Commuting to Manhattan for the past five years, I tried to spend some of my time on the train platform each morning in silent prayer (usually having left myself no time for morning prayer at home before rushing to catch my train). And I took to meditating on one particular petition in the Our Father:
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
I would invoke it first to ask for God’s blessing on my own day, for the strength and guidance to meet whatever challenges that particular workday might present.
Then I would call to mind family members, loved ones and friends, co-workers, neighbors, asking God to provide the “daily bread” they needed, either in a general sense or to cope with specific challenges I was aware of in their lives.
And finally I would try to focus more broadly on the myriad of problems, crises, and sufferings that afflict our world, asking our Lord to give to all struggling people whatever “daily bread” would help them, spiritually as well as temporally, through their day.
And it occurs to me that now, in the aftermath of a bitter and still disputed election, might be a good time, as Catholics, for us to draw back a bit from the political turmoil. Rather than looking to government to provide all the answers to human suffering and injustice, perhaps we might reflect on what we can do personally to help those in our families, our communities, our parishes, who are suffering or in need.
In short, we might ask God, as part of our own “daily bread,” to help us be the daily bread for those in our lives who need whatever material, spiritual, or emotional care we could lovingly offer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing the role of government. But too often we look to government as the first resort in providing for people’s needs, even when we can and should step in ourselves, in ways better suited to help individuals in our own midst.
Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker who devoted her life to caring for the poor (and whose sainthood cause continues to grow), articulated this well, lamenting that in preferring “state responsibility” for those in need, we were abdicating our “personal responsibility.” She urged “delegat(ing) to smaller bodies and groups what can be done far more humanly and responsibly through mutual aid, as well as charity, through Blue Cross, Red Cross, union cooperation, parish cooperation.”
This is the essence of the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity: that human needs are best addressed by those closest to them, in families, communities, churches—and, where government assistance is needed, beginning with local government. Only when local, more personal efforts are impractical or inadequate should we turn to distant, impersonal—and, as Saint Pope John Paul II observed, often wasteful and overly bureaucratic—national government programs.
Of course, relying on personal responsibility requires that we become personally involved, that we exude “attentive and pressing concern for (our) neighbor,” in St. John Paul’s words.
“To reach the man in the street you must go to the street,” Dorothy Day wrote.
Now all of us are not in a position to devote our lives, as she did, to living among the poor and homeless. But we can all look around us, in our families, our neighborhoods, our parishes, to see who is in need of some form of “daily bread” that we might help provide: a lonesome neighbor or relative who we might regularly invite into our home for a hot meal and warm companionship; a struggling family with whom we might share some of the food and clothing we are blessed to have; a sick or elderly “shut-in” or nursing home resident we could make time to visit; a young woman facing a crisis pregnancy, or a single mother who is struggling after choosing life for her baby, either of whom would welcome whatever material, emotional or spiritual support we can provide; a friend or neighbor whom we might accompany in their caregiving for an elderly or terminally ill loved one, perhaps even stepping in on occasion to give them a much needed respite.
The needs—and thus opportunities for loving service—are endless. Of course, these individual acts of love and kindness cannot negate the need for larger, more organized efforts through private and religious charities or government agencies. And we can also endeavor to do more, volunteering at our parish outreach or St. Vincent de Paul Society, at a local crisis pregnancy center, soup kitchen, or nursing home.
But at the very least, we can reach out individually to those around us, sharing our love and caring, as well as our material resources. And in fact that is not the least, it is rather the most we can do, because it is giving of ourselves in the most intimate, personal, and thereby most meaningful way, to people close to us.
So please, Lord, give us this day the daily bread we need to help be the daily bread for those in our lives who need, and long for, our love and care.