The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (No. 8)
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
Today . . .
The past is not to be simply forgotten, but it is, after all, the past. The future may be prudently anticipated, but it remains always uncertain and beyond our control. In the life of faith, it is today that claims our attention. “Today” is a recurring spiritual theme in Holy Scripture. “Oh, that today you would hear the voice of the Lord” (Ps 95:8). “Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Let the day's own troubles be sufficient for the day (Matt 6:34). “Encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today” (Heb 3:13). So we are taught to pray: Give us today, bread enough for today.
Manna in the Wilderness . . .
This petition calls to mind the Old Testament story of the “manna,” the bread that miraculously fell from heaven to sustain God's people in their long wilderness sojourn (Exodus, ch. 16). The people were to collect only a “daily portion” (v. 4) – just enough for each household for that day. “Let no one keep any of it until tomorrow morning,” Moses instructed. “And none had too much and none had too little.” But “when some kept a part of it over until the following morning, it became wormy and rotten” (vv. 16-20). It is impossible to think that this story was not on the mind of Jesus as he taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Bread . . .
“Bread” stands for all our material needs. In fact, according to Jesus, this is where faith in God begins – with a creaturely, childlike trust that our heavenly Father will provide our most basic needs. But “one does not live by bread alone,” says Jesus, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). And so we pray: “Give us to know God's will for us today. Give us courage enough just for today. Give us our daily portion of love toward others, emotional strength and wisdom to guide our children today. Keep me today from that particular sin that stalks me and makes me ashamed. We don't need to hoard God's gifts against an uncertain future. Each day his promises are renewed.
Eucharistic Bread . . .
Speaking of his Eucharistic Body, Jesus said, “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate (the manna) and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). Not every one can attend the Holy Eucharist daily. But all of us can pray daily, from Eucharist to Eucharist, “give us this day our daily bread” – joining by faith with the voice of the gathered Church as she prays at Christ's altar every day, “Give us this day our daily bread”, and receives the life-giving manna on the sojourn to heaven.
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