Hearts of Prayer- Lenten Season
"Blessed Are You Who Hunger
Now, for You Will Satisfied"
3rd Lenten Sermon
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap, Pontifical Household Preacher
March 25, 2007
1. The beatitudes and the historical Jesus
The research on the historical Jesus, so in fashion today -- whether
it be conducted by scholars who are believers or the radical
research of nonbelievers -- hides a grave danger: It can lead one to
believe that only what, for this new approach, can be verified of
the earthly Jesus is "authentic" while all the rest would be
nonhistorical and therefore "inauthentic." This would mean
unjustifiably limiting God's means for revealing himself to history
alone. It would mean tacitly abandoning such a truth of faith as
biblical inspiration and therefore the revealed character of
It appears that the attempt not to narrow New Testament research to
the historical approach is beginning to gain momentum among various
biblical scholars. In 2005 a consultation on "Canon Criticism and
Theological Interpretation" was held at the Pontifical Biblical
Institute in Rome with the participation of eminent New Testament
scholars. The consultation had the purpose of promoting the aspect
of biblical interpretation that takes the canonical dimension of the
Scriptures into account and integrates it with historical research
and the theological dimension.
From all this we conclude that the "word of God," and therefore that
which is normative for the believer, is not the hypothetical
"original nucleus" variously reconstructed by historians, but that
which is written in the Gospels. The results of historical research
must be taken seriously because they even guide the understanding of
the posterior developments of the tradition; but we will continue to
pronounce the exclamation "The Word of God!" at the end of the of
the reading of the Gospel text, not at the end of the reading of the
latest book on the historical Jesus.
These observations are particularly helpful when we deal with the
use we should make of the Gospel beatitudes. It has come to be known
that the beatitudes have reached us in two different versions.
Matthew has eight beatitudes, Luke only four, followed by
corresponding contrary "woes"; in Matthew the discourse is indirect:
"Blessed are the poor ... blessed are the hungry"; in Luke the
discourse is direct: "Blessed are you who are poor ... blessed are
you who hunger"; Luke has "poor" and "hungry," Matthew has poor "in
spirit" and hungry for "justice."
After all the critical work done to distinguish that which, in the
beatitudes, comes from the historical Jesus and that which comes
from Matthew and Luke, the task of the believer of today is not
to choose one of the versions as authentic and leave the other
aside. What needs to be done rather is to gather up the message
contained in both versions and -- according to the contexts and
necessities of today -- give precedence, from time to time, to one
or the other perspective as the two Evangelists themselves did in
2. Who are the hungry and the satiated?
Following this principle, let us reflect today on the beatitude of
the hungry, taking Luke's version as our point of departure:
"Blessed are you who hunger, for you will be satisfied." We will see
later that Matthew's version, which speaks of "hunger for justice"
is not opposed to Luke's version but confirms and reinforces it.
The hungry of Luke's beatitude are not in a different category from
the poor mentioned in the first beatitude. They are the same poor
people considered in their most dramatic condition: the lack of
food. In a parallel way the "satiated" are the rich, who in their
prosperity, can satisfy not only their needs but also their wants in
regard to food. It is Jesus himself who is concerned to explain who
the satiated and who the hungry are. He does this with the parable
of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This
parable also looks at poverty and prosperity under the aspect of
lack of food and superabundance of food: the rich man "feasted
sumptuously every day"; the poor man desired in vain "to be fed with
what fell from the rich man's table."
The parable, however, explains not only who the hungry and the
satiated are but also and above all why the former are called
blessed and the latter are called unfortunate. "One day the poor man
died and was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man
also died and was buried ... and was tormented in Hades." This
reveals where the two roads lead: the narrow one of poverty and the
broad and spacious one of thoughtlessness.
Prosperity and being satiated tend to enclose man in an earthly
horizon because "where your treasure is, there is your heart" (Luke
12:34); gluttony and drunkenness weigh down the heart, suffocating
the seed of the word (cf. Luke 21:34); they cause the rich man to
forget that that very night he might be asked to give an account of
his life (Luke 16:19-31); they make entering into the kingdom "more
difficult than the passing of a camel through the eye of a needle"
The rich man and the other rich people of the Gospel are not
condemned just because they are rich but for the use they make or do
not make of their riches. In the parable of the rich man Jesus makes
it clear that there is a way out for the rich man: He could think of
Lazarus at his door and share his sumptuous feast with him.
