This week, Rob Tasman, opens up our next part of our series which will help us discern how we can put mercy in action by unpacking the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This week, we begin with the first corporal work of mercy- Feed the Hungry.
My worlds collided:
The many worlds in which I have the blessing of operating in seem to collide, as if the Holy Spirit fashioned for such an event, while reflecting on the first of the corporal works of mercy – Feed the Hungry. This is due in large part to what occurred this past Sunday as our oldest son Mack (mentioned in my last post) received the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
For a first born who is not nearly as emotive as his younger brothers, it was clear that he was joyful and proud throughout the entire day. Regarding my other responsibilities as the Director of Louisiana Conference of Bishops, my days have been filled with a tenor of despair, helplessness, and anxiety pertaining specifically to a dire financial crisis that our state faces and the lack of funding for services that dramatically impact the needs of our brothers and sisters.
The two, home and professional environments, could not be more diametrically opposed on a given day. This is therefore the exact location and mindset in which I enter into reflecting on how we carry out feeding the hungry.
The positive news… we CAN and we MUST! Our neighbors depend on it and our relationship with Jesus is inseparable from it.
How can we feed the hungry? A tw0-fold approach
I would like to suggest two paths going forward which encompass ACTION and ADVOCACY. These two dynamic approaches cannot be separated one from the other as we approach and attempt to comply with Jesus’ directive of, “Feed my sheep.” I might also note at the outset that there are few times in which I approach Scripture in a purely fundamentalist vein. However, John’s word struck me as being so clear and understandable, albeit challenging, that I do believe it should be taken quite literally as opposed to offering an analogical example. In chapter 21 of his Gospel, John proclaims:
“Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He then said to Simon Peter a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Yes, Lord you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ Jesus said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
Approach 1: Providing Physical Sustenance
Very often we focus on delving deeply into what such words might mean. Feeding the hungry could mean feeding the Word of God to those who have not heard it or are in need of hearing it. Feed the hungry might be interpreted as trying to satisfy the spiritual needs of others. These are not incorrect, however, there is nothing more basic than providing physical sustenance to those who are hungry. This involves nothing less than nor more than food and drink.
The transubstantiation changes the game completely and literally changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Yet at its natural core, it begins as bread and wine – food and drink. How do we then feed the hungry? We simply provide people with sustenance, physical nourishment, food and drink.
Approach 2: Advocacy
Advocacy is also necessary. We must ALL be keenly aware that if you do not have a seat at the table, you can be ignored or at worst relegated to the butcher’s block!
State-supported funding for food banks, fighting against hard-hearted approaches to those who receive governmental assistance such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, creating tax incentives for donations to charitable organizations and businesses that provide food and services to the hungry, and protecting appropriations for invaluable programs such as the provision of meals through all of our schools (public and nonpublic alike) are vivid examples of how to use advocacy to the benefit of those who are lacking.
We are directed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to cease being a “throwaway” culture and people. We can do so by changing our own personal habits as well as advocating for the needs of our neighbors.
Our Shared Intergenerational Call:
I’ll close with an expression that I have heard while living in Louisiana. “We are people that live to eat as opposed to eat to live.” While this may be true anywhere, we must never forget that many around us are in need of food so that they can eat and therefore live.
When Mack received the Eucharist for the first time he was joyful and proud – as he should have been. Katie and I’s responsibility is now to remind him that since he has received Christ within him, he MUST be ever more like Christ. He must live out the corporal works of mercy in tangible ways. Perhaps understanding the simplicity and literal nature of feeding the hungry will resonate with him most at this early age. Our shared intergenerational call will be to feed the hungry.
Let Us Not Frustrate Our Lord:
In Jesus’ dialogue with Simon Peter he asks him three times if he loves Him. Simon Peter is frustrated after the third request. I wonder if Simon Peter ever thought about whether or not Jesus was frustrated with him. Perhaps that was the need for doing so three times. Perhaps it was precipitated by Jesus not having seen Simon Peter feeding His people and that is why two out of Jesus’ three responses were “FEED…”
Let us not frustrate our Lord. Our relationship with Jesus CANNOT be separated from whether or not we carry out the corporal works of mercy. Let us quite literally FEED our neighbors who hunger.
Putting Mercy in Action:
- This week, what can I do to provide the basic sustenance needed to one of my neighbors?
- How can I use less so my neighbor can I have more?
- How can I take part in advocating for people and for programs that help provide food and meals for those in need?
- Is there an organization I can get involved in that helps provide the most basic needs to others in my local community?