Work of mercy: Feeding the hungry

| Father Michael Van Sloun | December 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

To feed the hungry is the first corporal work of mercy. It was given by Jesus when he spoke to his disciples about the Judgment of the Nations (Mt 25:31-46), and it stands at the top of his list.

FatherVanSlounHunger is a serious human need. It is crucial to eat each day and to have a well-balanced diet in order to grow normally, have energy and enjoy overall good health. To go without a meal or food for a day leads to hunger pains and weakness; going without sufficient food for longer periods leads to deficiency disease; and going without food for the long term leads to starvation and ultimately death.

Hunger is not only an affliction of the poor, but also the victims of natural disasters, those unable to work, the oppressed and the displaced. It is no wonder that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included, “Give us today our daily bread” (Mt 6:11).

Jesus himself fed the hungry. A crowd of 5,000 was hungry at the end of the day, he pitied them, and in his great mercy he fed them from five loaves and two fish (Mk 6:34-44). On another occasion a crowd of 4,000 came to him, and he fed them from seven loaves and a few fish (Mk 8:1-9). Spiritually, he fed them with his word, the Gospel, and with his body and blood, the Eucharist.

God, likewise, feeds the hungry. When the Israelites were starving in the desert, God fed them with manna and quail (Ex 16:4-15). All look to God for food, and in God’s tender mercy and kindness, God gives food in due season, and with an open hand, God provides (Ps 104:27, 28).

The Bible includes memorable occasions when the hungry were fed. When Abraham and Sarah welcomed three unknown guests, they fed their hungry visitors with rolls, beef and curds (Ex 18:6-8). When Elijah arrived in Zarephath, hungry from his journey, a widow who was on the brink of starvation herself mercifully fed him with “a little cake” (1 Kgs 17:13,15). The disciples fed the hungry with the “daily distribution” (Acts 6:1).

Many saints have excelled at this corporal work of mercy. St. Nicholas (see story on page 20A) is remembered for his compassion when a famine broke out in Myra. There were several ships anchored in the harbor filled with grain, and he was able to secure a portion from each ship to feed his starving people. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua are often depicted handing a loaf of bread to the unfed. St. Elizabeth of Hungary also is revered for the merciful way that she fed the needy.

Charity begins at home: To feed the hungry is to go grocery shopping and prepare meals for one’s own family. Very importantly, charity extends beyond the home. To feed the hungry includes food donations to the local food shelf, volunteer work at a soup kitchen or packaging meals, the distribution of dinners through programs like Meals On Wheels, food baskets at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or monetary donations to relief agencies. Those who feed the hungry will inherit the kingdom prepared for them since the foundation of the world (Mt 25:34).

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

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Category: Year of Mercy