Lately, I’ve been in the company of people who have been struggling with the concept of suffering and especially world hunger. They argue that really very few people believe in God or Jesus because there are so many starving people. Their points being that Jesus’ message was to drop everything, follow him, give to the poor and they use examples like St. Francis of Assisi and Blessed Mother Theresa. I found myself stumped at the discussion and also felt guilty in my own life, since I have a lot of stuff, a roof over my head and a lot of materialistic things. It made me wonder how much do you need to give? Do you really need to give all your wealth away like that woman in the Gospel from last week?
It was easier to answer the question of St. Francis, since not everyone is called to live out that vocation. Most of us are called to the vocation of marriage and raising a family, which obviously you could not do if you lived out St. Francis’s vocation. But, what about the problem of 20% of the world owning 80% of the world’s resources? Does the Church and myself in particular do enough to help the poor?
Like so many times before our Pope Benedict XVI has helped me with the answer. He argues that we obviously need to take care of the poor, but we have to have our priorities right. We need to have a strong faith and relationship with God first and give that to others before we give bread. When we turn things on their head like our culture today, where we give aid without God, we are doing a disservice.
The Pope uses examples from the New Testament, where the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, but he didn’t do it. Then later Jesus will multiply a few loaves and fish and feed five thousand. Why does Jesus refuse earlier, and then later feeds those five thousand? Pope Benedict says that these people sought Jesus out and came to hear God’s word. “They are people who have opened their hearts to God and one another and are therefore ready to receive the bread with the proper disposition…Jesus is not indifferent toward men’s hunger, their bodily needs, but he places these things in the proper context and the proper order.”
When we make God secondary or worse ignore him completely we don’t really help the poor, but really only make things worse. You only have to look at Africa to discover what harm we are doing in that part of the world. We claim to “know better” but wasn’t it that same claim that got Africa into the mess it is in today? Wasn’t that the Marxist plan to make sure everyone was fed, to turn the “desert into bread”? We can see that these experiments do not work when God is absent and when we focus on the poor’s physical needs while ignoring their spiritual needs.
Our actions in the third world are largely actions without God, and what is worse is that we are pushing them away from God. To quote Pope Benedict again, “It has thrust aside indigenous religious, ethical, and social structures and filled the resulting vacuum with its technocentric mind-set…History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines. If man’s heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good either. And the goodness of the human heart can ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is the Good itself.”
The issue of world hunger is always a difficult one, but arguing that Christians do not do enough and therefore there are no true Christians is false– the Catholic Church is the largest charity in the world after all. There are many Christians who feed the poor, and then there are many Christians who feed the spirit. I think they both have equal merit and both are important. If we have been blessed with certain gifts then giving to others, is what we are called to do. Some people have been blessed with wealth and can help feed and clothe the poor, and others have been blessed with talents that feed the spirit. Let us pray to become more generous with our gifts, so that we may use them where God intends them to be used.