As part of understanding the causes of poverty and hunger in our world, it is necessary to stand back and reflect on these age-old problems in the light of sacred scriptures and Catholic social teachings. A theological reflection helps us to see the reality of the world in a different way than contemporary and popular opinions. A faith-based reflection is meant to lead to prudent discernment — a way to determine what we are called to do by a just and merciful Creator. This process is not mean to point a finger or lay blame, but to guide us in offering our hands in support and laying a foundation for a new way of living and expressing solidarity with the poor and vulnerable of the world.
As a people of faith, we believe we are called to see the human face of our economy, to feel the hurts and hopes of people, and to feel the pain of those who are poor, hungry, and living in despair. As the U.S. Bishops tell us in the opening passage of Economic Justice for All: “The poor and vulnerable are on our doorsteps, in our parishes, and in our service agencies. It is clear to see that there is too much hunger and injustice, too much suffering and despair, both in our country and around the world.”(viii)
A. Biblical Scripture
Take the time to look up and review the selected biblical passages below regarding commandments or injunctions to feed the hungry. Read them silently and reflect for a moment. Then in small groups discuss the questions that follow:
In this passage Jesus says those who feed the hungry will be with him in heaven while those who don’t won’t be. Some spiritualize this reading saying it is talking of spiritual hunger and feeding. What kind of needs do you think Matthew 25 addresses and why?
When the woman anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil and the disciples reprimanded her, Jesus corrected them saying: “The poor you’ll always have with you.” People often stop with that, saying that Jesus said the poor would always be around so it is a helpless cause. Rather, Jesus is saying that “the poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” Have you ever heard this used as an excuse that the problem is too big to tackle? What can you say?
This passage describes a good and worthy king: “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord.” We can extend this passage to say, “We do not really know Jesus until we know the poor.” Do you think that is true or not true?
The phrase “hunger no more” is used in 1 Samuel 2 when Hannah praises God for the gift of her son, born after barrenness. Note the line in the passage that says: “The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” How is this a useful reminder that any one of us could have been born into situations throughout the world where we experience hunger and poverty daily?
Additional scriptural passages
Again, have participants break into small groups (3-5 people) and discuss the following scriptures:
Ask the groups to consider these questions for each scripture:
1. What does this scripture tell us about God’s generosity?
2. How does this scripture show that it is in God’s nature to provide abundantly?
3. Ask each group to share with the class what they discovered.
How do people excuse themselves or make rationalizations about these clear spiritual instructions?
We often hear: What would Jesus do?
Rather, ask this: What would Jesus have us do?
B. Reflections from the Holy See
(Passages from 2009 encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI)
“Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.” 
“Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity.” 
“Truth needs to be sought, found, and expressed within the ‘economy’ of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth.” 
Truth and Charity are and must always be inexorably linked. Charity in truth keeps people on course. It helps us to understand that adhering to transcendent values like respect for human dignity, justice and the common good “is not merely useful but essential for building a good human society and for true integral human development.” 
“Charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving.” 
“To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good…. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity.” 
“Life in many poor countries is extremely insecure as a consequence of food shortages, and the situation could become worse: hunger still claims enormous numbers of victims among those, who like Lazarus, are not permitted to take their place at the rich man’s table.” 
In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI makes it clear that the international community has the resources to feed all of the world’s people. Instead, poverty coexists with abundance. He has pointed to the “race for consumption,” unbridled speculation, the arms race that diverts resources away from human development as some of the causes.
World Summit on Food Security (Rome, November 2009)
Passages from the address by Pope Benedict XVI
At this world summit, the UN Secretary General reported that 17,000 children die of hunger every day. The number of hungry people in the world has gone from 800,000 five years ago to over 1 billion today. To underscore his concern for the poor, Pope Benedict addressed this Special Summit of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and made an urgent call for action to combat world hunger, to protect the environment and to rethink lifestyle choices in the West.
