The following was delivered as my Sunday homily on August 2, 2015:
For the second week now we have readings that focus on food, being fed, and on the hunger of the people. In the first reading the people complain to Moses that they would have been better off in Egypt than dying of starvation in the desert. Yet God hears their cry and feeds them from heaven. There are two aspects of hunger with which we must deal. One is easy theologically. It is the spiritual aspect of hunger. What makes it easy is the abundance of grace provided in Jesus Christ. The other aspect of hunger is the real or physical presence of hunger in the world. It’s not so easy to deal with. However, to ignore it and focus only on spiritual hunger makes Christianity irrelevant to needs in the world.
First, I want to affirm that Jesus, who is the bread from heaven, holds everything we need spiritually. The abundance we learned about last week in the multiplication of the fishes and loaves speaks of the abundance of forgiveness, healing, and transforming power of God. The abundance of the multiplication directly speaks to the abundance that is Jesus the bread of life. Spiritually Jesus offers to share with us all that he has so that we too may become agents of forgiveness, healing, and transformation. Changing the world begins in our own hearts. This is true of both spiritual change and all other changes.
Recently in a conversation with a friend on a related topic I remarked that responsibility is the hallmark of Christian ethics. Our first inclination may be to think of responsibility as being able to take the blame for failures and sins. Sort of like when we admonish children to take responsibility—having three kids myself I can relate well. Taking the blame for something isn’t easy, but socially it’s an important thing to do when there’s been inequality and injustices. Yet another way of thinking about responsibility is the ability to respond to those in need, and it’s this type of responsibility that speaks most directly to Christian ethics: how we respond in our actions when situations place demands on us.
For many people in our world it is a world without the basic things that we take for granted like fresh water and enough food. One of the big concerns with the ecology of our planet is how what we do to the earth affects the poorest members of society. Disregard for the planet is disregard for our brothers and sisters with whom we should stand in solidarity. For many people the world is dry and barren, and hunger is a reality that we, in the comforts of suburbia, might have an extraordinarily difficult time imagining.
Knowing what to do about spiritual hunger is easy because we know where to go to be fed. Spiritually the lesson today is Eucharistic in nature because it is Jesus himself who satisfies our spiritual longing. Knowing what to do about physical hunger is more complicated because there’s not an easily identifiable fix. Really, the deepest meanings of Eucharist are fulfilled when we learn somehow to translate the spiritual into the flesh and blood world of daily events in which we live. The reality of Eucharist belongs as much to the world where there is physical starvation as it does to feeding our souls.
Again, knowing what to do is the difficult part for most of us. It’s going to require that we do things differently, and I’m 100 percent sure that systemic change is needed in the world. While taking on systemic change may seem to be somewhat nebulous, it’s not an impossible task. I know many people who are personally involved in making changes in the system. We tend to gravitate toward charity—one-on-one giving to those in need—when it comes to hunger or poverty. This is a beginning in what to do but it’s not the final answer. Taking a lesson from Eucharistic theology, what we do ought to be transforming just as Eucharist has the power to transform spiritually.
I believe that the will exists in the world today to destroy the roots of hunger. However, it will mean that we must be committed to change the world so that causes of hunger such as economic inequality and injustice disappear.
One of the many beautiful and important things about the Pope’s recent encyclical Laudato Si is that it considers the impact of environmental issues on the poor. We recall that the earth is the source of our food, water, and air. Part of our commitment is that we no longer tolerate seeing the environment destroyed. We might begin by making sure that our actions do not contribute to waste or disregard. This is true not only when it comes to food but also it applies to our natural resources. As my wife and I go through my neighborhood on our nighty walk I frequently notice several violations in watering restrictions. I could easily point out several houses that water nightly for a couple hours. Part of what has to change is our attitude of how we use things, and even more importantly about how we share with others, how responsible we are in our relationship with others.
While I don’t have all the answers on how to solve hunger in the world I do know that as people of faith we have to be involved. It’s our Christian responsibility to act in some way and to make it a habitual part of how we live. I know that our responsibility to others demands that we move beyond the mere spiritualization of our religion and make the hallmark of how we live be about how we respond to the real-life needs of others.