ONE Magazine

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Hunger and the Eucharist

The latest work of the Eucharistic Congress involves the hunger of entire families.

“The Hungers of the Human Family” is the theme chosen by Pope Paul for this year’s Eucharistic Congress to be held in Philadelphia. It would be difficult to miss the point the Pope is trying to make in linking public Eucharistic devotion to the global food crisis. In 1974 he spoke to two international meetings: the Synod of Bishops and the World Food Conference about the right to eat as flowing directly from the right to life.

To the bishops assembled from around the world, Pope Paul spoke of five human rights most threatened today. “The right to eat,” he said, “is directly linked to the right to life. Millions today face starvation…We call upon governments to undergo a conversion in their attitudes towards the victims of hunger…” He told the delegates to the World Food Conference that “the right to satisfy one’s hunger must finally be recognized for everyone, according to the specific requirements of his age and activity. This right is based on the fact that all the goods of the earth are destined primarily for universal use and for the subsistence of all men, before any individual appropriation. Christ based the judgment of each human being on respect for this right.”

In our own country, our bishops last year issued a pastoral plan of action on the world food crisis. Calling food a unique and sacred resource, the bishops asked for changes in U.S. food policy, ongoing education on the hunger issue, and lifestyle changes. In the matter of lifestyle, they urged Catholics to join them in fasting two days a week in order that others might eat at all. This was a powerful reminder that we are called to live more simply in order that others may simply live.

The Eucharistic Congress is designed to call us to a more vital spiritual life and to strengthen us in our Christian commitment through a deeper penetration into the meaning of the central sign and mystery of our faith. During the Eucharistic Congress, there will be an International Symposium on Hunger, focusing on efforts by the people of God, individually and collectively, to alleviate and wipe out malnutrition and hunger. It is important that we see the intrinsic relationship between the hunger issue and the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.

The Eucharistic bread and wine are signs declaring truths not only about God, but also about the human family and the world. Our Lord gave us the Eucharist in the context of a meal. He ate with friends the night before he died. Could he have made a stronger statement about their dignity? Who would have dared hope for an invitation to that meal? Even today we say appropriately before the moment of Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy.” God answers by affirming our dignity in choosing us as his guests at table. “You have not chosen me; I have chosen you. Do this in memory of Me.”

In any culture, the act of inviting a person to share a meal in the intimacy of the family is the most exquisite act of friendship. The ancients said, “Friendship is among equals, or it makes equals.” When we break bread together as a family, we are quite literally sharing life, life in one of its most beautiful forms of caring, of nurturing. Our Lord loved the profound significance of eating with others, as we know from the many episodes in the Gospel in which he is found at table. In one of the most beautiful images of the Kingdom of God, he tells us he will make us sit down at table and he, himself, will do the serving. In the Eucharist, we anticipate that heavenly banquet where we shall feast on the very life of God in ways we cannot imagine as we journey home.

The Eucharist is also a sign of human freedom. The meal we share is the memorial of the Passover, the great meal of the Exodus, in which God brought his chosen people from Egypt, liberating them from alienation and slavery. How often do we stop and think that in the Eucharist Jesus is liberating us from the slavery of our greed, our selfishness, our fears for our own security…. Face to face with the hungers of the human family, we might ask ourselves how far we are chained by our desires for our own comfort, and how much liberty for the service of others we really want.

Four years ago, the Pope told the third post-conciliar Synod of Bishops, “We feel we must point out in a special way the need for some fund to provide sufficient food and protein for the real mental and physical development of children.” Can the Eucharistic Congress be the moment for Christians to respond to that important need, and to do it in some systematic, ongoing way? What better way to honor the Body of Christ than to show our love in practical action for the most vulnerable of his members?

Deep within our being we know we hunger for the freedom to shift the center of gravity of our lives from our own self-interest to the needs of others. The Eucharist is a profound sign that the entire human family is called to unity. The earth and its resources are destined for all. There is no symbol more powerful for bringing this truth home than God’s use of ordinary bread to give us our most intimate experience of his providence. And he does it day after day for all alike. No one who recognizes God in this sacred bread need shy away from the table, or worry whether there will be enough to go around.

For the Eucharist also signifies God’s ingenuity and the trust he has in us. We recognize our own act of faith in the Eucharist. It would do our souls immense good to think more often of God’s act of faith in us. His fidelity is among the most winning of his attributes. In the Eucharist, we celebrate the laying down of his life for us, the gift of his life to secure ours. In the coming Eucharistic Congress, with its theme linking the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament with the hungers of the human family, we are brought face to face with God’s claim on our lives. “Come blessed of my father, for I was hungry…thirsty…and you gave me to eat and drink.” How do we hear these words in a world in which millions died last year of starvation, a disease whose cure depends not on a miracle drug but on moral and political commitment to justice, recognizing the universal and inalienable God-given right to eat?

The Eucharistic Congress can help us hear Our Lord inviting us to participate in the sharing, caring love of which the Eucharist is the sign. Jesus cannot deceive us when he identifies with those who hunger because they cannot buy food. The same Lord who feeds us with bread from heaven is starving in his members all over the world. It is precisely because of this identification that we respond, not out of guilt, but from gratitude. We know that all we have is a gift, and that we are called to share in the Providence which sustains the world, and in the Love which moves the sun and moon and all the stars. And so God calls us happy. “Happy the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven…Happy those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be filled…Come, blessed of my Father, for I was hungry and you gave me to eat…Take and eat, this is my body. Do this in memory of me.”

Sister Mary Evelyn Jegen, S.N.D., is Education Consultant for Catholic Relief Services-USCC and a member of the Board of Directors of Bread for the World.

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