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Monday, May 11, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 7 - "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread"

We have prayed the Lord's Prayer many times, and many times, we all draw the same conclusion from its words.  How many of you reading this, for instance, would associate the "daily bread" in this petition with providing for our physical needs?  It is only natural to do just that, and many times I have as well.  God does provide for our physical needs if we trust Him to do so, and therefore it is not wrong to even think this is what we are praying for.  One of the titles of God found in Scripture, as a matter of fact, is YHWH Jireh, which literally translates as "I am He who provides" (as a good Anglican would understand it, Divine Providence; more on that momentarily).   Also, there is Phillipians 4:19, in which the Apostle St. Paul reminds us that "God shall supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory."  As I myself can attest from many times (some even quite recent!), this is something God naturally does - He is good about providing for His own, and stories in Scripture confirm that.  Note, for example, the story of Elijah in I Kings 19, when after a huge spiritual victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, a wrathful and wicked Queen Jezebel had put a price on Elijah's head, forcing him into the wilderness fleeing for his life.  Despondent, Elijah wanted to just die, and in his depression he laid and slept under a broom tree.  When he awoke, it says "Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals and a jar of water.  So he ate and drank, and lay down again" (I Kings 19:6),  Then, in verse 7, "the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, 'Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you."  It says later that the nourishment from that supernaturally-provided meal sustained him in his travels for the better of 40 days!  Another example we see of this is Elijah's disciple Elisha - remember, in 2 Kings 4, the story of the prophet's widow?  This poor widow-woman only had a little oil in a jar, but Elisha told her to gather up every vessel she could find, and when she did, she was able to fill them all, sell the oil from them, and use the proceeds to pay her bills.  Many, many stories of the providential care abound in Scripture, and it is a cardinal truth that this is what God does for His own.  But, rather than being wrong about it when it talks about "our daily bread" in the Lord's prayer, it is just not the context in which this petition is talking, and therefore that is what we are going to discuss in this study.

Guardini, in his text, first notes that the life of the person who lives by what was brought into the world by Christ is a daily exercise of faith that requires a spiritual sustenance of its own.  Therefore, as Guardini notes, one cannot separate the two parts of this petition from one another - "our daily bread" cannot be understood without the precedent "give us this day," in other words.  If we try to parse this petition too much, the whole thing begins to drift into irrelevance, but together their very simplicity opens up a bottomless well of understanding from which its refreshing waters can be drunk from infinitely.   Guardini also notes, and I would concur, that this petition is often encountered from the lips of the half-believing, indifferent, and unbelieving.  It is often used as a "liberation theology" rallying point, manipulated by certain "theologians" to advance their own agendas for things they themselves don't practice.  The reason for this abuse and indifference, I feel, is because it is not being understood in its proper context.  We think so much about sustaining the flesh that we often forget that Jesus wants to transform us spiritually from within, and while it is not wrong to trust in Jesus for material necessities, as we all have to eat and survive, often we use the wrong things to justify that propensity to seek provision for the temporal at the expense of the spiritual.  This petition, "give us this day our daily bread," has a mystery as well as a hazard - it embodies an expression of that faith that literally "overcomes the world."

So, what is "our daily bread" referring to?  It is time to do a little Greek word study.  In the original Greek translations of the Gospels, the passage dealing with the Lord's Prayer, in particular this particular petition, was expressed with the Greek word epiousiws, which comes from two Greek root words (hepi meaning "on, upon, or above" and ousia meaning "being, substance, or nature.") which when put together can be translated as "supernatural" or "supersubstantial."  As Brant Pitre, in his seminal text Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York:  Doubleday, 2011) notes on pages 93-96 of his text, this "daily bread" is above all substances and surpasses all creatures - it is the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ Himself!  Guardini also notes that if we were to literally translate this, it would actually read something like this - "Give us our supernatural Bread for the coming day."  Now, although we have established that Jesus is not merely talking about the Parker House rolls we have with our fried chicken and Brussels sprouts for dinner, this must have a more profound meaning, and we now get into that, as it opens up a whole new dimension concerning the mystery of Divine Providence.

