Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Feeding the Hungry & Counseling the Doubtful

Print

I have the privilege of volunteering at the St Vincent de Paul food pantry here in Madison. I enjoy working with our clients to help them shop according to their allocated needs. A first lesson in obedience was accepting my assignment to St John’s Social Service Center in Cincinnatti when I was a Dominican novice. I thought the prison was much cooler!!! A good lesson. Appears, I now have a “thing” for food pantries, in all their diversity. 🙂

nicene_guy
-by Nicene Guy

“Hunger is one of the greatest causes of sorrow in this world, though not the greatest. And the hungry are everywhere, and in all times: there seldom need to seek them out to find them. “The poor you will always have,” we are promised (Mark 14:7). We should pity their plight, whether it’s merely economic or whether the problem goes deeper.

Alleviating hunger is a simple task, but it is not easier for being this. Moral problems seldom are. We need not get caught up in idle speculation as to why any given person is in his situation (and with the economy being as bad as it is, there are surely more people who honestly can’t find work than are merely “lazy”). They are our sisters and brothers in need, parts of our human family who are “down on their luck.”

To feed them is an act of mercy.

On the other hand, it is also an act of justice. It is justice towards them, as it recognizes their dignity as human being. Still more is is justice towards God, obedience to the Old Law. We read in Leviticus that “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of your grain. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God” (Leviticus 23:22). In Deuteronomy, we read even more instructions of this sort:

“When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien, the orphan or the widow, that the LORD, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. For remember that you were once slaves in Egypt; that is why I command you to observe this rule” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

If this is not explicitly a commandment to actively go forth and feed the hungry—poor, orphan, widow, and foreigner—as in the Discourse on the Judgment of the Nations, it is at the least a commandment to leave them the means to feed themselves.

Moreover, it is a commandment tied to the remembrance of who the Israelites are: you were once slaves in Egypt. And before that, they were foreigners in Egypt (this during a time of famine). In bringing this to mind with the commandment, God reminds the Israelites that they were once poor and hungry, and that this was so until He rescued them from their slavery.

That these commandments were given during the 40 years wandering in the desert, then the the message becomes clearer still. Only by God’s provenance would the Israelites survive; He would provide their daily food, and so they must depend on Him for it. The same of course is true after they entered and claimed the Promised Land, and for that matter the same is true for us now, in a time of advanced farming techniques which yield immense crops.

And the hungry we still have.

Hunger is not only for food, however. I mentioned before that physical hunger is among the worst forms of suffering which is common in the world, but there are worse. After His baptism, Christ entered the desert, where He was tempted by the devil: the first temptation was against His hunger after forty days’ fasting:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

Our spiritual hunger is for “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” and above all for the Word which comes forth from God: Jesus Christ, God the Son. This is so much so that He told us that we must “gnaw” His flesh and “guzzle” His blood (John 6:53) to have life within us, a moment which foreshadowed the institution of the Eucharist and presaged the Passion.

We know (or “see”) these things through the eyes of faith, and so faith is what helps feed the “spiritual” hunger. But faith is undermined by doubt: thus, counseling the doubtful is spiritually akin to feeding the physically hungry. For its own part, counsel is on of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2), and is sometimes called “right judgment.” With the gift of counsel, we know what is right and what is wrong, and choose to do what is right.

At a glance, this may seem to fit with others of the spiritual works of mercy—admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant—which are indeed related to counseling the doubtful [1]. On the other hand, venerable bishop Fulton Sheen once stated that “Atheism, nine times out of ten, is born from the womb of a bad conscience. Disbelief is born of sin, not of reason.” In short, many a man who does says “I do not believe in God” means “I am sleeping with my neighbor’s wife.”

To return to the connection between physical and spiritual hunger, and the feeding of both, we would notice that there is often a second (seeming) reason for the loss of faith, that is, for “hunger.” It is a variation on the problem of evil: “Many Christians are bad people, therefore Christianity is false.” These days the argument is sometimes recast as, “Priest sex abuse scandal. Therefore, Catholicism is false.” From a strictly intellectual standpoint, both versions of the argument are laughable. That some Christians behave badly, and that some subset of those are priests, does not prove or disprove the veracity of the creeds.

People do not, however, operate on a purely intellectual plane, and so these sins become the cause of doubts [2]. In a sense, we all “hunger for righteousness,” and many turn elsewhere when they perceive that they have not found it in religion. The problem is that righteousness is not found merely in religion, but specifically in God; we look for righteousness in men and catch glimpses of it, while missing it in God where it is perfected.

To counsel the doubtful then requires that we return them to God, from Whom comes faith, from whose mouth (and side) comes our spiritual nourishment, our “daily bread.” Thus, while we may counsel directly and physically, we might also apply to God by prayers for counsel—whether for ourselves or for another.”                 -AMEN!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!  Save me, Lord!!!  SAVE ME!!!! -MPM

—Footnotes—
[1] Indeed, counseling and instructing are both related to the intellect: the former to the “practical” intellect, the latter to the “speculative” intellect.

[2] Doubts? Perhaps. On the other hand, these “doubts” often take the original form, again modified: “I am mad that priests have abused children” often and easily becomes cover for “Therefore, why shouldn’t I be allowed to commit my (supposedly minor) sin of choice?””

Love and always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Leave a Reply