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, New Year’s Day Friday 1st January 2021, 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.

1st January 2021. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Luke 2:16-21.

A happy new year to you and your loved ones. The new year opens up for us new opportunities for peaceful co-existence with the neighbour and with creation. May the blessings promised to the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) be ours so that we may indeed be the children of God.

Today is also the eighth day of the Christmas octave. A few years ago I made a retreat in Bloemfontein during the Christmas octave. The chapel I used each day used to be Fr Claerhout’s studio – a place of great inspiration and creativity. It was converted into a chapel. The front panel of the altar comprised a painting by the late Br Gunter Arndt OMI. Br Gunther was no Picasso but managed to produce a nice, simple representation of the nativity. 

Through the use of a gold colour for the straw in the manger right in the middle of the work, attention was drawn to the baby Jesus. The eyes of Mary and Joseph are fixed on the baby as are the eyes of the two animals in the scene. All this draws the viewer to gaze on the Christ-child. And the Christ-child, in his turn, fixes his gaze on the viewer. This makes possible a wordless connection with the child. 

In the Gospel passage for today we see Mary in contemplative mode. The language of the original text makes that clear. Hers is the prayer of silence and contemplation. This word is applied to Mary four times in the 1st two chapters of Luke. Hers is predominantly the prayer of contemplation. She was completely overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and hers was the highest form of prayer – the attitude of humble silence in the face of the Divine. This is the type of prayer called for by Jesus in the sixth chapter of Matthew. Loud prayers with many words did not impress him at all (Matthew 6:5-6). Contemplation allows us to see reality as it is. When Mary looked at her baby she would have known that he was fully human for she gave birth to him and nursed him. She would have also known that he was divine because of his conception. 

How nice it will be if we could give ourselves to contemplative prayer so that we too can see things as they really are. But a word of caution is necessary here. Contemplation can be dangerous as the reality revealed to us might not be what we would like it to be. The resultant switch in mind sets is what is known as conversion. Right now in South Africa we are faced with more restrictions as we try to flatten the curve. Many people will feel that their freedom is infringed upon as they cannot gather as planned to usher in the new year. Our contemplation i.e. seeing reality as it is ought to remind us that freedom is freedom to do the right thing otherwise we are enslaved – and right now the right thing is to promote life; my own and also that of the neighbour. In this way I can imitate Jesus who came that we might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).

The Health Sciences tell us that there are two causes of disease. One is through a microbe such as the CoronaVirus or HIV. The other cause of disease is behaviour e.g. if I eat too much (and eating is a behaviour), I will get sick. If I refuse to sanitize and wear a face mask during the current pandemic and fail to embrace protective behaviours I can become infected, or worse still, cause others to become infected. We must remember that even if I am not showing symptoms, I could be a carrier of Covid-19. In our current context the most meaningful resolution we can make at the start of the new year is to firmly resolve to promote life.

Let us pray: Father, in the middle of a deadly pandemic we celebrate the birth of life. Help us to do all we can to promote the gift of life which you have given to us and to treasure it. We entrust our loved ones and our well-being to you and ask for your protection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen [Blessing].

I wish you a meaningful start to the year. 

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 December 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.

I trust that you enjoyed a pleasant and peaceful Christmas, despite the circumstances in which the we all find ourselves at the moment. While much of how we may have wanted to celebrate was not possible, there is nothing that can separate from the love of God, and there is nothing that can remove the reality of the Incarnation and the home we have made for Christ in our hearts. Even if we are unable to attend Mass (at least until the 15th January) our communion with Christ remains strong and unshakeable. Welcome to today’s reflection.

In the Gospel of today’s Mass, from St Luke (2:36-40) we briefly meet the prophetess Anna, and hear of her encounter with the Holy Family who had gone to the Temple to present Jesus, their first born son, in compliance with Jewish law. This is what we hear after she had seen the child Jesus:

And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of the Lord was upon him.

We will take the prayer from the collect of today’s Mass.  Let us pray:

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the newness of the Nativity in the flesh of your Only Begotten Son may set us free, for ancient servitude holds us bound beneath the yoke of sin. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever, amen. 

Previously in Luke chapter 2 we met the righteous man Simeon who recognized in Jesus the light to enlighten the nations. Now, for the only time, we are introduced to the prophetess Anna. For a person who makes a brief appearance in Scripture some surprising details are given to us about her. Her father was Phanuel, she was of the tribe of Asher, she had been married for 7 years (although the name of her husband is not mentioned), and now she was a widow and 84 years old. St Luke writes that she “never left the temple” and served God day and night with fasting and prayer, presumably meaning that she was there for all the prayers and rituals. Whether she was recognized by the Jewish authorities as a prophetess, or whether she was held to be a prophetess by public opinion, we don’t known. What we can gather with certainly is that she was a pious, devoted woman, who expressed her devotion in prayer, fasting and service.

