Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.
Sometimes the selection of the Gospel we have for today is presented as if it were three separate teachings on prayer, one on how to pray, one about being persistent and one on the efficacy of prayer. I think not; they are one teaching as you can see are connected by the connecting word “and”. Jesus isn’t finished answering the request “Teach us to pray” until he points out that God will give us the Holy Spirit.
That, I think, brings us to the petition “Give us each day our daily bread.” Most of us know it from the Gospel of Matthew where it is “Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s a nice petition. It seems to ask for only what we need this day. Maybe it is like the aphorism “Life simply so others may simply live.” That’s nice and humble and sweet but I doubt if that is what this petition is about. Remember, we just asked that His kingdom come into our lives; we need the nourishment necessary to live life in that kingdom.
Nobody knows what the Greek word we translate as “daily” really means. The word doesn’t seem to exist in any ancient writings other than the Gospels. One ancient commentator, Origen C 184-253 CE, suggests that the evangelist simply made the word up. He translated it to mean “bread being of service to our being.” St. Jerome, who first translated the Scriptures into Latin, translated it as meaning “daily” sometimes and “super-substantial” elsewhere. St. Jerome also pointed out that it exists in what we call, today, the Gospel of the Nazarenes. There the translation is “Our bread of the morrow (That is, our future bread.), give us today.” Remember, as you reflect on this, that ancient words were not as scientifically precise as our words today and may have included all the above.
You might also recollect the daily bread of Hebrew Scripture, the manna given to the Hebrew people in the desert. God said, “I am going to rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion” (Ex 16:4b & c). And remember that Jesus, comparing himself to the manna, said “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven (Jn 6:48-50a). Daily bread, to Christians, means so much more than merely a sufficient amount to get by for a day in this world. If that is all the evangelists meant, they would have used the simple Greek word for daily. It is not about the amount but the quality.
Could they have been talking about the Eucharist? I think so. Even if they weren’t, the Eucharist fits the concept of super-substantial so well. And remember, we begin our Communion Rite with the Our Father. We ask for the super-substantial, bread from heaven, that is Jesus, right before we come up in procession to receive. We say amen (yes) to receiving and, then, are shortly sent out to live the Gospel, nourished for the task by this super-substantial bread we have received.
And, what about the Holy Spirit that the Lord says the Father will give if we ask? That’s about the Eucharist too. We start with simply bread and wine. Then, in the Eucharistic prayer, the presider holds his hands out over the bread and wine and asks the Father to send his Spirit down to make the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That, by the power of the Spirit, is how the bread becomes the living bread from heaven that gives life like no other bread can.
P.S. The Our Father is a great prayer to start each day. The liturgical version, from the Gospel of Matthew, asks that God’s will be done, that He be Lord over our lives and that we be given the super-substantial sustenance we need to carry out His will faithfully.
“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Lk 11:2b-4
What words or phrases grabbed your attention during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday? What connection do those words or phrases have to your day-to-day life? (Why do you think they grabbed your attention?) What might God be trying to say to you through these words or phrases? What response should you make? What action should you take?
Reflect upon/Think about how you were taught the Our Father and what it has meant to you over the years. What can you do to increase your awareness of the petitions as you pray it in the future, especially at Mass?