Last Wednesday I began a new series on the blog, in preparation for the Year of Mercy. My concern is that too much of the initial conversation around this Jubilee Year has revolved around matters that are both controversial and over which you and I have little if any say in. You know what I mean—all that Synod on the Family stuff in Rome.
I made a decision on the blog to give all of that a pass. And I am standing by that decision. But meanwhile there is this Year of Mercy in the Church, and what are we going to do about it? My suggestion is that the real course of action open to all of us can be found in the Church’s list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and that if we are to really make God’s mercy visible in the world, the means to do so lie there and not in endless wrangling over who gets to receive communion.
So I am going to go through these works each Wednesday and just talk about them a bit. Today, we have the first corporal work of mercy: to feed the hungry.
This is well placed as the first work of mercy. Food is the primary need of the body, and to feed someone is the most direct and simple way of expressing love for that person. There is something almost primeval about it – putting a plate of food in front of a person is really a sacramental act—love made visible, love made concrete, love giving life and strength to the body and delight to the senses. Is it any wonder that the great Sacrament of Love took the form of food and drink?
So there is much to not just ponder here, but practice. And this is something anyone can do, whatever your circumstances are. Look around you. Is anyone hungry? Feed them. Not exactly rocket science, is it?
You can’t cook? Donate to the local food bank or soup kitchen. You are poor yourself? Donate what you can to the local food bank, etc. If you are truly so poor that you cannot give even a can of kidney beans to them… well, then you are the one who needs some kind merciful soul to feed you, I guess. May God bless you and put you in their company.
It seems to me that this feeding the hungry business really is where it all has to start—all the spiritual works of mercy somehow rest on this foundation. If people are hungry, it is hard for them to be instructed in their ignorance, admonished in their sin, counseled in their doubts, or comforted in their affliction. And indeed we know that people who are deeply afflicted are so often profoundly comforted by the knock at the door and the neighbor bringing them a casserole or whatever.
I will always remember fondly that the day my mother died and we were all pretty wiped out with grief and stress, there came that knock at the door around supper time… and two very good friends of mine bearing a couple of large pizzas. Comfort for the afflicted indeed.
And so there is that aspect of it, too. We have the genuine poor of the streets served by food bank and soup kitchen, the people who we don’t know personally, perhaps, but who we know need to be fed. But what about that struggling student who is living on ramen noodles and Red Bull? What about that family who just had another baby and are probably scrambling to put something resembling a balanced meal on the table? What about… well, just that lonely person who we run across in church or at work or here or there? The casserole at the door or the occasional dinner invitation are things simple enough, perhaps, but what a huge difference they make! How much more human and warm and kind the world is when everyone is thinking each day, “Who can I feed today?”
And of course there is the larger problem of world hunger, and our need to find, say, one good charity that we trust to send relief to people who are actually malnourished in other parts of the world. Of course that is necessary, and thank God we live in a world where we can both know of the need of our brothers and sisters in far lands and do something about it.
But mercy has this quality of direct, personal engagement, and there is no act that is more personal and immediate than setting a meal in front of a person. Love made visible, love giving life to the body and warming the heart. Really, feeding the hungry is both a corporal and a spiritual work of mercy—so much happens around a table when food is shared. Community happens. Friendship happens. Many things happen which need to happen a lot more in our cold world.
Let’s you and I warm it, and the first way to do so is to have a good look around, see who’s hungry, have a good look at ourselves and our larders, and… well, feed them!