For I was hungry and you gave me food…. (Mt 25:35)
In using hunger as an icon of tangible need in his parable, Jesus reminds us that he knows and understands the human urgency of hunger. Like those being judged in the parable we too might ponder his words and ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry…?” The Gospel imperative to care for the least among us is clear, yet Jesus’ hunger is huge in our world. How do we justify the words of Jesus with the ongoing hunger in our midst? Images from Darfur of hungry children with bloated bellies, women holding their dying babies and gaunt men too weak to stand appear in news broadcasts and in our print media. Many of our parishes sponsor soup kitchens for those who are hungry in our communities and find long lines of hungry people waiting for the doors to open. Sometimes it seems as if the eyes of the hungry haunt us at our own tables, and the words of Jesus have that same haunting effect as we realize our own rights and obligations, our call as followers of Jesus, to recognize and bring an end to hunger in the world. We will use our own human capacity to recognize and feel hunger as a way to explore the issue of hunger in the world.
Hunger is not new. We all have experienced it at one time or another in various degrees. Somewhat paradoxically we live in the land of plenty while in the midst of hungry people. In our communities, the hungry all too often go unrecognized and unfed even in a country with the vast resources of the United States. For the poor, even though they may be filling their bellies, the nutritional content of their meals may not be enough to sustain healthy development in their children or to ward off diseases with dietary causes. Large scale hunger or famine is not new to the world either. Nor is it necessarily the result of natural environmental causes such as drought, blight or other reasons for crop failure. The Irish Famine of the 1840s, the current famine crisis in Sudan and the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s all had political factors contributing to the suffering and deaths of countless numbers of people. Hunger is not the result of insufficient food resources in the world, and its causes and effects are interwoven with job and salary issues, poverty, control of agricultural lands, the marginalization of groups of people and other issues.
The resources listed at the end of this article offer several sites with background material that will help prepare you and your students for any discussions on hunger. How can Catholic social teaching help us to understand the issue of hunger? What can we do to help those who ache to be fed? How can we begin to address such a large scale crisis? Why are people still hungry in our world? What are the causes of hunger? And with Lent approaching, how could being in touch with our own hunger lead to a deeper understanding of the spiritual practice of fasting?
For the following reflection you will need:
-A loaf of freshly baked bread or cinnamon rolls, banana muffins or other aromatic bread. It would be best if you keep them warm before beginning or heat them so as to release the scent throughout the room.
Make sure there are no food allergies in your group
-Ask for ten student readers to take turns reading the italicized portions of the reflections and the intercessions following the reflection periods.
-If your group is small, have students gather around one table with the bread in the center of the table. If you need multiple tables, have several warm loaves or muffins ready for the individual tables. Have napkins available.
Explain to your students that they are going to begin their look at hunger by experiencing their own very human reactions to freshly baked bread. As we experience the physical effects of the warm bread before us, we will enter our reflection through the lens of human dignity. Afterward we will discuss hunger using other core values of Catholic social teaching.
Give students enough time between the reading and the intercession to reflect upon what they are experiencing. Set the length according to your students’ capacity for silence and the amount of time you have allowed for the activity.
Human dignity and hunger
Reader 1: You are invited to let all your senses experience the bread beginning with your sight. What do you see, what does the sight of bread bring to mind? Do you remember other times when you experienced the goodness of freshly baked bread? Was it a family gathering? A quiet moment at home watching or helping someone bake? How is gathering together to eat part of building community? Have you ever felt unwelcome at a table or gathering? What if the sight of bread brought memories of exclusion to mind and worsened the pain of your hunger?
Reader 2: For all those who have only empty bowls to gaze upon, we pray that our world leaders open the eyes of their own hearts and find ways to alleviate suffering both by providing food and by changing policies.
All: Bread of Life, hear our prayer.
Reader 3: Smell the bread. Let its aroma enter your being. Does the smell trigger hunger? Desire? Memories of wonderful meals perhaps or of having your hunger satisfied? Have you ever walked through a neighborhood at dinner time and smelled the various meals being prepared? Has anyone ever lifted the lid of a pot and invited you to lean into the tantalizing aroma and anticipate the feast that will eventually come? Does the aroma lead you into an expectation of wanting to taste or of being fed? Are you used to being fed when you are hungry? Our bodies are designed to tell us when to eat, what happens when we cannot get food? What happens when growing children cannot get the nutritional food they need to sustain their growing, developing bodies? What impact does hunger have on their education and physical growth? What impact does hunger have on parents trying to maintain a job and provide for children? How does job loss or land loss impact hunger?
Reader 4: For all those who hunger today for lack of sustainable income or crops and who live without knowledge of when they might smell their next meal cooking, we pray that some good neighbor, whether an individual, an agency or a neighboring country, will find a way to provide that meal.
All: Bread of Life, hear our prayer.
Reader 5: What do you hear? Perhaps your stomach and the stomachs of those around you are “speaking” their reaction to the wafting scent of homemade bread. An inner voice might even be wondering if and when you will be able to taste the bread. In our homes, we often hear “what’s for dinner?” or “who wants pizza?” Imagine those in refugee camps whose silent hunger knows no relief or whose stomachs churn even though they know no food is coming this day. Imagine hearing only the sounds of war including the weeping of your children and knowing it is this conflict that keeps you from working, farming, and feeding your family.
