ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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

“They Have Nothing to Eat”

A reflection on hunger and the ongoing crisis of starvation.

All human beings know what hunger is, but not everyone knows every kind of hunger. For many of us, hunger is the mild signal that the body needs nourishment to continue its work. Even when the emptiness inside is more insistent, we know it can soon be appeased. The hunger that follows a full day of work or recreation even brings pleasure: it awakens in us the eager anticipation of a well-cooked meal.

The destitute in every country, however, know a different kind of hunger. For them there is no hope of relief, no meal to look forward to, no food to renew strength. Their hunger is not temporary; it is constant. It is the wolf in the belly that devours life itself, bringing disease, deformity, and agonizing death.

The word hunger is used to describe both experiences. Yet there is an infinite difference between the hunger of the well-fed and the hunger of the starving. It is the difference between health and sickness, between hope and despair, between life and living death. Healthy hunger is a natural part of human life. Starvation is a perversion of the way human life is meant to be.

Paradoxical though it may seem at first, there is a kind of hunger that was part of the divine plan from the beginning of creation. We need healthy hunger in order to remember our total dependence on God. The hunger we feel every day, over and over again, is a reminder of the emptiness inside us that only God can fill. In that sense it is a gift; it calls us to seek the Bread of Heaven.

The God-given hunger was there when our first parents walked through the Garden of Eden. There was one tree, said the Lord, from which they were not to eat. Through pride, Adam and Eve violated the Lord’s command and tried to fill their emptiness according to their own desires. By their sin they brought chaos to creation and gravely weakened their ability to control their appetites.

Instead of satisfying their hunger, Adam and Eve hollowed out in themselves and their descendants a void that was never intended by the Creator. Love of self caused it; no human power could fill it. Cut off from God, Adam and Eve hungered for His forgiveness. He alone could fill the emptiness that resulted from their loss of grace.

The story of salvation is the story of God feeding His hungry people. In the desert He gave them manna as they wandered on their way home to Him. The manna was a symbol of God’s most merciful gift: His own Son, who would feed His people the bread of life – His own flesh.

“I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51)

Jesus knew hunger. He often went into the desert to fast and pray. When Satan tempted Him, he had been fasting for forty days and forty nights, and Matthew tells us, “He was hungry.” Jesus took pity on the crowds who came to hear Him preach; on a hillside in Palestine He gave them miraculous loaves and fishes to eat before He sent them home.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of Jesus’ compassion for the hungry is contained in His description of the Last Judgment. He names the various actions that will merit eternal salvation for His followers; the very first one is feeding the hungry.

“The king will say to those on his right: ‘Come. You have my Father’s blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food…’” (Mt. 25:34-35).

Who can refuse a loaf of bread for a soup kitchen, a box of canned goods for a pantry that serves the poor, an offering to provide food for the famine-stricken overseas. It is Christ who asks.

“Then the just will ask him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you…?’ The king will answer them: ‘I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.’” (Mt. 25:37,40).

The wasted bodies of the starving bear mute testimony to the effect of sin in the world. They reveal not only the distortion of a world out of harmony with the will of its Creator, but the scandalous result of humanity’s own neglect and cruelty. The tragedy of starvation is compounded by the satanic irony of food going to waste while millions starve. Scientists have demonstrated that the world can produce enough food to feed all its inhabitants; only greed, self-serving mismanagement, and indifference to suffering prevent the poor from being fed.

While the agony of those who starve to death cries out for relief, there are other hungers of which Christians must also be aware. Human beings are created body and soul; hunger is not just physical, but spiritual. As the body needs food, the soul needs goodness, beauty. truth. Knowingly or not, the soul seeks what it lost in the Garden of Eden, and what it may now recover because of Calvary: the presence of God.

Christ is indeed bread for the soul. He fills every hunger of the human spirit. But He achieved the miracle of Redemption only by emptying Himself in total sacrifice. He asks the same of His followers: that they forget self in the service of others. He tells them exactly what He wants them to do: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless.

Christ leaves no doubt about the reward in store for those who care for their needy brothers and sisters. He puts it plainly: they will enter the eternal happiness of His kingdom. We have His word on it.

The starving peoples of the world are utterly dependent on the unselfishness and generosity of others. To deny them is to deny Christ. To feed them is not only to store up treasures in heaven, but to recognize the King Himself in our midst, disguised in a broken body, as He once was on a hill outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

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