Bonus – Custody Of The Eyes

Frequent contributor, Michelle F-D, has posted an important, beautiful and – in the best possible way – disturbing essay, Custody of the Eyes, about how we ignore the very poor and distressed among us, on the “This Ignatian Life” blog.

I urge you to read it.


  1. Emma says

    In our church bookclub, we’re reading an old one from the late 1990’s, “Rites of Justice”. At the time that that book was published, the author stated that to feed, house, and provide medical care to every person in the world would cost 17 billion dollars. That was what the US was spending every 2 weeks on weapons production and defense. I can only make a wild guess that it’s much, much more now. On a happier note, over 20 churces in Sacramento have opened their doors every morning to the homeless. They provide breakfast and an opportunity to pray and worship (not mandatory, but alot have stayed). I was even offerred pregnancy and adoption counseling! Yikes!!! I’ve always felt more “in the company of family” with the “questionable” members of our society. There’s no room there for false persona. Also, I’d recommend caution when approaching street people. One time I approached a woman who was lying in the corner on the street. I thought she needed help. I got slapped in the face. I think the reason people turn away is because where the poor are, Jesus is. Most of us don’t want to be that close to Him. Imagine His name written on every one of their foreheads. Gives a whole different perspective to the way we look at the “poor”. To turn away from them, is to turn away from Christ!!

    • Paul says


      As you say, “To turn away from them, is to turn away from Christ.” That thought scares me.


  2. Simon says

    Ah homelessness. The many that live amongst us but none of us see – if the authorities would have their way! I see them everywhere but funnily enough rarely in right wing controlled areas (sorry to make it political but this has my experience in the UK.)

    On a lighter note, the first time I heard the term “custody of the eyes” was by a priest trying to convince us teenage boys to avoid looking at the pretty girls. Talk about pushing water up hill :-)

    • Paul says


      How odd. I would have thought poor people would tend to congregate in wealthier neighborhoods (which I presume are largely right wing?) in order to have, as they say, “richer pickings.”


        • carol says

          Even in the city I live in the “poor” are located downtown and surrounding areas. It is a fair distance to the more affluent areas.
          Not far from what is called downtown the Salvation Army can be found and other agencies that provide places for people to go.

          Who are the “poor”, others struggling financially are throughtout the city. High rents, it is not uncommon to eat sparingly/go without.

  3. says

    Paul, Emma, Simon, Fran, and Carol: I’m still grieved by the woman on the sidewalk two summers past. I stopped, but couldn’t bring myself to figure out how to respond. I’m glad to know that the thought of turning away scares Paul, I can’t imagine how I am going to say anything in my own defense before God.

    Emma, I do know there is risk, but in some ways, I’d rather be rebuffed physically or verbally, than fail to essay a response, any response.

    The poor are all around, having eyes to see them is another thing. I’m riding the trolley these days, and from the conversations around me, I know that poverty is here in my comfortable suburban town. I know from my parish that there are several thousand people, mostly families, living homeless in my immediate area — outside the city proper.

    I also know that anything at all that I do is a mere drop in the bucket in the face of the enormity of the problem, but as a wise Jesuit friend reminded me in another context: buckets are filled drop by drop. I’m committed to figuring out how to add drops.



    • Paul says


      Your comment about the “wise Jesuit friend” (isn’t “wise” and “Jesuit” an oxymoron?!) reminded me of Ghandi’s comment (which, I believe, is in the Words of Wisdom somewhere) about, if you don’t think any one person can achieve anything, think about a single mosquito at loose in your bedroom in the middle of the night!


  4. Tim says

    …It’s a start in overcoming my alienation. Next time, I’ll remember to ask his name…

    I remember how uncomfortable how those who are homeless or “disenfranchised” would make me feel. Over the past few years through the guidance of many, the way I view others, especially my whole take on social justice, has greatly changed. Emma, I too was anxious about approaching street people, having been accosted by a lady who did not appreciate my apparent patronizing. I was always uncomfortable about handing over to people on the street that are obviously in need, but I too learned to give them vouchers or coupons for for. Many thanks Michelle for such a well thought out message…

  5. Emma says

    Would you be uncomfortable approaching me????????? Just wondering, because I was a street person. I grew up homeless and in shelters. They’re no different than me.

