The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 62, No 1, Jan-Feb 2009

Theology for the Laity

The Our Father, Part V
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

By Father Reginald Martin, O.P.


       The Lordís Prayer teaches us to ask for Godís blessings. When we pray that Godís name be hallowed, we ask that our lives and example will be among the means by which His holiness is made manifest in the world. When we pray for the coming of Godís kingdom, we ask that we may find a place in His eternal realm. When we pray that Godís will be done, we pray that we may fulfill His will in our actions.

       In each of these petitions we beg for a blessing in our lives on earth, but as we grow in holiness, we realize we will see fulfillment of these blessings only when we share Godís eternal life in heaven. When we ask for our daily bread, however, we ask for a gift that will be perfectly realized here on earth, namely, the gift of Fortitude.


       At first glance, we may be unable to see a connection between the virtue of Fortitude and the "daily bread" we ask for when we say the Lordís Prayer. This difficulty is resolved when we consider that virtue is a good habit that enables us to perform good works. As we exercise them, the virtues enable us to do good, and to do good with greater and greater skill and ease.


       The word "Fortitude" is derived from the Latin word fors, which means strength. Each of the virtues is directed toward a proper goal, and the virtue of Fortitude is Godís gift to help us when a good action seems too difficult to do. Fortitude comes to our aid when we are tempted to turn away from some good action because we fear we will suffer some harm if we perform it.


       In general terms, Fortitude is a gift that helps us face the things we fear. Chief among these is the fear of death, but if we consider the reasons we act (or fail to act) reflection will show we fear many other, lesser ills as well, including a lack of the things necessary to support our physical life. In the Lordís Prayer we ask for "bread," but this food should be understood to represent every temporal need, as well as our need for trust in Godís Providence.


       The bread we ask for is "daily" bread, common food and the other basic temporal goods that will meet everyday needs. Elsewhere in the Lordís Prayer we ask for spiritual goods and the blessings of everlasting life; in this petition we ask God for no more than we need in the present. Fortitude is part of this petition, encouraging us to trust that God will provide what we need, and helping us to resist the fear that we will lack the necessities of life.


       If we consider what we ask of God when we beg for our daily bread, we realize we are asking for very little. We are not asking God to supply all our wants, which can be infinite; we are asking Him to supply our needs, which are far more modest.

       St. John Chrysostom continually preached against the excesses he witnessed at the Byzantine court. In these words of the Lordís Prayer he took the opportunity to warn his listeners, once again, about the hazards of wealth. In a sermon on the gospel of Matthew he preached, " is neither for riches, nor for delicate living, nor for costly raiment, nor for any other such thing, but for bread only that He commanded us to make our prayer."

       The Lordís Prayer, thus, encourages us to seek simplicity in our lives, and the virtue of Fortitude helps us trust that this simplicity will be sufficient for our needs. In this way, Fortitude enables us to avoid the sins that arise from too great a desire for temporal goods.

       St. Thomas Aquinas identifies these as greed, fraud, excessive solicitude, ingratitude and excessive concern.


       The first of the sins that arises from the desire for temporal goods is greed. We commonly think of greed as the desire for more and more of some thing. But greed also manifests itself as dissatisfaction with what we have. We encounter greed when we desire things in a quantity greater than we need, or when we demand only the best quality. Ultimate, greed blinds us to spiritual goods by leading us to concentrate only on the quality and quantity of our material goods.

       Jesus promises a blessing to those who are "poor in spirit" to remind us that only God can satisfy our desire for excellence and abundance. Fortitude helps us look beyond what we want, and to concentrate on what we truly need. In the Lordís Prayer we ask for bread because bread represents the most common of our physical needs, a need everyone shares.

       The Scripture is very clear that our true needs are very modest. In the Old Testament we read, "Lifeís prime needs are water, bread, and clothing, a house, too, for decent privacy" (Ecclus 29:21). The New Testament is equally clear, as St. Paul reminds Timothy, "If we have food and clothing, we shall be content" (1 Tim 6:9). To ask for our daily bread is to ask for no more than we need.


       The dictionary defines fraud as trickery or deceit, specifically a lie told "to induce another to part with something of value." We might be surprised to encounter fraud in a discussion of the Lordís Prayer, but we should remember that our prayer is not simply a request for what we need, but also a request for the proper means by which to acquire what we need. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that when we say the Lordís Prayer we ask for our daily bread, not someone elseís. This, St. Thomas explains, represents our wish to maintain strict honesty in all our dealings with others.


