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Reaching out to the homeless and those in need Print
Guest column
Written by Ask IPS   
Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

QUESTION: "Especially as the cold settles in this winter, I want to reach out to the homeless in my community. At the same time, this is outside of my comfort zone and I'm afraid of being asked to take on burdens that I'm not ready for. What is a good balance to strike?"

RESPONSE: Sarah Lowrey, M.S. Student at the IPS Center for the Psychological Services

How beautiful that you want to serve and make a difference in your community!

That wish to give is the very first step to following in Christ's footsteps and making an offering of yourself for the sake of another.

Acts of service

It’s not uncommon this time of year to feel a lot of pressure to do acts of service: helping at soup kitchens for a holiday meal, handing out coats in these cold months to the homeless, or spending time with those who are lonely and have no else to turn to.

As faith-filled individuals, we have the Beatitudes and the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy telling us to serve our neighbors and give to those in need.

Even for the most generous of hearts, it can be difficult to do all, or even just a couple, of these "strongly suggested" acts of self-sacrifice.

For those who aren't really comfortable standing in the cold giving out food to the homeless (which, believe me, is not an uncommon experience), this can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to do.

It’s very common to hear someone who regularly does some act of service for the poor and needy say how much joy it brings them to serve.

Not always comfortable

What you don’t often hear, though, is how uncomfortable it can be and how it’s not easy to give without expecting anything in return.

In reality, it is uncomfortable and I don’t think that anyone can say that they always love going out and sacrificing their time and efforts for people they don’t know and might never see again.

This is the whole point, though. As Pope Francis has said, compassion is "to suffer with" another person.

If you are uncomfortable giving, just imagine how uncomfortable the people are receiving must be. It is probably really hard for many of them to go to someone else and receive pure generosity.

Being grateful

Also, think about how grateful they must be to have someone who is willing to see them in their suffering and come to be with them and help them.

All year round, but especially during the cold winter months, there are tons of organizations and groups that work to serve the homeless by hosting soup kitchens, running clothes drives, and even going out to spend time with them on the streets.

There are even organizations in many large towns and cities that have full time staff and missionaries that work to collect monetary, clothing, and food donations.

They always need people to help with the collecting, sorting, and distributing of donations so you could get involved in this side of the ministry if you prefer not going out on the streets.


Finally, don't forget that one of the most powerful ways that you can help anyone is through prayer. We are called to make Corporal Works of Mercy, but this can and should be supported by our prayers.

Intercessory prayer for the sick and homeless is one of the most beautiful ways to spend your time. Prayer, in itself, is one of the best ways we can serve others.

Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable for the sake of another. Remember that your discomfort can be the source of joy and Christ's light to the people that you encounter.

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