The remedy, in other words, is for the rich to make friends with the
poor (cf. Luke 16:9); the unfaithful steward is praised for doing
this but in the wrong way (Luke 16:1-8). Satiety, however, drains
the spirit and makes it very difficult for one to follow the road to
assisting the poor; the story of Zaccheus shows how it is possible
but also how rare it is. Thus we can understand the reason for the
"woe" directed to the rich and satiated; but it is a "woe" that is
more of a "Look out!" than a "Be accursed!"
3. He has filled the hungry with good things
From this point of view the best commentary on the beatitudes of the
hungry and the poor is that pronounced by Mary in the Magnificat.
"He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in
the imagination of their hearts; he has cast down the mighty from
their thrones, he has exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry
with good things, he has sent the rich away empty-handed" (Luke
With a series of strong aorist verbs, Mary describes a reversal and
a radical change of places among men: "He has cast down -- he has
exalted"; "he has filled -- he has sent away empty-handed."
Something has already happened or typically happens in God's acting.
Looking at history, it does not seem that that there has been a
social revolution in which the rich, by a stroke, have been
impoverished and the hungry have had their fill. If therefore what
we expected was a social and visible change, history suggests that a
lie has been told.
The reversal has happened, but in faith! The kingdom of God has been
revealed and this has provoked a silent but radical revolution. The
rich man is like a person who has set aside a large sum of money;
during the night there is a coup d'Útat and the value of the money
has dropped 100%; the rich man wakes up the next morning but he does
not know that he has been reduced to poverty. The poor and the
hungry, on the contrary, have gained an advantage because they are
better prepared to accept the new reality, they do not fear the
change; they have a ready heart.
St. James, addressing the rich, said: "Weep and howl for the
miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted" (James
5:1-2). Even here there is no report from the time of St. James that
the wealth of the rich rotted in the granaries. What the apostle is
saying rather is that something has come which has made the wealth
of the rich lose all its value; a new wealth has been revealed.
"God," St. James writes, "chose the poor of the world to make them
rich with faith and heirs of the kingdom" (James 2:5).
More than an "incitement to cast down the mighty from their thrones
and exalt the lowly," as it has sometimes been written, the
Magnificat is a salutary admonition addressed to the rich and
powerful about the tremendous danger they are courting; it is just
like the "woes" Jesus pronounces in the parable of the rich man.
4. A parable with contemporary relevance
It is not enough for a reflection on the beatitude of the hungry and
the satiated to stop at an explanation of their exegetical
significance; it must also help us to read the situation around us
with evangelical eyes and to act in accord with the meaning of the
The parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus repeats itself
today in our midst on a global scale. The two characters stand
precisely for two hemispheres: The rich man represents the Northern
Hemisphere (Western Europe, America, Japan); Lazarus is, with a few
exceptions, the Southern Hemisphere. Two characters, two worlds: the
"First World" and the "Third World." Two worlds of unequal
greatness: What we call the "Third World" in fact represents "Two
Thirds of the World." (The usage of this new term is growing.)
Someone has compared the earth to a spaceship on a voyage through
the cosmos. In the spaceship one of the three astronauts consumes
85% of the resources present and takes it upon himself to try to
grab the remaining 15%. Waste is normal in the rich countries. Years
ago research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
determined that of 161 billion kilos (354.9 billion pounds) of food
products, 43 billion -- that is, a fourth -- end up in the garbage.
If we wanted to, we could easily recover about 2 billion kilos (4.4
billion pounds) of this food that has been thrown away, a quantity
that would be sufficient to feed 4 million people for one year.
Indifference -- pretending not to see, "passing to the other side of
the road" (cf. Luke 10:31) -- is perhaps the greatest sin committed
against the poor and hungry. Ignoring the great multitude of hungry,
beggars, homeless, those without medical care, and above all those
without hope for a better future -- Pope John Paul II wrote in the
encyclical "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" -- "means becoming like the
rich man who pretended not to know the beggar Lazarus laying at his
We tend to put between ourselves and the poor double glass panes.
