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Nourishing body, mind, heart and soul

July 24, 2015
Father Charles Puthota

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly, states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Decades have passed. The reality is a far cry from this basic vision. Though we have made fantastic strides in science and technology, millions are still hungry and deprived of basic necessities. Of the 7.3 billion world population, nearly a billion are hungry and malnourished. Oliver Twist’s “Please, sir, I want some more” might well be their desperate plea. The world produces enough food for everyone, but the hungry are left helpless because of the dynamics of national and international institutions. The word of God this Sunday addresses this distressing situation.

Prophet Elisha who is gifted 20 barley loaves spontaneously says, “Give it to the people to eat.” When the servant says the food will not be enough for a hundred people, the prophet insists that the food be served. He invokes the Lord who has said to him that there will be food left over after people have eaten.

Elisha’s concern to feed the hungry as Moses had done in the desert and God’s lavish grace despite the skepticism of the servant parallel the elements in the Gospel. There are thousands of hungry people and the disciples are skeptical, but Jesus the prophet par excellence, on his own authority, feeds them with only five barley loaves and two fish, with food left over.

Jesus ensures that the basic right to food is fulfilled. Rights of people are to be matched by responsibilities based on love and compassion. Jesus demonstrates time and again that people’s rights for food, health, dignity, hope, freedom, peace, respect, truth, etc., are at the heart of his ministry. He is the most ardent advocate of human rights. He came into the world so that we may have abundant life. He acts always out of the conviction that people cannot merely exist but are to enjoy the fullness of life, having been nourished in body, mind, heart, and soul.

To the hungry, Gandhi said, God comes in the form of bread. Along with our spiritual gifts, our energy, time, and talents, we need to ensure that our small amounts of food and material resources (our five loaves and two fish) are to be pooled together to feed the hungry and alleviate suffering. Our individual generosity along with others’ will multiply to become miracles for the needy. Our weekly donations to parish and those we give to the archdiocese are also essential to keep God’s work flourishing at all levels of the church.

Jesus’ instruction to “gather the fragments over, so that nothing will be wasted” is a timely reminder in our “throwaway culture.” Not wasting food and other material goods is vital not only to protect the environment but also to feed the poor and provide for the needy. Through simple living and generous sharing, through compassion and love, we can multiply the blessings for the world.

In John’s Gospel, with no account of the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper, the multiplication becomes the eucharistic story as Jesus “took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them … .” At every Eucharist, we are nourished so we can share bread with others. What is more, like Jesus we are to become “bread” to others. This is God’s abundant life of which human rights are but a miniscule fraction.

Father Puthota is pastor of St. Veronica Parish, South San Francisco.

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