects. He tells them that if they playact when giving - give but call attention to what we are doing - then they have taken the good out of what they have done. Similarly, if they give with conditions - here is some money, now stop being poor - then they might as well keep their donation.
Pope Francis' response to the interview question was in the same vein. If someone asks for help, help them. However, do not ask for thanks. Asking for thanks, expecting thanks, negates the generosity of giving. Do not watch to see that they are using what you gave them to your specifications. Who are we to judge others? Pope Francis asked followers to consider what guilty pleasures they give themselves. Do not call attention to your act of giving. Be a humble giver. Simply give and move on, thanking the Almighty that you have the means to give.
Of course, this is not only a Christian concept. This idea of giving selflessly can be found in almost all faith paths. Here are some quotes.
Judaism: "He who is generous to the poor makes a loan to the LORD; / He will repay him his due." Proverbs
Buddhism: "What is the accomplishment in generosity? A noble disciple dwells at home, with a heart free from the stain of stinginess, open-handed, pure-handed, delighting in relinquishment, one devoted to charity, one who delights in sharing and giving. This is called accomplishment in generosity." Buddhist Scripture
Sikh: "Only they are on the True Path who eat what they earn through earnest work and help support the disenfranchised." Guru Granth Sahib (page 1,245)
Islam: "The reward of goodness is nothing but goodness." Al Quran 55:61
Hinduism: Swami Vivekananda
May we all give from our hearts without conditions, without seeking praise, without fear. May our offerings be blessed. May our sacrifices bring peace and love to all.