For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Pastoral Reflection - Part 4

Our Faith Tradition

Because we are a community of faith, our response to these realities and trends in agriculture is shaped by the truths of the Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teaching, not just by economics or politics.


When believers think about agriculture, we begin with the story of Creation. “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good” (Gn 1:31). Those who provide our food are called to continue God’s plan for creation.

Throughout the Scripture, we hear of an enduring vision of “new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17) where God’s justice will reign (cf. 2 Pt 3:12, Rev 21:1). The Old Testament calls us to care for the land and provide for those who need food, especially those who are poor and outcast. The tradition of the Sabbath Year is one example: “But during the seventh year the land shall have a complete rest, a sabbath for the Lord, when you may neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard” (Lv 25:4). God explains to Moses that the land should be used to provide food for all who need it: “While the land has its sabbath, all its produce will be food equally for you yourself and . . . for your hired help and the tenants who live with you . . .” (Lv 25:6).

Time and again Jesus warned us against selfishness and greed and called us to feed the hungry and show special concern for those who are poor. In the story of the Last Judgment, Jesus reminds us that one of the fundamental measures of our lives will be how we cared for people in need: “For I was hungry and you gave me food” (Mt 25:35).

The Word of God provides direction for our lives. The Church has applied these values and directions in developing a body of doctrine known as Catholic social teaching. This teaching provides helpful guidance for our choices as individuals and as a society on issues such as agriculture. To assess the global agricultural system in the light of our faith, we need to understand the core principles of Catholic social teaching.

Catholic Social Teaching

The essential starting point for Catholic social teaching is the dignity of every human life. Created by God and redeemed by Christ, every person possesses a fundamental dignity that comes from God, not from any human attribute or accomplishment. Because each person’s life is a sacred gift from God, all people have a right to life that must be defended and protected from its beginning to its end. The dignity of every person must always be respected because each person is a precious child of God. In light of our commitment to the right to life of every person, we believe all people also have basic rights to material and spiritual support, including the right to food, which are required to sustain life and to live a tru­ly human existence. This clear commitment to the dignity and value of every human life must be reflected both in individual choices and actions and in the policies and structures of society.

Linked to the dignity of human life is our understanding of the social nature of the person. As the creation narratives tell us, we are made in the image of a Triune God and we are created in relationship to God and to each other. Our inherently social nature means that the structures of social, political, and economic life must reflect basic respect for the dignity of every human person as well as a commitment to the common good. This begins with a deep commitment to the family as the foundation of society. It also leads to the principle of solidarity, the understanding that as children of God we are all brothers and sisters, no matter how different or distant we may seem. The Book of Genesis highlights the central relationship between humankind and the rest of creation, which deserves our care and protection.

Our commitment to the dignity of every person requires special concern for those who are poor and vulnerable, whose needs are greatest, and whose lives and dignity are often threatened by hunger, poverty, and suffering. In order for people to live a life worthy of their God-given dignity, Catholic social teaching affirms the right and duty to work, the right to economic initiative, the rights of workers to safe working conditions, decent wages and benefits, and the right to organize and join associations to secure these rights.

In light of these principles, our Conference will continue to advocate for policies that protect and encourage family farming on a human scale. We also insist that all agriculture, whatever its scale or structure, must meet fundamental moral criteria. Agriculture in all its forms should be evaluated, regulated, and rewarded based on these principles.

The brief overview we have offered here does not begin to do justice to the depth and richness of the Catholic social tradition. We hope Catholics and others will review the summary of key themes of Catholic social teaching that are a part of this document, as well as the papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents that express this teaching in its fullness.

A farm or agricultural system that ignores economic realities is in financial trouble. An agricultural system or enterprise that ignores or neglects moral principles is in ethical trouble. We wish to recognize and applaud so many farm families and others who live by these principles every day. For them, farming is not just a way to make a living; it is a way of life. It is not just a job; it is a vocation and an expression of faith.