I Was Hungry
Blessed with a hearty appetite and as a man of “generous girth,” I can tell you that I have never been truly hungry. I grew up in a family of fairly portly folks who saw food as a joy in the time of sadness, comfort in the time of grief, and the perfect way to mark any occasion of any kind.
For me as for many well-fed and comfortable people, food is always a big deal. I have stacks of cookbooks. I love to watch cooking shows on TV. Although I don’t dine out as much these days, I do keep current on new restaurants and foodie trends. Without laboring the point too much, a love of good food is definitely part of my DNA.
Certainly, I have fasted and dieted, but I have never known the devastation, pain, and destruction to human body and spirit that comes with real hunger.
The very first of the Works of Mercy that we are highlighting in this Jubilee Year is “Feed the Hungry.” So I thought we might just spend a little time reflecting on why feeding the hungry is a top priority for the merciful and why it is one of Jesus’ top priorities for the Last Judgment.
Standing in any aisle of a supermarket, it is difficult to comprehend that some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth. The rack upon rack of snack foods blur the statistic that poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five—3.1 million children each year.
This short essay is not intended as a flood of statistics. Yet it is important to know that America—our land of plenty—is not exempt from the hunger scourge. According to DoSomething.org (one of the largest organizations for young people and social change) 1 in 6 people in America face hunger.
While hunger worldwide is caused at least in part by a lack of the availability of food, in America the principal cause is poverty. The very first result of poverty is “food insecurity.” Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food for all household members. In America 17.5 million households are food insecure and 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table—equaling nearly the entire population of Illinois and California combined.
Hunger is not just a physical problem. It affects the human spirit. The listlessness, anxiety, fatigue, and even anger that accompany hunger make it almost impossible for those in need to experience a full spiritual and emotional life.
I suppose such a reflection could be depressing, but morose reflection on the reality of hunger is not the point. The Jubilee Year gives us a chance to see how feeding the hungry is not just the responsibility of governments alone. Each one of us will hear the words, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat” as part of accounting for our time on earth.
One small blog post is not going to change things, and neither will dashing quickly past the cookie aisle in the store. But I would like to offer “three As” for feeding the hungry in today’s world.
Awareness: Most people are simply not aware of either global or domestic hunger. Let’s make it part of our Mercy Year celebration to learn what we can about the problem.
Attitude: We all need an attitude of solidarity with the hungry. Hunger is not a philosophical problem. Hunger has a human face—a face not so different from yours or mine.
Action: Everybody needs to do something. One common reaction is the checkbook action. Donating to hunger-related causes is great, but it is also important that our actions are not solo actions, but community actions. Find out if there is a group in your parish or your community working to feed the hungry and give of yourself and your time.
The Christian organization Bread for the World (www.bread.org ) is a place to start for all three of these As.
Also, when you are at Mass this Sunday—celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord—listen carefully to the responsorial psalm.
They look to you to give them food in due time.
When you give it to them, they gather it;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
And remember, when we look into the face of hunger, we are seeing the face of Christ.