Feed the Hungry
“I saw the children—their eyes shining with hunger—I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often.” As these words make clear, Mother Teresa’s sensibility to the hungry is evident in the way she was moved by her direct contact with them. She was stirred in the depths of her heart by her encounter with those suffering real physical hunger, as is clear especially in the way she recounted the stories of her experiences with the hungry. These experiences began when she was a child. Her mother had accustomed her and her siblings to serve and look after people from the street. When she witnessed hunger (or any other need of the poor) her reaction was “We have to do something about it.” She then did anything possible (and at times also the nearly impossible) in order to bring food to the hungry. At times, she tried to literally “move the world” to provide food for those who were starving.
Hunger may be something that is remote from our experience or from our immediate surroundings. Maybe we “meet” the poor who suffer hunger only through the disturbing reports about some faraway disaster. However, if we “open our eyes to see,” as Mother Teresa challenges us to do, we might encounter many more people suffering from having their basic need for sustenance unmet.
Mother Teresa is known not for setting up great programs that resolve world hunger (worthy and necessary as they are) but for “feeding the hungry,” one by one, one at a time. Yet in doing so she made a great difference first in the lives of these individuals, and ultimately in the world.
There is another type of hunger that Mother Teresa began to speak of, especially after opening her houses in the West. She often repeated that people are “not only hungry for bread but hungry for love.” Though suffering from this need is not commonly referred to as poverty, she realized that this type of poverty was “so much more difficult to remove.” Thus it was also this “hunger for love” that she wanted to alleviate. She challenged her sisters, “You are meant to be that love and compassion to the people here [in the West].”
When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied, I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtful and so much, and I find that very difficult. Our sisters are working amongst that kind of people in the West.
Finally, Mother Teresa found another type of hunger, in countries both poor and rich, among people of all classes and religious backgrounds. “People are hungry for God,” she used to say. This reality of “spiritual hunger,” which she experienced deeply and encountered wherever she went, she addressed in a simple and timely manner. She wanted to be “God’s love, His compassion, His presence” wherever she went, so that people looking at her might come to know the God whom she wished to reflect.