Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 2 October 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Reflection for Friday 2 October 2020.

Today is the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. The word “angel” literally means messenger and demonstrates God’s radical commitment to communicating with us. And so I thought I’d take an aspect of the liturgy of the Word and explain it so as to help us in our response to God’s message. Prior to the proclamation of the Gospel text, the deacon or the priest says quietly: “Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel” (The Sacramentary). Because this is said quietly some do not know about it. This is an important aspect of the liturgy and harks back to God cleansing the unclean lips of Isaiah with a burning coal (Isaiah 6:5-7). The translation softens the action of God to some extent. The original refers to striking the mouth with a hot coal. This was no gentle caress. We see the same in the call of Jeremiah where the Lord struck the mouth of the young prophet and according to the original “personally delivered” divine speech into Jeremiah’s mouth (Jeremiah 1:9). To guarantee that God is with his prophet in the next verse Jeremiah is appointed to do six actions and throughout the rest of the book these actions are always the actions of God.

Now it is nice to know what the words said by the proclaimer of the Gospel mean, but what of the hearers of the Gospel. In a recent Friday reflection I quoted St Paul who said “if I do not preach the Gospel I should perish” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Our response ought to be: “if I do not listen to the Gospel I should perish”. Let me give an example from the Bible. We are aware of the action of Peter when Judas and the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane. He injured Malchus the high priest’s servant by cutting off his right earlobe. And Jesus healed him (Luke 22:51). But why the right ear? The famed scripture scholar Raymond Brown gives the answer from biblical culture – the right ear was to listen to the spirit of the law while left signified the letter of the law. 

Now once again it is nice to know all this but how does it apply to us? Firstly am I a person of unclean lips? What can make a person’s lips unclean? Is it only indecent language that makes our lips unclean? A close reading of both the Old Testament and New Testament shows a robust use of language. The prophets certainly show no trace of Grammar School education. Paul was downright direct and though skilled in rhetoric and Greek philosophy, he never substituted honesty with nicety. And so we need to look further than impolite language to see what makes the lips unclean. What about lies and gossip? What about words deliberately chosen and used to mislead and manipulate people? And lastly, what about words spoken in an unkind, hurtful and condescending way?

Secondly, how do I listen – attentively, or with disinterest and indifference? Do I listen to the letter of the law or do I listen in a way which can bring about conversion? In the Hebrew culture in which the scriptures are steeped body pairs were a common feature – the hands and the feet went together, the eyes and the heart were paired, and the ears and the mouth went together. If someone’s ears were healed that persons mouth was also healed – enabling the person to hear the word of God and to speak it. And to speak it is to be God’s messenger.

Let us pray: Open our ears O Lord and cleanse our hearts and our lips, that we may worthily receive, proclaim and live out your holy Gospel. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing]

Bishop Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town.