Pope Francis: ‘The Disciples’ Solution is for Everyone to Take Care of Themselves’

family-reunion-signThe U.S. Congress is approving huge funding cuts to food stamps/SNAP and other food assistance programs. At the same time, a study released this week reveals that one in six Americans live in households that cannot afford adequate food.

Of these 50 million people, nearly 17 million are children. Food insecurity has jumped by 14 million between 2007-2011.

Pope Francis led a procession on foot through the Italian streets yesterday in celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi (“The Body of Christ”). The gospel reading focused on the “Loaves and Fishes” or the “Feeding of the 5,000,” a kind of family reunion hosted by Jesus. Here’s an excerpt from Pope Francis’ sermon:

“The invitation that Jesus extends to his disciples to feed the multitude themselves is born of two elements: most of all from the crowd that, having followed Jesus, now finds itself outside, far from inhabited areas, as evening falls, and then, from the disciples’ concern, who asked Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they might seek food and lodging in the nearby towns. Faced with the crowd’s needs, the disciples’ solution is for everyone to take care of themselves. … How many times do we Christians have this temptation! We do not care for the needs of others, dismissing them with a pitiful, ‘May God help you’. … But Jesus’ solution goes in another direction … He asks the disciples to seat the people in communities of fifty persons. He raises his eyes to heaven, recites the blessing, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples to distribute.”

“It is a moment of profound communion. The crowd, whose thirst has been quenched by the word of the Lord, is now nourished by his bread of life. … This evening, we too are gathered around the Lord’s table … It is in listening to his Word, in nourishing ourselves with his Body and his Blood, that He makes us transforms us from a multitude into a community, from anonymity to communion. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion, which brings us out from our selfishness to live together our journey in his footsteps, our faith in him. We all ought, therefore, to ask ourselves before the Lord: How do I live the Eucharist? Do I live it anonymously or as a moment of true communion with the Lord and also with the many brothers and sisters who share this same table?”–Pope Francis’ sermon on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2013

Sayeth Isaiah: Share Your Food With the Hungry

food stamp usage2009More than 36 million people use the inconspicuous plastic cards issued by the government for “food stamps” to buy staples like milk, bread, and cheese. I see the cards all the time at the grocery store I use in Columbia Heights, D.C. Food stamp usage has increased by 22 percent in D.C. since 2007 and 36 percent of the District’s kids are on food stamps.

According to the New York Times, “virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.”

The food stamp program is one way that through social institutions we answer God’s plea in Isaiah 58 to share our food with the hungry poor. Government programs should not perpetuate poverty, but they should provide a path of human dignity for those who are powerless in the culture.

Catholic social teaching reminds us:  How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy — directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. The obligation to “love our neighbor” has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the good of the whole society, to the common good.

Check out the interactive map of “food stamp” usage around the country. Who’s hungry where YOU live? What does it mean?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousnessa will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”–Isaiah 58:6-8