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A Friar’s Notes
How a Homeless Woman’s Generosity
Inspires Me for Lent

Fr. David Convertino, OFM
Executive Director of Development

I’d like to ask you a question – and I promise it’s an easy one. What are the three pillars of Lent? The answer: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Prayer can be a very personal part of Lent, and it is, very simply, a deepening of my relationship with God – and that’s best done by spending some time listening and talking to God as two friends do when they are together. Fasting – that’s another story. The famous Lenten saying – What are you giving up for Lent? – is always popular. I have a problem with that because sometimes it turns into a game of how can I bend the Lenten rules so I can have that chocolate or cocktail I pledged not to have until Easter?

Then there’s that strange word – almsgiving – which simply means giving to charity. St. Francis saw God as the “Great Almsgiver,” the God of Generosity who poured out love on all of us, ultimately by giving us Jesus, His Son, the greatest sign of

God’s love. For St. Francis, we are all called to do the same – to be generous with all God has given us, to share and spread this generosity with others in need.

Now, I’d like to introduce someone who is a living example of what each of us is called to be – someone who brings God’s generosity to those in need. Her name is Lois, and she lives on the front steps of St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. She prefers to live on the street, rather than in homeless shelters because she says they’re not safe for a single woman.

Lois knows just about everyone who walks the stretch of 31st Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in New York City, hurrying to work, school, the supermarket, gym, or another destination. Most call her the “Angel of 31st Street.” I call her the “Almsgiver of 31st Street.”

You’re probably wondering why I call a homeless woman an “almsgiver,” when it’s more likely that she is on the receiving end of almsgiving. But Lois – sitting in her beach chair every day, bundled in layers of winter clothing, her lap covered by a blanket the friars gave her, and two plastic garbage bags with her life’s possessions by her side – has a warm greeting for everyone.

Lois never begs for money or food or asks for anything. She generously offers encouragement and kind words, sometimes advice, and the cheeriest good morning – usually followed by, it’s a beautiful day – you’ve ever heard. She is charitable with her words: You look so nice today! How are you feeling? I hope everything goes well for you at work today! Are you getting good grades?  

She offers everyone the simple touch of Christ – a comforting Christ, a smiling Christ, a Christ who waves to everyone, an inviting Christ. Of course, there are some who just walk by with their head down, pretending Lois is just another invisible homeless person. Their loss – because she is a powerful witness to what we are called to be, not just during Lent, but every day.

By society’s standards, Lois has no prominence, affluence, financial means or an abundance of anything. But by Christ’s standards, she has a heart full of kindness, compassion and generosity that shows us what it truly means to give alms. She is spreading the generosity of God to others – just as we are called to do.

Lois attends Mass at our St. Francis Church and prays before the Stations of the Cross every day. The friars make sure she is fed every morning at the St. Francis Breadline. One day, I noticed Lois giving one of our Breadline sandwich bags to another homeless woman. I figured she didn’t like the sandwiches. Turns out, the friars gave her an extra bag that morning, so she held onto it in case she ran into someone who hadn’t eaten anything yet. She told me it was her way of thanking God for the blessings in her life. I was lost for words.

Lois’ words and generosity should not be lost on us. They challenge and inspire us to reflect on our own lives. Are we doing enough to help those in need? Lent is a good time to start doing more. I invite you to reflect on the impact you can have on the lives of those in need – the children, elderly, families, military veterans, substance addicted and unemployed, the women and men who the Franciscan Friars help every day with food, clothing, medicine, shelter, and other basic life necessities.

On those cold mornings on West 31st Street, Lois, the homeless almsgiver of 31st Street, takes the time to share the warmth of human kindness and generosity with everyone she encounters. Will we do the same this Lent?

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