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 4 November 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.

During this month of November we remember all the faithful departed, especially those of our families and friends, and we pray that they will be taken into God’s glory where we hope to be re-united with them. Our reason in praying for the dead is our unshakeable belief in the Resurrection, and that death is not the end of life but the transformation of life.  Welcome to today’s reflection.

In the First Reading of today’s Mass, from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians (Phil 2:12-18) we hear these words:

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…

Let us pray:

Preserve in us always, Lord, the desire to will and to work for the coming of your Kingdom, by conforming ourselves to Christ and seeking constantly to renew our lives in his likeness, that we, the Church of living stones, may show his compassionate and forgiving face to the world. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, amen.

Today is the feast day of St Charles Borromeo, a remarkable saint who had a major impact on the Church in his day and, indeed, continues to have an impact on the Church today. He was born into a noble and influential family in the 16th century. His uncle became Pope Pius IV and, at the age of 21 and before he was ordained a priest, Charles Borromeo was appointed Cardinal and was given vast responsibility. He had also been left vast wealth from another one of his uncles. When his older brother passed away great pressure was brought on Charles to return to the lay state, to marry and have children in order that the family name would continue. He resisted and was eventually made Archbishop of Milan. He was a great organiser and organised the final session of the Council of Trent and throughout his life endeavoured to ensure its implementation. He is known for his energy and zeal in reforming the Church, especially the clergy, and he championed the need to educate the clergy through the establishment of seminaries. He was tireless in his efforts to protect and safeguard the faith, living an austere life of prayer and penance. He was concerned about the poor and suffering, especially as families and lives were decimated by the great pandemic, the plague, that in his time took millions of lives across Europe.

But the real greatness of Charles Borromeo does not lie in his organisational ability, his efforts to reform the Church or his promotion of learning. His greatness lies in the choice he was able to make as a young man when he decided to dedicate his life completely and unreservedly to Christ and his Church. His life could have been very different, within or outside of the Church – he was of a powerful family, his uncle was Pope, he was wealthy in his own right. He could quite easily have been absorbed into an easy life as a Cardinal living in relative luxury. But he made it quite clear that the wealth he had would be used to further his education and to prepare himself for the priesthood – the rest belonged to the poor. Rather than live an easy life, Charles chose austerity and simplicity, working tirelessly to visit many places under his jurisdiction, encouraging and enthusing people to live the Gospel. He made himself unpopular in his insistence of the reform of Religious Houses his desire to see the decisions of the Council of Trent implemented. In short, he could have had an easy life – through his integrity he chose rather to accept hardships and hard work in order to further the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the reading we heard from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians we heard him urge us to work out our own salvation and to do all things without grumbling or questioning, so that even though we live  in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation we shall shine like lights in the world. In other words, it is within our power – no matter what our situation in life is – to be able to make those decisions and choices that advance not only our own salvation but the salvation of the world. We are not victims, helpless in the circumstances we find ourselves. In spite of the circumstances, we have the power to choose integrity, to honestly live our calling as Christians and to do what we know is right. St Charles Borromeo, like so many of the other saints, is a shining example that we do not have to become absorbed in the prevailing culture but that we can make different decisions, that may be difficult and painful, but which correspond to our faith and the Gospel values.

“Ecclesia semper reformanda est” – is a saying that presumably originated with St Augustine, meaning “the Church must always be reformed”, and it is as true today as it ever was. But the reform of the Church always requires that we, as individuals and collectively, must continue to reform ourselves, by being vigilant against slipping into a “Christianity of routine” and being absorbed by prevailing attitudes that do not reflect the Gospel. As St Paul encourages us, let us take up the challenge to work out our own salvation by always making decisions with integrity and in the light of the Gospel.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

Merciful Father, through your Son’s resurrection you have opened for us the way to eternal life. As we recall and pray for all our deceased loved ones, still feeling the pain of separation, strengthen our faith in the resurrection and grant us the strength, comfort and consolation of your life-giving presence. We ask this through Christ Our Lord, amen.

And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Sone and the Holy Spirit, amen

As we remember and pray for our departed loved ones we say: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.