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 30 September 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.

Welcome to this weekly reflection. Today we celebrate the feast of St Jerome, the great Biblical scholar. St Jerome famously said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. We give thanks to God for his Word which teaches, guides and inspires us. May we always make a home in our hearts for God’s Word.

In the Gospel of today’s Mass (Luke 9:57-62) we hear of an encounter between Jesus and three different men. This is what happened in the encounter with the first man:

At that time: As Jesus and his disciples were going along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, you have called us to follow your Son Jesus Christ, and we have responded to your call. Help us, Lord, to understand that we are not called to an easy path and that following your Son always involves self-sacrifice and obedience. Through the intercession of St Jerome, conform us to your Son Jesus, that we may be filled with his grace and compassion and so learn to be merciful, forgiving and generous. 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.

The first of the three men who encountered Jesus is a bit different from the other two, because he does not seem to wait for Jesus to call him to discipleship; he seems to volunteer and take the initiative by saying, I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus called on the other two to follow him, as he did with others on different occasions. All three were cautioned that there was a cost, a price to pay, in following him. 

The first man must have recognized in Jesus something that others had not yet seen; perhaps he recognized that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. In his answer to the man, Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of man”, a term used in the Old Testament, for example in the book of Daniel (7:13) where it refers to “one who is to come” and has a messianic implication. So in a way, Jesus affirms what the man has recognized in him – that he is the Messiah – but also brings him down to earthly reality, the reality of Jesus’ humanity – he is “son of man”, he is flesh and blood like the rest of us. Following Jesus is lived in an earthly reality and does not remove us into a sort of “pie in the sky” heavenly realm. He is cautioning that discipleship involves more than one may expect at first. It involves self-denial, sacrifice and renunciation of “worldly things”. And so Jesus says to the first man, the son of man has nowhere to lay his head, to the second, leave the dead to bury the dead, and to the third, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. Jesus is warning that we should not have false expectations of discipleship, it does not remove us from the hardships and 

realities of human life and, indeed, demands a personal cost, a price to be paid. It is the cost of renouncing a way of life that is not compatible with the Gospel and, in particular, not compatible with the Beatitudes. To follow Jesus will, of necessity, take us out of our comfort zones, those places where we feel safe, protected and insulated. Jesus, the Son man in whom the earthly and the heavenly meet, does not fulfil our preconceived ideas and expectations of who the Messiah is, and what it means to follow him. Jesus frequently had to challenge people about their preconceptions.

The Gospel must always be a challenge to us no matter who we are or whatever our status in life. It must challenge us about our preconceived ideas and our presumptions. It must challenge us about who we think God is and who we try to make him to be. There is often a temptation for humans, we who are made in the image of God, to try and make God into our own image – an image of how we would prefer God to be rather than to learn to know him as he is. The Gospel must challenge us on how we live our faith and how comfortable we so easily become in a routine of external adherence to Jesus’ teaching, rather than an inner acceptance of the Word and allowing that Word the opportunity to transform us. The Gospel must challenge us, too, on how we approach the Eucharist without taking it for granted. In short, it summons us to a deeper and more profound encounter with the mystery of God – God who we have and do experience in our lives, but who always remains beyond our grasp and understanding.

Job captures this most beautifully in the First Reading of today’s Mass when he questions God’s actions but, at the same time, recognizes that it is impossible for him to understand for it is God who does great things beyond understanding, and marvelous things without number. Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him. To follow Jesus means that we that we free ourselves from our preconceptions, our comfort zones and our “security blankets”, and embark on this wonderful journey of light, accepting the mystery of God and appreciating how much greater his thoughts are from our thoughts, and his ways from our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9).

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with youAnd with your spirit

Keep your family, we pray, O Lord, in your constant care, so that, under your protection and guiding hand, they may be faithful in good times and in bad times, and that they may always show their dedication to your name by their way of of life and their willingness to follow your Son Jesus. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

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

I hope and pray, that as more people are able to attend Mass under level 1 of the lockdown we will do so with have a much greater appreciation of the gift of the Eucharist and the grace we receive from the Body and Blood of Christ. So many have hungered to receive Communion over these past months – may we always be grateful and reverent in approaching the Bread of Heaven.

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