Double panes -- much in use today -- prevent cold and noise from
entering; whatever reaches us gets muffled and weakened. And in fact
we see the poor move about, get upset, and cry out behind the
television screen, on the pages of the newspaper and missionary
magazines, but their cry reaches us from far away. It does not reach
the heart or only touches it for a moment.
The first thing to do in regard to the poor, therefore, is to break
the "double panes," overcome indifference and insensitivity, throw
down the defenses, and allow ourselves to be invaded by a healthy
unease on account of the frightening misery that there is in the
world. We are called to share the sigh of Christ: "I feel compassion
for this crowd that has nothing to eat": "Misereor super turba" (cf.
Mark 8:2). When we have the occasion to see what misery and hunger
is with our own eyes, visiting the villages in the rural interior or
on the outskirts of great cities in certain African countries (this
happened to me some months ago in Rwanda), we are choked up by
compassion and left without words.
The elimination or reduction of the unjust and scandalous abyss that
exists between the satiated and the hungry of the world is the most
urgent and most enormous task that humanity has left undone as we
enter the new millennium. It is a task in which the religions above
all must distinguish themselves and cooperate beyond all rivalry.
Such a momentous undertaking cannot be promoted by any political
leader or power influenced by the interests of their own nation and
often by powerful economic forces. The Holy Father Benedict XVI gave
an example with the forceful appeal he directed to the members of
the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See: "Among the key
issues, how can we not think of the millions of people, especially
women and children, who lack water, food, or shelter? The worsening
scandal of hunger is unacceptable in a world which has the
resources, the knowledge, and the means available to bring it to an
6. "Blessed are they who hunger for justice"
I said at the beginning that the two versions of the beatitude of
the hungry, that of Luke and that of Mark, do not pose alternatives
but go together. Matthew does not speak of material hunger but of
hunger and thirst for "justice." There have been two basic
interpretations of these words.
One, in line with Lutheran theology, interprets Matthew's beatitude
in light of what St. Paul will later say about justification through
faith. To have hunger and thirst for justice means being aware of
one's own need for justice and the impossibility of attaining it on
one's own and therefore the need humbly to wait for it from God. The
other interpretation sees in this justice "not that which God
himself does or that which he grants but rather that which he
demands from man"; in other words, the works of justice.
Following this interpretation, which has for quite some time been
the more common and the more plausible exegetically, the material
hunger of Luke and the spiritual hunger of Matthew are no longer
unconnected. Helping the hungry and the poor is among the works of
justice and, indeed, according to Matthew it will be the criterion
for the separation of the just and the reprobate at the end (cf.
All the justice that God asks of man is summarized in the double
precept of love of God and neighbor (cf. Matthew 22:40). It is the
love of neighbor that should move those who hunger for justice to
concern themselves with those who hunger for bread. It is from this
great principle that the Gospel acts in the social realm. Liberal
theology understood this principle well.
"In no part of the Gospel," writes one of the most illustrious
representatives of liberal theology, Adolph von Harnack, "do we find
it taught that we should be indifferent to our brothers. Evangelical
indifference (not worrying about food, clothing, the concerns of
tomorrow) more than anything else expresses that which each soul
should feel in regard to the world, in regard to its goods and
enticements. However, when it is a question of our neighbor, the
Gospel does not want to hear about indifference, but imposes love
and piety. In other words, the Gospel considers the spiritual and
temporal needs of our brothers as inseparable."
The Gospel does not incite the hungry to seek justice on their own,
to rise up. In the time of Jesus, unlike today, the poor had no
theoretical or practical instrument to do this; so the Gospel does
not ask of them the useless sacrifice of losing their lives
following some zealot, some Spartacus. Jesus himself will confront
the wrath and sarcasm of the rich with his "woes" (cf. Luke 16:14);
he does not leave this job to the victims.
To try to find at all costs in the Gospel models and explicit
invitations addressed to the poor and the hungry to rise up and
change their situation on their own is foolish and anachronistic and
loses sight of the true contribution that the Gospel can make to
their cause. In this connection Rudolph Bultmann is right when he
writes that "Christianity ignores every project for transforming the
world and it does not have proposals to present for the reform of
political and social conditions," even if this claim is in need
of some qualification.
