There’s a reality television show on cable called Hoarders, which depicts the struggles of people who suffer with Compulsive Hoarding Disorder, which leads them to pack their homes with things such as newspapers, cans, books, and clothes. Their compulsion makes their living situation unhealthy and unsafe and causes great distress to their families. The show brings psychologists and counselors to speak with people who are dealing with the disorder in order to help them to recognize their problem and to help them overcome their compulsion to hoard. Many tragically resist the help, sometimes expressing their despair of ever being freed from the disorder. But there are also some success stories. The show is entering into its eleventh season this fall, revealing our society’s morbid fascination with this condition. But in a certain way, all of us struggle with a compulsion to hoard. The people on the show hoard things most people would consider junk. But we tend to hoard things like money, power, pleasure, health, knowledge, and social status. We’re not so troubled by these things because they’re not so obviously grotesque as hoarding old newspapers. But we do it for essentially the same reason. We are afraid of our existential poverty – our smallness, our weakness, our fragility. Thus, we relentlessly pursue things that give us a feeling of control over our lives. But even when we realize that the control they provide is illusory, the thought of giving them up – or having them taken away – terrifies us.
The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This phrase is an acknowledgement of total dependence on God for everything, including the most basic needs that sustain our existence. A stark illustration of this is in the Book of Exodus, when the Lord provides food for the Israelites in the wilderness, giving them Manna – the mysterious bread from the sky. Per the Lord’s instruction, each Israelite was to gather only as much Manna each day as was needed to feed their families. Those who disregarded this instruction discovered that the Manna was inedible the next day. This was to teach the people radical dependence on the Lord who had liberated them from bondage in Egypt, who had chosen them to be His people, and who wanted His people to trust Him.
In the wilderness, the Israelites experienced universal poverty, and thus had to learn to live in solidarity with one another to survive. Our Lord instructs us to make the petition collectively (“our” daily bread) to remind the Church to live in solidarity with the materially poor and those who do not have enough to eat. The material assistance we provide to our brothers and sisters is a way in which God works through the Church to care for the needy. But our needs are not just material, for we are also spiritual creatures – we are bodies and souls. Our physical hunger for material bread is great. But our spiritual hunger for the food that nourishes our souls is even greater. So as we ask the Lord to give us the bread that is necessary for our existence, we come to understand that the greatest food He gives us is the bread that has been changed into His flesh and blood. Like the Manna, the Eucharist cannot be hoarded, not because it decays but because it is superabundant, like a cup that overflows. As we pray this petition, may we be liberated from the fear that leads us to “hoard” worldly things and instead approach Him with hands that are empty and hearts that are open to receive what God wants to give us, what we most need.