Reader 6: For all those who will go to sleep hungry tonight, we pray that world leaders will awaken from their own sleep having dreamed a dream of a new world, one with policies that don’t use food resources as a weapon or instrument of exclusion.
Bread of Life, hear our prayer.
Pass the bread around the tables and invite everyone to take a piece and hold it.
Reader 7: Hold the bread in your hand, savor its weight, look at its texture, enjoy the freshness of it, the warmth that soon will be in your mouth and on its way to your stomach. What does it do to the human body, the human spirit and, the capacity to nurture our families physically and emotionally if our hands are always empty? How often do we in the United States eat more than we need or throw out amounts of food that would ease another’s hunger? If a person’s hands and stomach are empty, can she or he participate fully in life?
Reader 8: For all those whose hands are empty we pray that their need may make us more aware of our own wasteful habits and indifference to the suffering of others so that we may work to bring about lifegiving changes and put food into the hands of the hungry.
Bread of Life, hear our prayer.
Reader 9: Take a bite of what has been offered to you. How does it feel in your mouth? Does the taste meet your expectations? How often do we just gulp down our food and not pay attention to the texture in our mouth, the blended taste of all the ingredients that went into making it? Eat the bread, note the crumbs that fall. Can you imagine being so hungry that even a crumb would elicit the sensory experiences you had as you looked at, smelled, touched and tasted the bread? How do our government policies increase or ease world hunger? Is it enough to offer crumbs or do we need to find ways to invite all to the table?
Reader 10: For those who hunger for even the crumbs of the world’s tables, may they receive their daily bread and may they find a place at the table so they may participate in planning for their own futures.
ALL: Bread of Life, hear our prayer.
Teacher: Let us pray together
All: Lord, you are the Bread of Life
and we thank you for your gift of spiritual food
as well as for the food on our tables.
Help us to find ways to feed you
by recognizing those who are hungry
and by changing policies that lead to hunger
so that all may come to the table
and leave with hearts and stomachs full.
We ask this in your holy name Jesus Christ. Amen.
Invite your students to share their reactions to the reflection. Lead them into a consideration of other core values of Catholic social teaching in the discussion of hunger including solidarity, care for creation, the dignity of work and workers’ rights, the call tofamily andparticipation, preferential option for the poor, and rights and responsibilities.
If possible, tie in some points with current news stories regarding hunger issues in the parish, community or world. See the resources below for other sources.
Consider a discussion of fasting as a spiritual practice as part of the conversation on solidarity and prayer for those who hunger.
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/corunum/documents/rc_pc_corunum_doc_04101996_world-hunger_en.html The Vatican site has the text of the 1996 World Hunger A Challenge for All: Development inSolidarity.
http://www.usccb.org/bishops/agricultural.shtml#16 The 2003 pastoral letter available on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops site I Was Hungry And You Gave Me Food offers many points for classroom consideration. Under the section titled “Catholic Social Teaching and Agriculture” readers can find a discussion based on the core values of Catholic social teaching.
http://www.crs.org/get_involved/advocacy/policy_and_strategic_issues/food_aid/food_aid_primer.pdf This Catholic Relief Services site presents Food for the Common Good: Why Catholics in the U.S. should care about U.S. food aid to poor countries
http://www.crs.org/kids/hungerfacts.htm CRS presents hunger facts for kids.
http://www.crs.org/kids/lessons.cfm CRS offers printable lesson plans on a variety of topics and for various grade levels.
http://www.bread.org/ website of Bread for the World
http://www.paxjoliet.org/events/bfw_workshop_2007_save_the_date.htm Teachers, consider attending a workshop in Romeoville on Bread for the World’s 2007 Offering of Letters
http://www.paxjoliet.org/rd.htm The Joliet Diocese Peace and Justice Website listing of relief and development agencies and projects. Click on “Food Fast” for information on how to bring this program to your 8-12 graders.
http://www.pcusa.org/hunger/downloads/resource_justeatpart.pdf The Presbyterian Hunger Program offers resources online. Just Eating, Practicing Our Faith at the Table: Readings for Reflection and Action Check out their ready-to-go resource for participants and see if it would be appropriate for yours students. See also the leader’s guide available at http://www.pcusa.org/hunger/downloads/resource_justeatlead.pdf The source is quite lengthy but filled with good ideas and easy to adapt discussions and prayer ritual.
http://www.hungerbanquet.org/ Oxfam’s interactive Hunger Banquet page. Be sure to check out other pages on this site.
http://www.foodfirst.org/pubs/backgrdrs/1998/s98v5n3.html This 1998 resource From the Food First Institute remains valid for initiating classroom discussions today.
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/lessons/18/g68/tghunger.html National Geographic’s suggestions for classroom discussions on hunger
http://www.wfp.org/country_brief/hunger_map/facts.html World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations organization to fight hunger, has questions for classroom discussion, background material and information on ordering posters to illustrate hunger issues
http://www.heifered.org/ Information regarding Heifer International’s programs for elementary and middle school students, “Read to Feed” or “Chores for Change,” can be found on this site.
http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/YU/ay0201.asp The Youth Update from 2001 offers a discussion of fasting during Lent that you could tie into your hunger discussion.
www.coc.org The Center of Concerns (especially their Education for Justice pages available by subscription) as always offers many helpful resources ranging from background and facts to prayer rituals.
February—Black History Month
Feb 11 World Day of the Sick
Feb 21 Ash Wednesday
May your hunger to grow closer to God lead you in all you do.
Blessings, Colette Wisnewski