The way of the beatitudes is not the only way for confronting the
problem of wealth and poverty, hunger and content; there are others,
made possible by the progress of social consciousness, to which
Christians rightly give their support and the Church guidance with
its social teachings.
The great message of the beatitudes is that, regardless of what the
rich and satiated do or do not do for them, even so, in the actual
state of things, the situation of the poor and the hungry for
justice is preferable to that of the former.
There are structures and aspects of reality that cannot be observed
with the naked eye but only with the help of a special light, with
infrared or ultraviolet rays. Much use is made of these in satellite
photos. The image obtained with this light is very different and
surprising for those who are used to seeing the same panorama in
natural light. The beatitudes are like infrared rays: They give us a
different image of reality, in fact the only true one because it
shows what will remain after the "figure of this world" has passed.
7. Eucharist and sharing
Jesus has left us the perfect antithesis of the rich man's feast,
namely, the Eucharist. It is the daily celebration of the great
feast to which the master will invite "the poor, the deformed, the
blind, and the lame" (Luke 16:21), that is, all the poor Lazaruses
who are wandering about. In the Eucharist perfect "table fellowship"
is realized: There is the same food and the same drink, and in the
same amount for all, for the one who presides, for the one who
arrives last, for the wealthiest and the poorest of the poor.
The link between material bread and spiritual bread was quite
visible in the early Church, when the Lord's Supper, which was
called "agape," took place in the context of a fraternal meal in
which common bread and Eucharistic bread were shared.
To the Corinthians who were divided on this point St. Paul wrote:
"When you meet together it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.
For in eating each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is
hungry and another is drunk" (1 Corinthians 11:20-22). This is a
grave accusation; it intends to say: "Your gathering is no longer a
Today the Eucharist is no longer celebrated in the context of a
common meal, but the contrast between those who have more than
enough and those who lack necessities has assumed a global
dimension. If we project what Paul describes in the local church of
Corinth onto the universal Church, we are disturbed by the
realization that this (objectively but not always as a matter of
guilt) is what is happening today. Among the millions of Christians
on the various continents who will be participating in Mass next
Sunday there will be those (such as ourselves) who will return to
homes where they have every good from God at their disposition and
there will be others who have nothing to give their children to eat.
The recent postsynodal exhortation on the Eucharist forcefully
reminds us: "The food of truth demands that we denounce inhumane
situations in which people starve to death because of injustice and
exploitation, and it gives us renewed strength and courage to work
tirelessly in the service of the civilization of love."
The money which the Church designates for this purpose -- for the
sustaining of the various national and diocesan charities, soup
kitchens for the poor, initiatives for providing food in developing
countries -- this is the best-spent money. One of the signs of the
vitality of our traditional religious communities are the soup
kitchens that exist in almost every city, which distribute thousands
of meals every day in a respectful and hospitable climate. It is a
drop in the ocean but even the ocean, Mother Teresa of Calcutta
said, is made up of many small drops.
I would like to end with the prayer that we say every day before
meals in my community: "Bless, O Lord, this food that from your
bounty we are about to take, help us to provide also for those who
have no food and grant that we may participate one day in your
heavenly meal. Through Christ our Lord."
 Cf. J. Dupont, "Le beatitudini," 2 vol. Edizioni Paoline, 1992.
 John Paul II, "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," No. 42.
 "Address of Benedict XVI delivered in the Vatican Apostolic
Palace to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy
See," Monday, January 8, 2007.
 Cf. Dupont, vol. 2, pp. 554 ff.
 A. von Harnack, "Il cristianesimo e la societÓ," Mendrisio,
Cultura Moderna, 1911, pp. 12 ff.
 R. Bultmann, "Il cristianesimo primitivo," Milano, Garzanti,
1964, p. 203.
 "Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 90.
Raniero Cantalamessa is a Franciscan
Capuchin Catholic Priest. Born in Ascoli Piceno,
Italy, 22 July 1934, ordained priest in 1958.
Divinity Doctor and Doctor in classical literature.
In 1980 he was appointed by Pope John Paul II
Preacher to the Papal Household in which capacity he
still serves, preaching a weekly sermon in Advent
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