Patrick Walsh

Recently a rule was issued through the USDA limiting eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The measure will take away vital food and nutrition from about 700,000 of our brothers and sisters.

This rule has a very specific effect, although general cuts to this vital program are always looming. Policy decisions like this offer an opportunity to evaluate what God’s universal call to love asks of us.

So often, the horrors of the world feel too heavy to bear, and it can seem as if we are powerless over them. But God tells us a different story.

He tells us he is love, that he suffers with us, delights in us and lives within us. He invites us to participate in this singular love, and it is through loving attention to the suffering of others that we can come to know him, as we all share in his universal freeing of the world from sin and suffering. We are one body in Christ.

In light of this reversible policy shift, which slated to take effect in April 2020, it could be fruitful to consider these questions:

Are we closer to the heart of Christ when we see the suffering of his body, and reason that it is justified, based on the world’s narratives and opinions?

Or are we closer to the heart of Christ when we see the suffering of his body, and approach it instead with humility, patience and love?

Are we closer to the heart of Christ when we dig deeper into the circumstances that cause that suffering, and realize that we may have the power to stop it simply by voicing our opposition?

Our days are filled with endless streams of news bites, tribal anger and overwhelming pain everywhere we look.  The immensity of the spectrum of suffering can cause us to blow it off altogether, or to focus only on the most heinous incidents. Neither of these responses seem to help us receive or give the love of God.

But how else can we make it through our day? Sometimes just managing the logistics of work and family can push us over the edge. Keeping track of or even allowing ourselves to hear about all the suffering in the world can seem futile at best.

Could God be calling us something different?  In our community at Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a food pantry run by Catholic Social Services, we experience the transformative healing of personal encounter on a daily basis.  To get through our day at Martha’s Choice, we have to work together, grow together, disagree together, and learn together.  Although our community offers a venue that brings us physically together, we can only love, listen or feel on a person-to-person basis. That’s exactly how God transfigures souls and enters hearts: one on one.

What does all this have to do with the USDA and our brothers and sisters who will suffer under its actions?

It is an invitation to consider not statistics, but the lives of people who are living with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness because of lack of support or barriers to proper healthcare.

It is an invitation to meet the people who work the minimum wage jobs that cannot sustain proper nutrition.

It is an invitation to consider the instability and strife that will be unleashed within families by the impact of the new USDA rule.

It is an invitation to imagine the abject loneliness of those isolated in addiction or depression, and then consider how God’s sees his children.

This change in April is one avoidable decision, based upon its own layers of opinion, ignorance, and a blindness to the violence and complexity of poverty within our one body in Christ. At the very least, the rule can be a chance to reevaluate narratives that cause us to think the worst of others and simultaneously absolve ourselves of responsibility to cooperate with God in healing others’ suffering.

SNAP provides over 97% of the resources alleviating hunger in our country. The nearly 1 million pounds of food we distributed last year at Martha’s Choice Marketplace is a vital supplement to SNAP.

Our special blessing, though, is the opportunity to be in communion with our one body in Christ, one person at a time. Relationships like that are life-giving invitations for God to enter into our souls and heal our communities. Such a transformation can compel us to approach our relationship to suffering with humility, love and patience.

Prayerfully consider what that reveals about our relationship to the dinner tables of our neighbors and the suffering of families for whom survival is unending struggle. Christ, living in them, shares in their suffering and offers love.

What if we were to join him?

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Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at pwalsh@chs-adphila.org. More information about Martha’s Choice, a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal, can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.