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

Is Dumpster-Diving the New Gleaning? See the film.

Jeremy Seifert, a member of Pasadena Mennonite church in southern California (whose pastor is Sojourners co-founder Joe Roos) has produced an award-winning film titled Dive! Yep. It’s on dumpster-diving.

One could preach volumes on charity and justice using this film. Even the trailer raises excellent questions about the ancient biblical practice of gleaning. The custom of allowing the poor to follow the reapers in the field and glean the extras as illustrated in Ruth 2:2-23. This custom dates back to one of the earliet agricultural laws of the Hebrews (Lev 19:9; 23:22; Dt 24:19-21). Breaking this law was a punishable offense. However, was a practice of generosity or of justice or both?

Check out the trailer below.

Dive! Trailer from Compeller on Vimeo.

(And now read Ryan Beiler’s excellent 1996 article The Tao of Dumpster Diving.)

Faith-Based Organic Farm in Central California Sets Table of Abundance

Ched Myers is one of my gospeler mentors. A gospeler is someone who sings the gospel – and Ched and Elaine do that with the way they live their lives. In their recent Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries‘ newsletter that Ched and Elaine are working with a local faith-based organic farm in the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County, California. It’s called the Abundant Table Farm Project. (I’m posting a couple of the Abundant Table’s inspiring videos below.

I thought the book introduction that Ched wrote for The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life by Ross and Gloria Kinsler was a nice set up for the Abundant Table story. He wrote:

“We read the gospel as if we had no money,” laments American Jesuit theologian John Haughey, “and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel.” Indeed, the topic of economics is exceedingly difficult to talk about in most First World churches, more taboo than politics or even sex. Yet no aspect of our individual and corporate lives is more determinative of our welfare. And few subjects are more frequently addressed in our scriptures.

The standard of economic and social justice is woven into the warp and weft of the Bible. Pull this strand and the whole fabric unravels. At the heart of this witness is the call to Sabbath and Jubilee, a tradition we might summarize in three axioms: The world as created by God is abundant, with enough for everyone— provided that human communities restrain their appetites and live within limits …

Here’s a 2-minute video about the Abundant Table Farm Project:

“We are a young intentional community of five interns (sisterfriends) living and working on a 10-acre family farm on the Oxnard Plain. Though we come from far and near, our internship grew out of the campus ministry founded by the Episcopal Church at California State University Channel Islands. To learn more about our organic farm and Community Supported Agriculture program, please visit www.jointhefarm.com.”

Senior producer Jim Melchiorre at Anglican Stories visited The Abundant Table Farmhouse Project, a young adult internship program of the Episcopal Service Corps. Below is his excellent 10-minute video.

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

Joan Chittister: Ten Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Babettes Feast fruit pic
Scene from film "Babette's Feast"

Whether you will be wrapped in the loving chaos of family on Thanksgiving or eating turkey burgers with friends at a local dive or serving bird with all the fixings at church or the local soup kitchen, I pour out the blessing of gratitude on all your heads. Here are thoughts from Benedictine sister and writer Joan Chittister for you to carry with you:

1. It’s important to dot our lives with unscheduled as well as scheduled feast days. That way we remember that we are able to make joy as well as to expect it. Or as Lin Yutang, the Chinese philosopher put it: “Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.”

2. Food and feasting are the things that remind us of the unending glory, the limitless love, of God. Voltaire said of it: “Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”

3. A Jewish proverb teaches us that “Worries go down better with soup.” Treating food as a sacrament rather than a necessity reminds us that, in the end, there is always more good in life than bad. The trick is to notice it.

4. To love good food is a measure of our love of life. Food preparation teaches us to do everything we can to make life palatable, spicy, comforting, full of love.

5. Sitting down to a meal with the family—table set, food hot, salad fresh, water cold, dishes matched and food served rather than speared—may be the very foundation of family life in which we celebrate our need for one another. The loss of the family feast may do more to loosen the family bonds than any other single dimension of family life.

6. One purpose of feasting is to get back in touch with the earth that sustains us, to glorify the God that made it and to pledge ourselves to save the land that grows our food.

7. In this country, we are conditioned to think that taking time to eat together, to make a meal an event rather than an act, takes time from the important things of life. That may be exactly why we are confused now about what the important things of life really are. “Happiness,” Astrid Alauda writes, “is a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry under a shade tree.”

8. Good food is the hallmark of every season: fresh fruit in summer, roasted chestnuts in the fall, warm bread in winter, oyster stew in the spring. Leslie Newman says of it. “As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It’s time to start making soup again.” Good food is the sacrament of life everlasting.

9. Food doesn’t have to be exotic to be wonderful. Peasant societies give us some of the best meals ever made. It is always simple, always the same—and always different due to the subtle changes of sauce and cooking style that accompany it. As the Polish say: “Fish, to taste right, must swim three times—in water, in butter and in wine.”

10. To be feasted is to be loved outrageously.

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB