Feed the hungry

Soap operas do not often feature their characters feeding the hungry (unless they are doing so for some ulterior motive). Of course, soap operas are not the place to find out what love is (ABC-TV was using false advertising decades ago, urging people to watch “love in the afternoon”).

In a homily on Jan. 9, 2014, Pope Francis quoted St. John, who wrote, “He who abides in love abides in God and God in him.” The pope then explained that “this abiding is the same as abiding in love. It is beautiful to hear this said about love.” He added, “The love of which John speaks is not the love of which soap operas are made! No, it is something else! Christian love always possesses one quality: concreteness. Christian love is concrete. Jesus Himself, when He speaks of love, tells us concrete things: feed the hungry, visit the sick.”

In this Year of Mercy, as in every year, Jesus demands that we feed the hungry who surround us. If we ignore them, then we are ignoring Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, wrote at No. 27, “Hunger still reaps enormous numbers of victims among those who, like Lazarus [the one from the parable about the rich man, not the Lazarus whom Jesus brought back from the dead], are not permitted to take their place at the rich man’s table. Feed the hungry (cf. Mt 25: 35, 37, 42) is an ethical imperative for the Universal Church, as she responds to the teachings of her Founder, the Lord Jesus, concerning solidarity and the sharing of goods. The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.”

On Oct. 4, 1979 St. John Paul II celebrated Mass at the Living History Farm in Des Moines, Iowa. There he also called upon us to share our food: “Recall the time when Jesus saw the hungry crowd gathered on the hillside. What was His response? He did not content Himself with expressing His compassion. He gave His disciples the command: ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’ (Mt 14 :16). Did He not intend those same words for us today, for us who have the means available to feed the hungry of the world? Let us respond generously to His command by sharing the fruit of our labor, by contributing to others the knowledge we have gained, by being the promoters of rural development everywhere and by defending the right to work of the rural population, since every person has a right to useful employment.”

In his message for Lent in 1989, St. John Paul again took up this theme: “I unite my voice with that of all believers in asking our common Father to ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ Certainly ‘no one lives on bread alone’ (Mt 4:4), but material food is a compelling need, and even our Lord Jesus Christ acted effectively to feed the hungry crowds. Faith must be accompanied by concrete actions. I invite everyone to become aware of the serious scourge of hunger in the world in order to undertake new initiatives and to support already existing ones in favor of those who suffer from hunger, in order to share their goods with those who have none, in order to strengthen programs directed to making people self-sufficient in providing their own food. I wish to encourage all the Catholic organizations fighting hunger, and all governmental and non-governmental organisms as well who do their best in search of solutions, to continue without interruption to give help to those in need.”

To respond to this constant teaching of the popes (and this demand of Christ’s), we have many opportunities to bring food to those in need. The Catholic Charities Appeal helps to feed the hungry, directly in some of its programs where people are either fed a meal or given food to take home, and indirectly through other programs which assist people in rebuilding their lives (which then empowers them to earn their own food).

The pontiffs also urge us to support programs which help the hungry, in our home countries and internationally. They encourage those policies which give food to those who need it, as well as those policies which help to improve societies so that people can have the dignity of providing their own food for the table.

Our feeding the hungry is intimately united to the Eucharist. Jesus feeds us Himself because we are truly hungry for Him (although we often choose to fill ourselves up on things other than Himself, just as we fill our bellies with “junk food” instead of nutritious meals). Pope Benedict noted this connection on July 29, 2012, while commenting on the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which begins with the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and continues with Jesus’ dialogue in the synagogue in Capernaum about Him being the Bread of Life: “The miracle was not worked from nothing, but from a first modest sharing of what a simple lad had brought with him. Jesus does not ask us for what we do not have. Rather, He makes us see that if each person offers the little he has the miracle can always be repeated: God is capable of multiplying our small acts of love and making us share in His gift.” In other words, we should not be daunted by the large number of people in need of food; rather, we should each do what we can and God will help us resolve the problem.

Pope Benedict then commented on how the crowd wanted to make Jesus a king, but “Jesus is not an earthly king who exercises dominion but a King Who serves, Who stoops down to human beings not only to satisfy their physical hunger, but above all their deeper hunger, the hunger for guidance, meaning and truth, the hunger for God.

“Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to enable us to rediscover the importance of feeding ourselves not only on bread but also on truth, on love, on Christ, on Christ’s Body, taking part faithfully and with profound awareness in the Eucharist so as to be ever more closely united with Him. Let us pray at the same time that the bread necessary for a dignified life may never be lacking and that inequalities may be demolished, not with the weapons of violence but rather with sharing and with love.” What a good prayer to bring to the Lord on Corpus Christi.

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