       The author of the Book of Proverbs asks God, "Give me neither beggary nor riches; give me but the necessities of life" (Prov. 30:38), and we find a reflection of this prayer for moderation in the Lordís Prayer when we ask for "daily" bread. "Daily" in this case means sufficient for a limited time, bread for a single day or a season. Because we naturally fear having to do without what we need, the Fortitude we beg for in the Lordís Prayer strengthens us to be content with what we have, and to trust that God will provide what we need.


       St. Augustine taught that pride differs from every other sin. In every other case, he said, the sinner delights in doing something evil. Pride, however, is taking inordinate delight in doing some good. In his sermons on the Lordís Prayer, St. Thomas Aquinas preached that ingratitude is closely allied to pride because the ungrateful take personal credit for whatever they possess, and deny or forget that whatever they own is Godís gift. The Lordís Prayer calls us to acknowledge God as the source of everything we possess.

       We have seen that the words "daily bread" stand for all the material goods that support our life. Because we seek "daily" bread, we are not asking God for an excessive number of material things, nor to provide goods of exceptional quality. "Daily bread," by contrast, is the bare minimum we need to survive. We do not pray for this lowest common sum because we doubt Godís generosity, but rather because we acknowledge God to be the source of the tiniest morsel we eat. To pray, "give us our daily bread" reminds us we depend upon God for even the barest necessities.


       Citizens today are faced with budgets that project a nationís spending for many years. Financial institutions warn workers to invest for their retirement or face the possibility of a frightening old age. Wherever we turn, we are challenged to prepare for a threatening future. The Scripture, no less than common sense, tells us to "look out for tomorrow," so we reasonably deny ourselves a present luxury to provide for a future necessity.

       But as we look forward to the future, we must not allow its uncertainties to blind us to the opportunities of the present. In the Lordís Prayer we ask for "daily" bread, the food and other goods we need for today. Nothing in our faith encourages us to waste the gifts God gives us, but neither are we rewarded for fear or mean-spiritedness. Fortitude strengthens us to trust that Godís love will be present at all times, to provide what we need today and every day.


       The bread we ask for in the Lordís Prayer is a symbol for whatever we need for our survival. Thus far we have allowed it to stand for the material goods that support and sustain our lives. But as we say this prayer - and especially as we offer it during the Mass - we should be reminded of the bread Christ offers us in the Eucharist, the bread that is transformed into His Body. When Our Savior was present among us, He taught, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven" (John 6:51) and each day the Church makes this bread available to Christís followers.

       When He was tempted in the desert, Jesus said, "Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). To ask for our daily bread is to beg spiritual as well as physical sustenance. The twofold worship we offer in the Mass - the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist - is the perfect realization of Godís providential care. In the Mass, Godís Word nourishes our intellect, as the Sacred Body of His Son nourishes not only our bodies, but our will.

       This petition of the Lordís Prayer, which evokes our liturgical worship, is a beautiful reminder that our life is a pilgrimage, one that will end with the everlasting life God promises us in His kingdom. St. Augustine taught that the "daily" bread we beg is not only the day-today necessities of our earthly life, but something that benefits us only for the days of our life, something we will no longer need once we have reached the end of our pilgrimage.

    ...what I am handling before you now is "daily bread:" and the daily lessons you hear in church... the hymns you hear and repeat are daily bread. For all these things are necessary in our state of pilgrimage. But when we shall have reached heaven, shall we hear the word, we who see the Word Himself, and eat and drink Him as the angels do now... surely not... therefore has it been said... that this petition is necessary for us in this life.


       As we study the Lordís Prayer we discover that each of its petitions is a request that God will enable us more and more to identify our will with His will. Our spiritual life is a continual growth in Godís image, and as grace allows us to become more like God we discover that we want to become more and more like Him.

       The image of bread is a particularly rich image for our spiritual life because it calls to mind both food and hunger. Food nourishes us, but eventually we discover we need more food if we are to live. As we grow closer to God, through conforming our will to His, we realize that we want to grow still closer to Him. The Lordís Prayer expresses our need for God in the present, our desire for Him in the future, and our dependence upon Him at all times.

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