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“They Have Nothing to Eat”

by Claudia McDonnell
photos by John Isaac


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All human beings know what hunger is, but not everyone knows every kind of hunger. For many of us, hunger is the mild signal that the body needs nourishment to continue its work. Even when the emptiness inside is more insistent, we know it can soon be appeased. The hunger that follows a full day of work or recreation even brings pleasure: it awakens in us the eager anticipation of a well-cooked meal.

The destitute in every country, however, know a different kind of hunger. For them there is no hope of relief, no meal to look forward to, no food to renew strength. Their hunger is not temporary; it is constant. It is the wolf in the belly that devours life itself, bringing disease, deformity, and agonizing death.

The word hunger is used to describe both experiences. Yet there is an infinite difference between the hunger of the well-fed and the hunger of the starving. It is the difference between health and sickness, between hope and despair, between life and living death. Healthy hunger is a natural part of human life. Starvation is a perversion of the way human life is meant to be.

Paradoxical though it may seem at first, there is a kind of hunger that was part of the divine plan from the beginning of creation. We need healthy hunger in order to remember our total dependence on God. The hunger we feel every day, over and over again, is a reminder of the emptiness inside us that only God can fill. In that sense it is a gift; it calls us to seek the Bread of Heaven.

The God-given hunger was there when our first parents walked through the Garden of Eden. There was one tree, said the Lord, from which they were not to eat. Through pride, Adam and Eve violated the Lord’s command and tried to fill their emptiness according to their own desires. By their sin they brought chaos to creation and gravely weakened their ability to control their appetites.

Instead of satisfying their hunger, Adam and Eve hollowed out in themselves and their descendants a void that was never intended by the Creator. Love of self caused it; no human power could fill it. Cut off from God, Adam and Eve hungered for His forgiveness. He alone could fill the emptiness that resulted from their loss of grace.

The story of salvation is the story of God feeding His hungry people. In the desert He gave them manna as they wandered on their way home to Him. The manna was a symbol of God’s most merciful gift: His own Son, who would feed His people the bread of life – His own flesh.

“I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51)

Jesus knew hunger. He often went into the desert to fast and pray. When Satan tempted Him, he had been fasting for forty days and forty nights, and Matthew tells us, “He was hungry.” Jesus took pity on the crowds who came to hear Him preach; on a hillside in Palestine He gave them miraculous loaves and fishes to eat before He sent them home.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of Jesus’ compassion for the hungry is contained in His description of the Last Judgment. He names the various actions that will merit eternal salvation for His followers; the very first one is feeding the hungry.

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Tags: Poor/Poverty Hunger