Then the just will answer him and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” — Matthew 25:37
Last week Jesus showed up at the Acme while I was pondering the powdered donuts in the Tastykake display. Could I afford those? Today this was a calorie question; 35 years ago, it would have been a question of budget — the answer, alas, is still “no.” I never went hungry when I was first living on my own, but I never put anything in my cart without considering the cost, either.
Christ was dressed as my friend Catharyn, comfortable in sweats, leaning on her cane, and came along to chat as I wound my way through the aisles. I reached for a can of coffee, part of my standard list for the food box at church. Catharyn grabbed another, “This one is cheaper, and you get more.”
We hit the baby aisle, discussing which size diapers would have the greatest impact on the smallest members of the Body of Christ and pediatrician Catharyn’s wish that more people would remember that formula is expensive.
By the time we reached the check-out line, I was looking at what was in my cart with an eye to a budget again. Not mine now, but the budget of the young mothers I meet at the shelter, for whom diapers and formula and a good cup of coffee enables them to go to work, and so, put food on the table.
The Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church reaffirms “the preferential option for the poor … in all its force” to which the tradition of the church has borne witness from its very beginning. It quotes Pope St. John Paul II, who says our particular concern for the poor should inspire our decisions, big and small, and even our own manner of living.
The care of the poor and those on the margins is at the core of our relationship to Jesus, who St. Matthew tells us, says he is the poor one, the one who is starving, and the one who longs for clean water to drink and bathe in.
Does encountering Christ in the Acme change my grocery list? Does knowing that Christ lacks sturdy shoes to wear to work affect my budget? How much force does the preferential option for the poor exert on the way I live?
Looking at the abundance in my backyard, towering trees clothed in green arch down the block like a cathedral, fruit trees sprouting apples and plums and pears, it can be hard to remember that people lack for food and safe housing right here in Philadelphia, as much now as in Lent or at Christmas.
The Salvation Army bell is long gone from the front of the Acme, but Christ now asks me each time I visit, “when did you feed me, and what have you given me to drink? How do you care for the least among you? How do you learn to see me?”
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 182, states: “The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force.
“This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods.
“Today, furthermore, given the worldwide dimension which the social question has assumed, this love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care and, above all, those without hope of a better future.”
A list of things to consider giving to your local food bank: diapers (larger sizes), formula, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes, dried fruit, jam, peanut butter, coffee, canned fruit, canned vegetables, canned meat, pasta dinners, juice boxes, rice or other staple grains (in small, sturdy bags because people have to carry it home and most food banks do not have the capacity to repackage bulk items), money (your dollar can stretch even further than Catharyn’s careful shopping when the food bank spends it).
Glass containers are problematic for most sites because they are too easily broken. Pop tops are helpful for those without access to a well-stocked kitchen. Pick healthy choices when you can, just as you would for your own family.
See also the list at St. Francis Inn, an organization in Philadelphia that serves the hungry and those in need of safe shelter.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.