“Food, Glorious Food,” is the opening song in the musical Oliver! The play is about young Oliver Twist and his difficult life in Victorian London. Fed daily with meager dishes of gruel the workhouse boys sing the song dreaming and fantasizing about food. Oliver got into trouble when he demanded a second helping. 
With a huge growth in population in 19th century London crime and unemployment were high. There was a housing shortage, poor sanitary conditions and children were sent away to work dangerous jobs. Psalm 30 for today’s liturgy “I will praise you God for you have rescued me” may have been a wishful prayer at that time.
A similar story could be written today as people try to survive in the favelas in Brazil, the shanties in India, the ghettoes in Appalachia or even the small run-down towns in upstate New York. The exploited children in the story could be living in dilapidated shacks in Syria or South Sudan or the makeshift tents in Turkey and Greece where refugees await their fate. Humanitarian conditions in many parts of the world are nearing irreversible deterioration.
In 19th century London philanthropic individuals and agencies began to address the plight in their cities. Today international agencies are working with nation states to end food insecurity which is the number one cause of terrorism, drug cartels, child trafficking and murder. According to a report from Bread for the World nearly half of all childhood deaths before the age of five are caused by malnutrition.
In John’s gospel Jesus appears to the apostles and the first words out of his mouth are “do you have anything to eat?” Presumed to be the first post resurrection appearance of Christ to his disciples, it is as if Christ had forgotten something. He neglected to remind his followers of a very important part of their mission if they were to pick up where he left off.
Jesus questions Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Of course I love you.” Jesus then challenges Peter and others within earshot, “Well then, feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” These are obvious references not to animals but to human beings. As Dorothy Day wrote, the disciples doubted the resurrection until Jesus asked them for something to eat. 
Spiritual hunger can take a toll on us. However, going to bed night after night on an empty stomach can lead to despair, sickness and death. The prophet Isaiah reminded us to seek justice and share our food with hungry people (Isaiah 56-58). Next Sunday we will read in the Book of Revelation — every nation, race, people, and tongue will not hunger or thirst anymore (Rev. 7:9-16).
Jesus entrusted Peter and the disciples with the pastoral care of God’s people. As baptized members of the priesthood of Christ, we also share this responsibility. In his new letter, “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis exhorts us not to forget that the mysticism of the sacrament [of the eucharist which we celebrate almost everyday] has a communal character. It reinforces our “social consciousness and … commitment to those in need.” (187)
This weekend you and I have an opportunity to support robust funding for nutrition and health for mothers and children around the world. By our letter writing campaign today (April 10, 2016) we can urge our elected officials to reform the ways our government provides food aid everywhere. We can press Congress to allocate $230 million dollars for global nutrition programs and to pass the Global Food Security Act of 2016.
Toward the end of the song in Oliver the workhouse boys sing, “Food, glorious food! What wouldn’t we give for that extra bit more.” Jesus wanted something to eat. You and I want something to eat and so too do many men, women and children on this fragile planet want an “extra bit more” to eat. Our food pantry serves the local community. You and I can help to spread that mission, that act of mercy, on a global level.
1. Composed by Lionel Bart for the 1960s West End and Broadway musical Oliver! The show was based on the second novel by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, written between 1837-39.
2. The Catholic Worker, April 1964