23 January 2009

The Fourth Petition in the Lord's Prayer

In the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” Hugh of Balma teaches, “one asks that, as a result of the favors flowing from Him,” we “might unflinchingly persevere in all things, sustained by His own guidance.”

It is our desire “to be raised on High by an increase of love.” In this way we would be “existing closer to the Source of all happiness,” and eat our “fill of the invigorating Word” which will strengthen us so that we no longer beg “for the wretched delights of lesser things.” It would be easy to once again turn towards things of “fleshly consolation unless” our craving is satisfied “with supercelestial refreshment,” id est, “the Food of love and the Bread of angels, constantly drawing deep draughts from the fountain of eternal beatitude.” Thus, “our daily bread” means we are asking for “increased love, which alone can strengthen the sick, fortify the weak, and satisfy the starving.”

This bread is asked for “daily” for the reason that “the human spirit cannot live a true life for a day, for an hour, not even for an instant, unless constantly bathed by the life-giving drop of dew.” We know that “the soul is the life of bodies,” likewise “love is the life of spirits.”

“Unless an animate body is fed once a day with physical food, it loses its bodily strength and vigor. Likewise, unless a human spirit underway in unitive love reaches out once a day, aspiring to the kiss, … will soon become lukewarm.” The meaning of “aspiring to the kiss” is reaching out to the Beloved. For He calls us as Scripture attests: “Arise, make haste, My love, and come” (Canticle of Canticles 2:10). Hugh of Balma advises us to not keep Him waiting lest we end up saying: “By night I sought Him Whom my soul loves; I sought Him and I found Him not” (ibid. 3:1). Hugh next explains “night” by saying: “To seek by night can mean to ascend through the creatures, or to seek the Beloved in them.” However, “in the anagogic movement, one should cling to the very Fount of goodness without any indirect mirror, affect, or uplifting love.” When we ask for our bread “this day,” this “reference to presentness expresses a single principle of continuity.” We ask “in this present life” for “in the light of eternity the ‘present’ is simple and undivided, and the eternal present begins for those living in love in this present life.” For the love in which the Beloved “is loved in this life is the same love in number as that love with which, in glory’s eternity, one will be united to the One Who makes all things blessed.” Hugh continues, “For the soul who clings to God in love is more truly and more directly fed with living bread than one body is linked to other physical bodies by shared corporality, which acts as a sort of glue or material bonding.” Saint Paul expresses this when he wrote: “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

“The fact that eternity, the Beloved’s Presence, and light begin to shine inwardly already here in this life is confirmed by what the great hierarch, the Apostle Paul, says: “Our dwelling place is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). And so, the Beloved already “spreads over… the loving spirit.” The “body’s inclinations” of “worldly delights” are indeed still a hindrance but “the guiding breath of divine inspiration, wafts divinely transmitted rays which open up the body to receive divine things from on High.” The spirit can turn away from that which is unwelcome and “aspire upward toward divine things.” The spirit then becomes a garden open only to the Beloved, “a garden enclosed,” as told of in Scripture (Canticle of Canticles 4:12). “The Most High” dwells in “the poverty-stricken human spirit,” and He feeds the spirit “with living bread,” id est, “with the consolation of divine joy.”