Give us This Day our Daily Bread...
This verse is fittingly given as the Communion antiphon in the Common of Doctors of the Church. Today, we commemorate one such doctor, St Anthony of Padua, popularly invoked as the patron of lost things (and persons)! However, St Anthony was also known for his love for the poor and as we read yesterday, he who feeds on the God of love and is filled with Him, gives in love and justice to the world. From St Anthony's own example (left) arose the custom of St Anthony's Bread, which is the giving of alms or food to those in need. Today's reflection continues this theme, using the Dominical Prayer as the basis of our contemplation.
We pray the Lord's Prayer several times daily but seldom give careful thought to the petitions and prayers contained therein. Pope Benedict XVI published his 'Meditation for the Feast of Corpus Christi' in 2004 and we share his reflection on the phrase: "Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie..." and he begins with the way we - in the pattern of St Anthony and the saints - ought to bring the Eucharistic Bread, the Lord, sacramentally present, into our daily lives so that we begin to love and to bring justice and peace to the world. He writes:
"We carry the Lord, who is the Lord-made-flesh, the Lord-made-bread, out into the streets of our cities and towns. We carry him out into our everyday lives. These streets are supposed to become his paths. He should not live alongside of us, locked up in tabernacles, but rather in our midst, in our daily routine. Wherever we go, he should go; where we live, he should live. Our world, our daily routine should become his temple. The Feast of Corpus Christi shows us what it means to communicate sacramentally: to accept him, to receive him with the fullness of our being. One cannot simply eat the Lord's Body the way one eats a piece of bread. We can only receive him by welcoming him with our whole life. By opening our hearts to him. 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock', our Lord says in the mysterious Book of Revelation. 'If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me' (Rev 3:20). The Feast of Corpus Christi is supposed to make this knocking of our Lord audible to us, who are spiritually hard of hearing. By means of the procession it knocks loudly on our daily routine and asks: Open up! Let me in! Start to live on me! This does not happen in a moment, quickly, during Mass, and then no more. This is a process that permeates all time and all places. 'Open the door to me', says the Lord, 'as I have opened myself for you. Open the world for me, so that I can come in, so that I can enlighten your twisted mind. So that I can overcome the hardness of your heart. Open for me, as I have allowed my heart to be torn open for you. Let me in.' He says it to each one of us, and he says it to our whole community: 'Let me into your lives, your world. Live on me, so that you may become truly alive' - but to live always means to give to others.
Thus the Feast of Corpus Christi is a call of the Lord to us, but also a cry from us to him. The whole Feast is one big prayer: Give us yourself. Give us your true bread. The Feast of Corpus Christi helps us in this way to understand the Lord's prayer better - to realize that the Our Father is the prayer above all prayers. The fourth petition, which asks for bread, is, so to speak, the hinge between the three petitions that pertain to the kingdom of God and the last three petitions that have to do with our needs. It joins the two sets together. What do we pray for here? Certainly, for bread for today. It is the petition of the disciples who live, not on stored up treasures and investments, but rather on the daily goodness of the Lord and who therefore must live in a constant exchange with him, watching for him and trusting in him. It is the petition, not of people who heap up many possessions and try to gain security for themselves, but rather of the people who are content with the necessities, so as to have time for what is truly important. It is the prayer of the simple, the humble, the prayer of those who love poverty in the Holy Spirit and live it.
Yet the petition goes still deeper. For the word that we translate as 'daily' is not found anywhere else in Greek - epiousios. It is a word from the Our Father. And however much scholars may debate its significance, it very probably means at least this, too: Give us bread for tomorrow, namely, the bread of the world to come. In fact, only the Eucharist can answer the question of what this mysterious word 'epiousios' means: the bread of the world to come, which is already given to us today, so that the world that is to come might begin already in our midst today. And so, through this petition, the prayer that God's kingdom will come and earth will become like heaven becomes quite practical: through the Eucharist, heaven comes to earth, God's tomorrow comes today and brings tomorrow's world into today's. But the petitions about deliverance from all evil, from our guilt, from the burden of temptation, too, are practically summed up here: Give us this bread, so that my heart may become watchful, so that it will resist the Evil One, be able to distinguish good and evil, so that it may learn to forgive, so that it will remain strong in temptation. Only when the next world comes to be, a little bit, today, only when the world already begins today to become godly, does it become genuinely humane. In asking for bread, we come closer to God's tomorrow, the transformation of the world."
May St Anthony of Padua pray for us and inspire us by his holiness and preaching.
The photo above is of a Eucharistic Procession in the diocese of Kalookan in Manila, the Philippines; Fr Tereso Campillo Jr, O.P. carries the Sanctissimum through the streets of Dagat-dagatan. The engraving above is from a 19th-century Pontificale Romanum and shows a bishop giving communion to nuns.