“Sufficient food is produced on a global scale to satisfy both the current demands and those in the foreseeable future.”
“Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions.”
“Acknowledgment of the transcendental worth of every man and every woman is still the first step towards the conversion of heart that underpins the commitment to eradicate deprivation, hunger and poverty in all their forms.”
“The fundamental rights of the individual must not be forgotten, which include, of course, the right to sufficient, healthy and nutritious food, and likewise water. These rights take on an important role in the realization of others, beginning with the primary one, the right to life. It is necessary, then, to cultivate ‘a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.’”
“Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty. Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions. The Catholic Church will always be concerned for efforts to defeat hunger; the Church is committed to support, by word and deed, the action taken in solidarity – planned, responsible and regulated – to which all members of the international community are called to contribute.”
“I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack’ (2 Cor 8:13-15).”
“In order to combat hunger and promote integral human development, it is necessary to understand the needs of the rural world, and likewise to ensure that any decline in donor support does not create uncertainties in the financing of activities of cooperation: any tendency towards a short-sighted view of the rural world as a thing of secondary importance must be avoided.”
“The links between environmental security and the disturbing phenomenon of climate change need to be explored further, focusing on the central importance of the human person, and especially of the populations most at risk from both phenomena. Norms, legislation, development plans and investments are not enough, however: what is needed is a change in the lifestyles of individuals and communities, in habits of consumption and in perceptions of what is genuinely needed. Most of all, there is a moral duty to distinguish between good and evil in human action, so as to rediscover the bond of communion that unites the human person and creation.”
C. Reflections from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
The U.S. Catholic Bishops are not hesitant to state their perspective when it comes to critical situations concerning the poor and vulnerable. During rising food prices of 2008-09, the USSCB issued a statement and call for action on behalf of American Catholics:
Our response to the present situation should reflect a sensitivity to that moral significance, a determination that the United States will play its appropriate role in meeting global food needs, and a commitment to bequeath to future generations an enhanced natural environment and the same ready access to the necessities of life that most of us enjoy today. To all those who are suffering because of the food crisis, we promise our solidarity, prayers, counseling and the other spiritual resources of our Catholic faith. (USCCB Statement, February 2009)
| “The human being is the author, center and goal of all economic and social life. The decisive point of the social question is that goods created by God for everyone should in fact reach everyone in accordance with justice and with the help of charity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2459)
The U.S. Bishops also called to mind their historic reflection on the economy, which rightly included a section on food and agriculture. In recognition of its 25th commemoration, we offer significant passages in the section “Essential Economic Sectors: Food & Agriculture” f
rom Economic Justice for All
The fundamental test of an economy is its ability to meet the essential human needs of this generation and future generations in an equitable fashion. Food, water and energy are essential to life; their abundance in the United States has tended to make us complacent. But these goods — the foundation of God’s gift of life — are too crucial to be taken for granted. God reminded the people of Israel that “the land is mine; for you are strangers and guests with me” (Lv 25:23, RSV). (EJfA, n.216)
Our Christian faith calls us to contemplate God’s creative and sustaining action and to measure our own collaboration with the Creator in using the earth’s resources to meet human needs. While Catholic social teaching on the care of the environment and the management of natural resources is still in the process of development, a Christian moral perspective clearly gives weight and urgency to their use in meeting human needs. (EJfA, n.216)
No aspect of this concern is more pressing than the nation’s food system. The Church is concerned about the stark reality of world hunger in spite of food surpluses. Our food production system is clearly in need of evaluation and reform. (EJfA, n.217)
A nation’s food system is an integral part of the larger economy of a nation and the world. As such this integral role necessitates the cooperation of rural and urban interests – those who steward the land and those who give thanks for their daily bread – in resolving the challenges and problems facing food and agriculture. The food necessary for life, the land and water resources needed to produce that food, and the way of life of the people who make the land productive are at risk. Catholic social and ethical traditions attribute moral significance to each of these. (EJfA, n.250)