First Sunday of Lent
March 5, 2017
by Professor Hosffman Ospino Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Education School of Theology and Ministry
I Am Hungry…Would You Feed Me?
Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food.' (Matthew 25:34-35a).
Hunger is real. Millions of people in our world go through their day without food or eating poorly. Many die, especially children, because of lack of food or due to causes related to hunger and malnourishment. Let us consider three sobering facts:
- About 795 million people in the world experience hunger; more than 40 million of them live in the United States.
- Hunger affects children, women, and ethnic/racial minorities more directly than other groups. In the United States, Black and Hispanic children and women are most likely to be hungry because of the larger numbers of these sisters and brothers living in conditions of poverty.
- In the United States, we throw away about 40 percent of all the food we purchase! This does not take into consideration the large amounts of food (actually tons) that never get distributed because of bureaucratic procedures, financial maneuvers, or trendy cultural mores (e.g., food needs to look a particular way). Wasted food, particularly produce, is the biggest item in the landfills throughout the country.
How does this compel us as Christians during this season of Lent?
We find ourselves facing one of the biggest scandals of our society. It is likely that many of us have heard these numbers, yet we treat them as mere statistics. However, those who experience hunger in their daily lives are more than mere numbers. They are flesh and blood people, our neighbors, the people to whom we are accountable because they are our sisters and brothers.
In a society where the majority of the population call ourselves Christian (about 75 million self-identify as Catholics!), the prevalence of hunger and food waste should hunt our consciences. We live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world with some of the best networks of social services; however, millions of people in our midst still go hungry every day. How do we explain this?
From a Christian perspective, hunger is a social sin. Not someone else's sin, but ours ("in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do," as Catholics say at Mass during the Confiteor). We share in this social sin because this is our society and this is happening on our watch. When we encounter people who are hungry, regardless of their race/ethnicity, gender, age, and religion, they are the face of Christ for us here and now. Are we seeing the face of Christ in this person who says, "I am hungry…would you feed me?"
Lent is a season of the liturgical year that invites us to conversion. That is, to do things in a different way. Although conversion begins as a profoundly personal dynamic, in the intimacy of our hearts and minds, it needs to translate into some form of public action for the good of all. For the Christian disciple, authentic conversion leads to a serious commitment to the common good. When I encounter my sister and brother who are hungry, the face of Christ in the here and now of my life, then I must ask, what can we do?
My wife and I have been involved in ministry at St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence, Mass., for nearly two decades. Lawrence is the poorest city in Massachusetts. One of three children in the city goes through the day with only one meal, and almost a third of the population lives under the poverty line and has trouble putting food on the table. A few years ago the parishioners and pastoral leaders of the parish asked: what can we do? In 2006 the parish opened the Cor Unum Meal Center https://www.corunummealcenter.org/). Since it opened, more than 500 people every day eat in this place while sitting at tables, served by volunteers, and treated with respect. More than 250,000 meals are served every year. It is an oasis of Christian love (caritas). Those who come to eat are families with children, young workers, single mothers, homeless people, people recovering from addictions, people who are unemployed, immigrants, etc. Hunger does not discriminate in light of race, gender, age or social condition.
Cor Unum is only an example of what a community of Christians can do. There are many other meals centers, advocacy groups, and initiatives to combat hunger throughout the United States. What can you take up this Lent once you see the face of Christ in those who are hungry? Let me offer you a few suggestions:
Educate yourself, your family, and community about hunger
Have a conversation with your children or grandchildren about this topic. Host a meeting in your faith community to talk about hunger. There are many sites that provide excellent information.
- Join a group that raises awareness about the negative impact of hunger in the world and in the United States, and do something with them.
- Contact your political leaders—local, state, federal—and tell them to support initiatives that would reduce or end hunger. Alert them also about initiatives that undermine support for people who are poor and hungry.
Do something practical this Lent
- Send a donation to a meal center or an organization that fights against hunger.
- Volunteer one hour each week during Lent serving at a meal center or a place that distributes food for the poor.
- Be mindful of how much food you buy. Make the intentional commitment to not waste food at home.
For reflection and discussion:
1. What prevents so many people in the United States from being more attentive to the problem of hunger and doing something to address its root causes?
2. What will you do this Lent to see the face of Christ in those who are hungry?
3. Can you spare 15 minutes of your busy life at some point this week to pray and meditate? If so, name that moment, reserve it, and treat it as sacred. Return to this reflection during that time.
Please submit a comment or response to this week’s Reflection below. We will post as many possible.