What did she see in Jesus that caused her to “give thanks to God” and to speak of him to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”? She was obviously touched and deeply moved by seeing Jesus and the Holy Family, but what was it that differentiated Jesus from the many babies she would have encountered in her life? We cannot give an answer to that and it is perhaps not the most important question to ask. The more important question is why was it Anna (and, of course the righteous man Simeon) who recognized Jesus as not being just another infant? The answer to that lies in the faith and devotedness of Anna. She  “never left the temple” – her life was completely focussed on God. This was now the purpose and meaning to her life – to praise and glorify God through prayer, fasting and service. It was her unencumbered focussing on God that led to this almost mystical recognition of Jesus, and moved her to such an extent that she opened her heart and spread this good news to others. One could almost say that she was the very first apostle, relating her deep experience of encountering salvation.

Anna is such an important example for us. Her experience of God in her recognition of Jesus, a child, small and almost insignificant, was possible because her eyes were opened through her devotedness, making her aware and sensitive to God’s presence and actions.  And this is what any disciple of Jesus should be – focussed on God. And it does not matter whether you are educated or uneducated, rich or poor, male or female, married or single, a child, a father or mother – the fundamental vocation we have as Christians is to be disciples of Jesus. I may be a bishop, you may be a mother or father, you may be excellent at your work, top of your field, you may be “well thought of” in your circle of friends, but ultimately none of these things have any true meaning or lasting value if we are not first and foremost disciple of Jesus, striving to live his teachings and model his behaviour, and always having our focus on him. If we have that, then being a father, a mother, a priest, excellent at our work takes on a new meaning because they now become a means to better serve God and his people. 

It is not surprising that it was this simple, elderly woman (and the elderly Simeon) was the one to recognize this “otherness” in Jesus.  The priests and Levites, the leaders of Jewish society, neither recognized him as a baby nor as an adult. When we become so reliant on our education, status or power, and neglect to understand the fundamental importance of humbly centering our lives on God and striving to change and grow more in his likeness, then we become blind to the presence of God and we cannot recognize his work and activity in the world. If we wish our eyes to be opened, and if we desire to see the signs of God’s salvation in the small, routine, day to day events of life, the answer lies in getting back to the basics of having God at the centre of all we think, say and do..

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

 With deep gratitude for your goodness and love, we pray Lord, that you will bestow your blessing upon us, that your Holy Spirit will give us newness of life to invigorate and enlighten us, that we may always proclaim the Incarnation of your Son for the salvation of the world.  Through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen

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, Christmas Day Friday 25 December 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.

Friday Reflection: Christmas Day

When looking at a stable who would imagine that it could be the site of Real Presence? Similarly, when looking at our families who would imagine that it is also a site of Real Presence. Families have some wonderful characteristics which make us feel safe and secure but families also consist of fragile persons like you and me and at times our inglorious self emerges making family life a bit of a challenge. How then can we say that the family is a site where God can be encountered and revealed? 

Two considerations: Firstly, God’s presence does not exist in flawless conditions. The birth of Jesus took place in a stable. The first sensation his little nostrils will have picked up would have been the stench of animals. So real presence does not take place in a deodorized vacuum! 

Secondly, Jesus did not come from outer space like Superman did. Jesus was born into the context of a family and when that happened, God said once and for all that the human family is the arena from which he delivers his most important Word – his Word about forgiveness, about healing, about love, about selflessness, about joy, about peace and about all the values which make our families vibrant units of the body of Christ.

The reason why the Word of forgiveness, healing, peace, etc. is necessary is simply because every human being experiences incompleteness, pain, brokenness, loneliness and discomfort. The family which has no need of forgiveness and healing does not exist. In psychology such a family is called a white knight – it simply does not exist! St Paul reminds us that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). The perfect parent does not exist neither does the perfect child or sibling. All are on the way, striving to be recognised, thanked, validated and ultimately for union with God. Even the genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 1:1-16) is striking for its inclusion of broken people. Just to name two characters – King David was an adulterer and Rahab was a prostitute.

As soon as we recognise this and embrace each other with all our faults and failings, Christian family starts to emerge. Then Christmas becomes real right in our homes – as opposed to being glamorized in the shopping malls and fashion stores of our cities. I wish you a joyful (even if muted) Christmas season.

Let us pray: Lord bless our families with the ability to embrace each other and gift us with peace, love and forgiveness in our homes. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing].

Bishop Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town.

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 23 December 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.

Despite all the hardships of this year, we begin our celebrations of joy and gratitude, for salvation has come into the world. It is necessary to celebrate and, as we hear in the Scriptures, we neither weep nor mourn for the Day of the Lord is holy (cf. Neh 8:9). So, for the moment, we put our troubles behind us, and we lift our hearts to God in praise of his goodness. Our celebrations may be different this year as we seek to keep ourselves and others safe by being responsible, but rejoice we must. Thank you for joining me for this reflection.

