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 11 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.

As we very rapidly approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year and, indeed, the end of 2020 as well, we reflect more and more on the “end things” and are made conscious of the finite nature of our earthy lives and the need to be always prepared for what is to come. We do so in faith and hope, with a deep sense of gratitude, because we know that Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary for our salvation. Today we also commemorate St Martin of Tours, a monk, a hermit and a bishop, who always showed deep gratitude to God. In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 17:11-19) we are reminded of the importance of gratitude:

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Let us pray:

Father, Creator of unfailing light, give that same light to those who call to you. Fill our hearts with gratitude, that our lips may praise you, our lives proclaim your goodness, our work give you honour, and our voices celebrate you for ever. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever, amen.

We are all familiar with the healing of the ten lepers and the fact that only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for his healing. All ten were cleansed, but it was only the grateful Samaritan who heard the beautiful words of Jesus, Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. The Samaritans feature in both the Old and New Testaments, and Jesus encountered Samaritans on different occasions, for example in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well. He also told the parable of the Good Samaritan who was the only one to show compassion to the man who fell into the hands of brigands. The Samaritans were despised, probably even more than Gentiles, by mainstream Jews for historical reasons but largely because they were perceived to have inter-mingled their Jewish faith with that of the Gentiles or pagans. How powerful it is, therefore, that it is only the Samaritan that returns to express his gratitude.

Perhaps the other nine lepers were simply thoughtless, or took their healing for granted, or were too selfish to return to Jesus to thank. him. Perhaps there was a certain underlying sense of entitlement among them. Entitlement is something we battle with as well, because often enough we believe that we deserve something because we are “good Christians”, because we are more educated than others, because we are of a particular colour of skin, because of our social class, because we are rich – and I am sure that there are many other reasons people give to justify their deserving something. The trouble is, when we feel entitled to something, it really means that we don’t have to be grateful for it – it is ours by right, and so an attitude of entitlement militates against gratitude. The Samaritan who was presumably subject to discrimination, rejection and marginalization, had no sense of entitlement and so was conscious of Jesus’ kindness and compassion in cleansing him, and so was overwhelmed by gratitude. 

There are other things in our lives that prevent us from expressing genuine gratitude. We live in an era of dissatisfaction which make it difficult for us to recognize what we have because we are so busy thinking and worrying about what we do not have. In a previous reflection I mentioned the power of advertising and the effect it has on our lives, making us wish to have what we do not have, even if we don’t really need it. But it is not only the desire to have more and better things. A general mood of dissatisfaction has resulted from a breakdown of trust and disappointment particularly in leadership, and the loss of integrity of those who should have the best interests of the community at heart. Modern communications have made us much more aware of corruption and deceit in various organs of society – political, business and religious. The misuse of media itself causes divisions and dissatisfaction. Of course, there are things that should deeply dissatisfy us – exploitation of people, poverty, that young people with a great deal of ability cannot progress on merit because of social stratification, that people are cheated and used, that discrimination and injustice are still rampant. All of these should disturb us into action to seek a better society.

But in the midst of all this we are called to return to innocence and simplicity. This does not imply that we trust people blindly or do not recognize the complexity of issues. It is, rather, a recognition that goodness is still present, that most people are good and are trying to be good (even if they fail occasionally) and, above all, that God is the perfection of goodness and will never disappoint us even if human beings do. We need to learn from St Martin of Tours who, when he was a soldier, saw a miserable beggar in rags during the depths of winter, and he cut off half his cloak and gave it to the poor man. That night, St Martin had a dream in which he saw Jesus wrapped in half his cloak and heard Jesus say, Martin, as yet only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak. From then onwards Martin understood that everything he had was a gift from God and was meant to be shared with others.

We also need to learn from the Samaritan leper who returned to Jesus. His gratitude was both an expression of his faith, and an occasion of his being made “well”, being made whole. Yes, all ten had been cleansed of their leprosy, but the Samaritan’s gratitude healed him on a much deeper level – your faith has made you well, Jesus said to him.Gratitude makes us truly human people, it leads us to wellness, really, it leads us to salvation. And so, we learn from this Samaritan, firstly that God does not discriminate against anybody but looks at the heart – nobody is barred because of skin colour or social status or bank balance. Secondly that gratitude opens the way to a deeper wellbeing, it opens our hearts to God’s grace and God’s presence – he finds a home in us. Thirdly, it changes or relationships with God and with each other, because it acknowledges what is being done for us and acknowledges the person’s dignity. It is so simple. As Pope Francis has reminded us, in our families and in our interactions with others, say “please”, “thank you”, “I’m sorry”, “let me help you”. So easy and so simple but what a difference such words make. And so let us follow what St Paul says, Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). No matter what challenges, crises or sadnesses we may be experiencing, there is much to be thankful for.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your spirit

Graciously enlighten your family, O Lord, we pray, that by holding fast to what is pleasing to you, they may be worthy to accomplish all that is good. 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 continue to remember and pray for our departed loved ones, and all souls, 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.