Our Daily, Everlasting Bread: A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson | IgnatiusInsight.com
Have you ever heard of the TANSTAAFL Principle? Its better known as the "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" principle. Its central premise is that everything worthwhile has a cost. There is a price for everything; there are no free meals or free rides.
One of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith is that Gods grace is a free gift, but accepting it costs us everything. We cannot earn Gods love, but that love most certainly comes with a price. "For you have been bought with a price," Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "therefore glorify God in your body." This important truth is at the heart of Lent, a time of counting the cost and glorifying God through our actions. We should be counting the cost of discipleship, of taking up the cross of Christ, and of dying to ourselves. We should be glorifying God by praying, fasting, and turning away from sin.
Looking at these actions through the lens of fourth petition of the Our Father"Give us this day our daily bread"brings a deeper appreciation of the costs and benefits of being a Christian. We can also see how the practical concerns and challenges of this earthly life relate to the matters of eternal life.
For the Christian, the earthly and heavenly are distinct, but intimately related. This is the clear message of the Incarnation, from which the sacraments flow. God did not become man to merely save our souls, but also our bodies. Our citizenship is in heaven, but we are not angels or ghosts. We are an astounding, mysterious combination of both flesh and spirit.
Therefore, on the physical level the request in the Our Father for daily bread is very concrete, even practical. We need to eat in order to live. As children of our heavenly Father, we trust in Him for the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. Our fasting and giving during Lent remind us that these essentials should never be taken for granted and that there are many who do not possess them.
The petition for daily bread is our prayer that all men and women will have meals to eat, clothing to wear, and homes to live in. Every moment of every day is a gift from Godtaking this for granted eventually leads to ingratitude, which can lead to callousness and arrogance.
But just as Lent points us to our eternal destination through temporal, material means, the Lords Prayer also points us towards heavenly glory by way of earthly paths. The entire prayer is eschatological in naturethat is, it directs towards The End (the eschaton) and teaches us to think and pray as pilgrims on earth travelling towards heaven. And so our daily bread is not just ordinary food, but the Bread of Life and the food of immortality: the Eucharist.
The Greek word, epiousios, used for "daily" in the petition "give us this day our daily bread" has puzzled and fascinated scholars for centuries. It is a rare word that possesses several levels of meaning. On one hand it refers to the here and "now"todays bread. It can also refer to the "bread needed to live." And it also can mean "bread for the coming day," a reference to a future heavenly life.
The petition is a recognition that God provides food for our bodies and our spirits, that He meets us where we are at and provides the grace and sustenance to get where He wants to us go. " He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life," Jesus declared, "and I will raise him up on the last day."
The destination on that last day is His Kingdom, which is why the great Eastern Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann has described the Eucharist as "the sacrament of the kingdom of God." The sacraments, Schemann explains, are eschatological in nature for they are "oriented toward the kingdom which is to come." They provide gracethe very life of Godwithout which we cannot have communion with Him, or enter into the Beatific Vision. Its heady stuff, but the basic principle is simple: God provides us with the food for the journey. And while that food is a free gift, it does have a cost.
Part of the cost is the "eschatological tension" that we examined in earlier reflections. This tension is the result of our unique physical-spiritual make-up. We are on earth, but meant for heaven. We are spiritual and material. We are sinful and saved. We are dying but filled with new life.
Thankfully, the Son became man so that this tension could be addressed and resolved. Because the Son became man, men are now able to be sons of God. Because the divine became flesh, we who are flesh can now, Peter states, become "partakers of the divine nature."
The primary means by which we are prepared for heaven and the fullness of the Kingdom is the Eucharist. This can be seen in the various ways the Eucharist is described. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as the "pledge of glory" (CCC 1419) and "an anticipation of the heavenly glory" (CCC 1402). It is a true banquet; the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharist is "a meal of brotherly solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet" (Gaudium et Spes, 38).
In his encyclical, "On the Eucharist in Its Relationship To the Church," Pope John Paul II provides this beautiful picture: "The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey."
Lent is a mini-version of that lifelong journey. It aids us in comprehending the bigger picture by helping us get a grip on the pieces that make up that picture. These pieces include growth in patience, holiness, love, and self-control and the removal of selfishness, anger, lust, and bitterness. The daily bread of the Eucharist gives us the nourishment for growth and the strength to reject sin. It isnt a free meal, but it is a meal of freedom. "There is no surer pledge or dearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells, than the Eucharist," declares the Catechism. "
Every time this mystery is celebrated, the work of our redemption is carried on and we break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ" (CCC 1405).
(This article was originally published in the March 21, 2004 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles and columns:
Benedict and the Eucharist: On the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis | Carl E. Olson
The Meaning and Purpose of the Year of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
Eucharistic Adoration: The Hour That Makes My Day | Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
The Doctrine (and the Defense) of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
For "Many" or For "All"? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Reflections On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly) | James V. Schall, S. J.
The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord | Anthony E. Clark
The Biblical Roots of the Mass | An Interview with Thomas J. Nash
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
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