    • Tim says

      Emma, I am assuming the question your question is directed towards me; maybe not. I think you are misunderstanding what I am saying, or I did not express myself properly. I was responding to what you said in regards to recommending caution when approaching street people.

      Many decades ago, when I was in the 8th grade, I was in the greater downtown area in which I lived. There was an elderly woman that was pushing a stroller that was overloaded with her possessions. She walked with a limp, and was wearing torn and tattered clothes. She looked hungry and not all that healthy or strong. The lady was coming up to some stairs and was attempting to move her stroller up the stairs.

      I approached her, put my hands on her stroller and asked if I could help her. The lady became quite agitated for me placing my hands on her property, and rightfully so. She screamed many words that were colorful and full of different meanings. She pushed her finger in my chest pushing me away. I was embarrassed and hurried away from the spot. I did not give the lady the decency of asking before touching her stuff.

      I was 13 years old, and was just trying to help. I learned a lesson.

      So no, I would not be uncomfortable approaching you. While we may all have different backgrounds, different ethnicity, have had different opportunities or lack of them, we all have something in common. It took me awhile to figure that out.

      • Carol says

        I want to express my self but am not sure it will come across.
        These comments are only based on my limited experience.
        Where I volunteer I can say not all the street people are the same.
        Some people are warm and kind. Others you need to exercise caution.
        One day i can sit and have a good conversation with someone and the next time I may have to ask for someone to come and join us because this person’s behavior could be unpredictable.
        I was thinking of Tim at the age of 13.
        At one of the drop in centres, the young people who have come to reach out are asked to back against the walls if a fight or someone starts acting in an unpredictable way. The older ones step in and deal with the situation at hand.
        I like this approach because these young people don’t need to be treated in an abusive manner. There is a balance in the power. Adults dealing with another adults inappropriate behavior.

      • Emma says

        Glad I asked. And, you’re right to continue to exercise caution. I carried a .22 starting at the age of 9. Any “perceived” threat could have resulted in serious injury. The streets are not a safe place to live. One in that situation is at times hypervigilant concerning their safety. That said, I would prefer that over a shelter. Most people I know who are in similar circumstances agree. I in no way mean to sound ungrateful; but, shelters IMHO are nothing more than warehouses for the human “refuse” that “respectable” folks would rather not acknowledge. Take a broad spectrum of society, shove them into dormitories, tell them when to sleep, when and what to eat, when to bathe; take all choice away, with the threat always over one’s head that they will be thrown out. Keep it up until you’ve psychologically broken them; and then people are always surprised when someone with a modicum sense of self-worth “acts out”. They are dehumanizing and horrible places. Of course, those of us who volunteer at them would rather not see it from the eyes of those who they serve. As a society, we can do so much better. My home of preference was always in a camp, no matter where, with a group of people that I knew. I’d rather starve to death than ever re-enter a shelter.
        Now, I’m going to try one more time to give up the internet :)

        • Simon says

          Emma, thanks for this. I have often been ridiculed for giving people on the street money when they are ask. In fact, one acquaintence, someone who works for the police (!), continually tells me that “there is no reason for homelessness as there are enough beds in shelters to house them all.” My response was always that there had to be a reason for them to not use them if they existed and so continue to do my thing. As you say, as a society we can do much better.

          Re the camps, there was an eye opening piece in the British press yesterday about Camp Take Notice outside Detroit.

          When a serious candidate for the Presidency of the US can say things like “I am not concerned about the very poor – we have a safety net there” at a time when there are people living like that, it frightens the life out of me.

  6. Jane says

    I have come to realize that I don’t get all that many chances to help an individual. That street person, or this old lady, simply will not be there everyday for my entire life. Only the briefest of moments are given to me to lighten her burden or give him a nod.
    Even knowing this, I still pass them by too often. “Custody of the eyes” is strange discipline I practice.

  7. helen says

    Home is where the heart is. I know now what homeless means. No heart. This is such a sad depiction of contemporary America. Open my eyes Lord that I may see Your face, and open my heart Lord, that I may love who I see.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *