One of the remarkable things about the encyclical is the tininess of the concrete steps it asks ordinary people to take. There was much cow-having in the rightwingosphere over the trivial example Francis made of using air conditioning a little less and fans a little more. Likewise, among the secularists many pants were wetted over this:
“Why must we pray? Can’t we just feed the poor and not pray? It’s all so burdensome!” etc.
Relax, dudes. He’s not coming with the Swiss Guard to enforce theocracy. Still and all, placing the feeding of the hungry back in the world of Gift and not of Grim Darwinian struggle reminds us that we are not on our own and that our small acts of love originate not from our own Wonderful Selves but from the God who is Love. We give thanks and find ourselves thankful.
227. One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.
Not again the *smallness* of what is asked. That’s typical Catholic pastoral counsel. Not “perform seven Herculean feats!” but “Start with this small change in your life, make it stick, and then see what’s next. Goes all the way back to this:
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten festal garments. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry, and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel;* so accept now a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, I beg you, let there be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth; for henceforth your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD. In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this matter.” He said to him, “Go in peace.” (2 Ki 5:1–19).