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For the Least Among Us

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By Chris Sparks (Jan 10, 2014)
In November 2013, the United States Congress approved large cuts to the money allotted to food stamps in this country. That means that families and individuals who depend on food stamps for their groceries each month are going to have to make cuts that will mean real problems of hunger and nutrition.

What's the solution? Those of us who are blessed with jobs or other reliable sources of income need to make sure we donate food, time, and money to our local food banks and soup kitchens, especially organizations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We need to be praying for our neighbors, especially those who are unemployed or underemployed, that they find work or some way to pay their bills. We need to make sure we're helping family and friends in need, not simply assuming that the government, charitable organizations, or someone else will help them out.

It's not up to us to fix everyone else's problems, but it's always better to do something, rather than nothing. A little bit of help can go a very long way, especially when you're working in the name of the Lord. Remember the story of our Lord feeding the 5,000 men? A little boy came forward with his loaves of flatbread and a few fish — just enough for one person, perhaps. But then Jesus blessed the food, broke it, and told the apostles to distribute it. They fed those 5,000 men (and probably untold numbers of women and children, as well!) and had 12 baskets of leftovers at the end of the meal (see Jn 6:1-14). What does this mean? It means that Christ can take any act of ours and make it powerful beyond our wildest dreams — but it also means that He often waits for us to act, letting us be the helping hand from the Body of Christ. We are all the answers to someone's prayers — unless we fail to obey God and refuse to share the gifts we have been given.

And Jesus has been abundantly clear, both in Scripture (see Mt 25:31-46) and in the Diary of St. Faustina, how seriously He takes this command to us to show mercy to our neighbors. He told Faustina:

I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it. I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first, by deed. The second, by word. The third, by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays a reverence to My mercy. (Diary, 742)

We are required to do the same, as evidenced by Jesus's parable of the separation of the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment. Those who had given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the imprisoned, and done the other works of mercy were welcomed into eternal life. Those who had neglected these works of mercy, even those who thought they had served the Lord, were cast into the outer darkness (see Mt 25:31-46). It is not enough even to work miracles if we do not do works of mercy for those in need (see Mt 7:21-23). Whatever we do for the least among us, we do for Jesus. Whatever we neglect to do for the least among us, we neglect to do for Jesus.

And the Holy Father is leading the way in the works of mercy. Among other notable words, prayers, and deeds in these first months of his pontificate, Pope Francis took part in Caritas Internationalis's campaign of prayer and action in response to global hunger on Dec. 10, 2013. Caritas Internationalis invited its 164 member organizations and local churches to pray for an end to hunger and malnutrition as well as to act on a local, national or global level against food waste and promote food access and security worldwide.

"One of the worst sounds a parent can hear is their child crying at night tormented by hunger. Many parents living in poverty hear this cry and yet they have no food to give them," Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, president of Caritas Internationalis, said.

"There is enough food to feed the planet. We believe that with your help and the help of governments and the U.N. we can end hunger by 2025," he said.

Jesus is hungry. Feed Him.

To learn more about Caritas's campaign, visit their website. To help the hungry in your local communities, contact your parish and diocesan chancery offices, or visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' website.

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