THE OUR FATHER #4 - February 2, l964
"GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD" - With this petition we begin the second half of the Lord's Prayer. In the first half, we directed our thoughts towards the duties we owe to God. We said: "Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Now we say: "Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
What is meant by "our daily bread"? These three words cover all the needs of body and soul. It is interesting to note that, of the seven petitions in the Our Father, only one is for material things, and, strictly speaking, the petition is not one for material things alone because we need food for our souls as well as for our bodies. God has made us a composite of body and soul. Both parts of our nature need food. We shall see later on how the word "bread" is properly employed to mean the necessary food of the soul. But first of all we shall consider how the word "bread" can mean all that we need for the sustenance of the body.
Before our first parents, Adam and Eve, had broken the one commandment laid upon them, they obtained all necessary things from the abundant fruitage of the Garden of Eden. After their fall, however, they had to provide themselves with food and clothes by exhausting toil. This was a part of their punishment. God said to Adam: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." From that day until their death, our first parents needed food, raiment and shelter. And all these three needs were indicated by the one work "bread".
From our birth until our death, we need food, raiment and shelter. It is proper that we shall work in order to obtain them. We have to remember, however, that even when we thus work for these necessities of life, they are, after all, the gift of God, for we cannot create them. The diligent farmer may sow good seed and irrigate the soil, but only God can give the increase. And it is God who has given the farmer the strength for his work. In short, we are absolutely dependent upon God, not only for our life, but as well for everything that can sustain our life. There are times when God makes this plain to us. For when long-continued rainfall threatens the harvest, the Church asks us to offer Mass for fair weather, that the life-giving heat of the sun may help the seed to grow. And when a long-continued drought threatens the hoped-for harvest, we pray for rain. We may be tempted to consider excessive drought or excessive rain as misfortunes. We ought to think of them rather as reminders of our duty towards God, from whom alone all blessings come, and to whom, therefore, we ought to pray with fervent hope: "Give us this day our daily bread."
Now, thus far we have been thinking only of the food we need. But we also need clothing and shelter. And as life is now constituted in our civilization, we need money to buy these necessities. And to have money, we need to obtain some kind of work for which we can receive payment. It is proper for us to ask God, in this petition, to grant us employment that shall supply all our needs. If sickness afflicts us, not only can we not work, but we are under expense to pay for many things needed for our recovery. We shall pray for health in this petition of the Lord's Prayer. In short, whatever trials and troubles we undergo in our family life or in our social and business affairs, we can justly and hopefully ask for God's kindly help to remove all these afflictions. This 4th Petition of the Lord's Prayer, covers everything we need for the happy and prosperous conduct of our life. Let us always pray in humble confidence: "Give us this day our daily bread."
Let us look now at another picture. In recent times we have heard the remark of some of the unemployed about the world's owing everybody a living. There is a sense in which this is true. But this sense would be understood more easily if we said: "The world owes everybody an opportunity of earning a living." For there really are lazy folks who wish a living without working for it. The slothful, the idlers, the drunkards, the gamblers, the ne'er-do-wells - such folks as these ought to feel rebuked rather than comforted by the petition: "Give us this day our daily bread." And so, one thoughtful writer has remarked: "We are told that He who clothes the lilies will surely clothe us; that He who feeds the sparrows will surely feed us. But to find in these words an encouragement to idleness and improvidence is unpardonable. When we pray, "Thy kingdom come,' we pray for grace to desire and work for its coming; when we pray, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' we pray that we may be able to procure it by our own endeavor."
There is so much more to say about this petition, but time has run out on us. Let us consider briefly the second meaning of the word "bread," that is, the food of our soul. We must furnish it with spiritual food with the clothing of virtue, and with the shelter of God's overshadowing graces.
But what is this spiritual "bread" which we need so much? First of all in importance is that Bread of which Our Lord spoke to the Jews when He said of Himself: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven." It is the most precious nourishment that we can take. In a lesser way, but still in a highly important way, we can nourish our souls by saying our daily prayers with attention and devotion, and by visits to the Blessed Sacrament in our churches. Better, still, by attending Mass, by good spiritual reading, especially the lives of the saints; by hearing sermons, and by performing spiritual and corporal works of mercy.