Prayer and Reflection by Archbishop Stephen Brislin

Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 21 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.

Thank you for joining me for this reflection, as we continue to struggle with the Corona Virus. We have done well in South Africa so far, but we cannot become complacent especially as we hear how a second wave is seriously affecting other countries.  It is true that a certain “corona virus fatigue” is setting in, but we must stand together in order to beat it.

In the Gospel of today’s Mass, from St Luke (12:39-48), we hear these words of Jesus:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would have been awake and would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”.

Let us pray:

Merciful Father, all life comes from you and it is your precious gift to us. Help us always to respect and protect life, from womb to tomb, even as we struggle to understand the mysteries of suffering and death. May we be faithful in bringing the light of life to all those we meet and to abandon all that belongs to death and destruction.  We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, amen.

In the Gospel Reading of today Jesus warns us to be vigilant, to always be prepared, for we do not know when the Lord will come. We are to be like the good steward who, when his master is away, continues to do what he is supposed to do and is faithful in fulfilling the tasks entrusted to him. The bad steward takes advantage of his master’s delay by beating the manservants and maidservants, eating and getting drunk. Vigilance is defined in the dictionary as always being careful to notice things,  especially possible danger. A related concept to vigilance is “vigil”. A vigil is described as a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray. As Catholics we are accustomed to keeping vigil, knowing that the understanding of vigil is deeply rooted in Scripture. Thus we hear in the Book of Exodus (12:42) that the Lord himself kept vigil over the house of Israel: the night when the Lord kept vigil to bring them out of Egypt must be  kept as a vigil in honour of the Lord by all Israelites, for all generations. And to this day the Jews keep the Passover. On different occasions Jesus warned his disciples to “watch and wait”. We are to gird our loins and light our lamps and be like servants waiting for their master’s return (Luke 12:35-37). In the Garden of Gethsemane, at a time of most intense suffering for Jesus, he invited his disciple to keep vigil with him, saying My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. wait here and stay awake with me (Mt 26:38). Jesus himself, at times, prayed through the night.

Vigilance is not inactivity. Quite the opposite: it is about meticulously being faithful to doing what is expected of us and maintaining a heightened awareness of why we are doing it, as well as an awareness of what is happening around us. Keeping vigil is a little different, as we dedicate a special time of watching and praying with the Lord as we are accustomed to do, for example, at the Easter Vigil, when we listen to the Scriptures relating God’s acts of creation and salvation of the world, or on Christmas eve when we unite ourselves with Mary and Joseph as they await the birth of the Saviour in order to join with the shepherds in their joy as the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest”.

Being vigilant implies fidelity in our actions and what is expected of us. But it is not only about our actions – it is a bit like the “Martha and Mary” experience – both action and communion with Jesus are necessary. Thus, even those who can no longer be active can, nonetheless keep vigil. I’m thinking especially about the elderly and infirm – they may no longer be able to be active as in the past, but their prayers, their “watching and waiting”, is invaluable. Any priest who has a community of retired Religious Sisters praying for him knows that it is like having a spiritual army watching his back. It is so sad that often the elderly are not valued – for some, they are perceived to have lost their functionality and so are considered unimportant. This is far far from the truth. We do not value a human being only because of their functionality – their value lies in the image of God that shines in them. Recall the words of the poet John Milton in his poem “On his blindness” – they also serve who stand and wait.

Never should an elderly person feels useless; we need them, we need their prayer and we need them to keep vigil as they, together with all of us, await our Lord and God. Importantly, we who are younger and more healthy need to be vigilant in our care for the elderly – to love them, care for them and protect them. Even when it becomes necessary for an elderly loved one to go into a home for specialized care, we cannot and must not abandon them. Frequent telephone calls, visits and outings are ways of showing our love for them. In such a way we will keep the commandment “to honour thy father and mother”. In Ephesians 6:2 St Paul points out that it is this commandment which is the first to have a promise attached to it By caring and being present we keep vigil with the ones we love as they face the loneliness and struggles of life, and ultimately at the time when it comes for them to pass from this life.

 Both vigilance an keeping vigil are part of Christian life and are to be applied to many – in fact, to every – aspect of human life. Let us not lose our awareness of what life is about.

Let us pray now for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                              R./ And with your spirit

Fill your people, Lord, with your gifts of faith, hope and love, that they may always rejoice in your presence and may be messengers of the Gospel of Life, sharing their hope of resurrection and eternal life with all who live in doubt. We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord, amen.

May Almighty God bless you the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.