Providence, as Guardini notes, is the innermost mystery of Christ.   The idea of "world order" is discussed in Guardini's book, and as we go back to a more Thomistic approach, remember what Aquinas taught about "God's Two Books" - Nature and Revelation.  Both are authored by the same One - God Himself - but the "order" discussed is a fundamental principle of Thomistic thought - Revelation (Scripture, the Word of God Incarnate, etc.) perfects Nature and brings it to proper order, provided we obey God and seek as we discussed in the "gateway" petition, that God's will be done, both on earth (the text of the Book of Nature) as it is in heaven (where God permeates).  However, what Jesus means here in the prayer we have recited so often at every Mass and Morning Prayer, Evensong ,and other liturgical services, is that this "order" cannot come from the world and its natural ideas; rather, it comes from the throne of God Himself (in heaven).  The basic philosophical law of non-contradiction affirms that Nature cannot in any way contradict Revelation, and we see what happens when people try to make them conflict (the false lie of evolution, for instance).  What Jesus says therefore of Providence is right out of Matthew's Gospel, when Jesus Himself admonishes us to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33, NKJV).    When we see this verse, we think of "righteousness" in terms of justice, and that all these things will be added in addition to that desired righteousness.  If we seek the kingdom of God first, all else will fall into place then as Romans 8:28 says, "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."  The ultimate purpose we are to have from God is to desire that His will be done in our lives, and if we seek that, then what happens is that a "new order" begins to emerge - it emerges if we enter into an understanding with God to care for His kingdom, and if we do so, then God cares for us in a new, creative way.  And, although the fallen order that is blighted with the sting of sin is often careless in regard to man (perhaps nature remembers the mess our ancestors Adam and Eve afflicted it with in the Garden, and it hasn't forgotten that!), the life in it begins to rally to us once we begin to manifest a microcosm of the kingdom of God in our own lives.  Therefore, in truth, this is a great miracle of natural life.  And, in truth, a new creation arises from the strength that we can achieve those things from the freely given love of God Himself.  

Hence, "Providence" then.  Providence means something great and mysterious.  And, it means that structure of existence which comes into being around the person who makes God's concerns his own ("Thy will be done").  And, it is tranformational - the world around such a person is impacted in such a way that it becomes different ("Thy kingdom come" on a personal level). And, it comes from the very heart of God Himself.  

This inward transformation we have just discussed leads us to a very important understanding then of "our daily bread."  When we pray this petition, we are in reality praying for the grace to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist!   John 6:54 records Jesus telling us that "My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink."  Therefore, when we ask to be given our daily supernatural bread, we are praying for Christ to be part of us!  It is therefore Jesus, through the mystery of the Eucharist, who conforms, transforms, and shapes us in such a way that we make God's will our own.  As Pitre notes, Jesus Himself taught the disciples to ask God for that miraculous food that the Messiah Himself would give as they journeyed toward the heavenly Zion in this pilgrimage of faith called the Christian life.  And, it is necessary to bestow the grace that we need to pray the other petitions that follow in the Lord's Prayer too - you begin to see how all of this fits together, and it has a flow to it which is smooth and builds upon each precept before it.  Interesting enough, we also see Revelation perfecting Nature in this way too, as the Eucharist is a perfect picture of that.   Frank Tipler, himself a scientific scholar, even addresses this from the point of view of physics in his excellent text, The Physics of Christianity (New York:  Doubleday, 2007).  The doctrine of Transubstantiation, or that the species of bread and wine literally become the Body and Blood of Christ (which we as Anglo-Catholics also believe), is known in scientific terms as quantum coherence (Tipler, p. 239).  What Tipler means by this is that the miraculous is confirmed (not contradicted) by the laws of physics via something he defines as the Second Hypothesis of the Singularity.  What that means essentially is that the molecules (electrons and protons as well) in the Eucharistic Host remain indistinguishable from any other bread, but through the process of quantum coherence - that means that the Host is transformed, but maintains coherence in its chemical makeup.  Jesus' divine nature is therefore the Second Hypothesis of the Singularity, and it is He who establishes the coherence with the Host, and thus He becomes our daily supernatural bread, the Bread of Life!  And, scientifically speaking, one coherent quantum state then has been replaced by another, while still maintaining the form of the first.  At some point later, when we actually discuss the Eucharist in more detail, I will be revisiting Tipler's book on this, as it has some profound things to say but must also be digested in small doses, as Tipler speaks with the mind of a scientist instead of a theologian, yet again he demonstrates how Revelation perfects Nature, and the Eucharist is the prime example of that perfection, as is the Incarnation itself.  

On that, we have studied now what "our daily bread" really is, and why we should desire to pray for it.  We are encouraged to seek to have Christ dwell within us, and as Catholic Christians He does so in a very real way with the Eucharist.   And, the more often we partake of it, and the more serious we commit ourselves to frequent partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord, He becomes a real part of us and it aids in our own transformation, as well as bringing us closer to fulfilling the will of the Lord in our lives.  So, as you approach the Lord's prayer, remember that it points us right back to Jesus, and also to the mystery we receive of His Body and Blood in the Eucharistic mystery.  And, as we transform, we are better able to do those other things the Lord's Prayer teaches us, such as mastering what it means to forgive others and to seek forgiveness, which we will be discussing next time.  God bless you all as you read this, and please feel free to be part of the next lesson too.