In the First Reading of today’s Mass we hear from the prophet Malachi (3:1-4;4:5-6):

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offering to the Lord.

Let us pray:

O Wisdom of the Most High, come to teach us the way of prudence. O root of Jesse, come and deliver us; delay no longer. O Key of David, come and lead us out of the prison where we sit in darkness. O King of the nations and cornerstone of the Church! Come and save mankind, whom you formed from the clay of the earth. O Daystar, splendour of eternal light and son of justice! Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. Come, Lord Jesus, amen. 

I heard a story of a certain lady who was accustomed to reading the Scriptures. On one occasion she came on the reading from Malachi that we have just heard, and she wondered at the words, he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. She decided to visit a silversmith to see what purifying silver involves. She did not tell him the reason for her visit, but questioned him about the process of purifying silver. He explained it to her fully and, when he was finished, she asked him, Do you sit and watch while the work of refining is going on? The man replied in the affirmative saying, Oh yes. I must sit and watch the furnace constantly because, if the silver is in the furnace too long, even if it is just for a few seconds too long, the silver will be injured. 

God sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. He sees it necessary sometimes to allow us to be purified in a furnace, to mould us and to transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He allows hardships in our lives that we may develop resilience and perseverance, that we may be more compassionate and understanding when others are going through their own struggles, doubts and anxieties. But while we go through these hardships he does not abandon us, he sits and watches lest we are overcome by them. He will not let us be tested beyond our endurance (cf. 1Cor 10:13).

But the lady had not finished with the silversmith. She asked him one further question, How do you know when the process is finished? He replied saying that was simple. When I can see my own image in the silver, I know the process is complete. The trials, struggles and difficulties of life should mould us into the image of Christ, so that we become people filled with his mercy, understanding, tenderness, forgiveness and gentleness.  Even in everyday life we hear people say something like, life has mellowed him. Our experience of life, with its joys and tears, its laughter and sadness, changes us into being more human and tolerant people.

This is one of the positive lessons that we must take from the corona virus pandemic. For millions and millions of people around the world it has meant tragedy, bereavement and vulnerability. It has changed the world. We must also allow it to change us. If we are going to come through it as better people, then this heartbreaking and frustrating experience must help us re-discover our values in life, what is important and what is not important. It must make us more caring of others, and much more aware of our responsibility for the health and wellbeing of others, as well as our responsibility to the health and wellbeing of creation. Most especially, it must transform us into people of hope, who can see beyond the present sufferings and recognize God’s hand in our lives and in the world, leading us to reflecting his image to the world more faithfully – just as the silver is fully refined when it reflects the image of the silversmith.

The coming feast of the Incarnation is an opportunity to strengthen our hope and our faith in God. For we are reminded that his name is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is not separated from our pain and uncertainty, but he is among us urging us to place our trust in him, to surrender ourselves into his hands and to welcome his light into our hearts. So let’s resist the temptation to go around complaining, or looking like we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. Let us allow him to liberate us from that prison of darkness, the prison of negativity and despair, and lead us into the light. Then others will recognize the image of Christ in us, as we spread joy and gratitude for salvation.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

 Look kindly on your people, O Lord, who await your light to dispel the darkness and lead them to salvation. Look kindly on your people, O Lord, and fill them with the joy of the coming feast. Look kindly on your people, O Lord,  and strengthen them that they may not falter on the way. Through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen

I wish you, your families, friends and loved ones, a peaceful, joyful and Blessed Christmas. May the child Jesus come into your hearts to strengthen and comfort you. Merry Christmas.

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 18 December 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 18th December 2020.

Jeremiah 23:5-8. PLEASE READ THE TEXT.

We are now in the second part of Advent – a time of immediate preparation for the brith of the Saviour. During this time, the need for words diminishes and the need for reflection takes over. This reflection will therefore be brief. 

As Christmas approaches the liturgy offers us hope through our very brief, but intense first reading taken from the prophet Jeremiah. In a recent reflection I highlighted the introduction of a deep and meaningful prophetic announcement which uses the solemn proclamation formula “Thus says the Lord”. That formula is used twice in the rather brief passage for today. This is the Bible’s way of drawing attention to a meaningful announcement. Let’s look at it. The solemn prophetic formula is attached to an announcement “behold the days are coming”. The attentive bible reader is meant to ask “which days?” Engaging with the Scriptures in this way we will get to know that this formula and reference to “the days” which are coming also introduces the text of the new covenant later in Jer (Jer 31:31-34). Today’s text prepares us for the announcement of the new covenant.

Still probing the formula we will see that as soon as Mary conceives, the reference to the “those days” occurs again. We see this in the original text of Lk 1:39. The attentive Bible reader will now begin to see that when Jesus takes human flesh, the days of the new covenant have come. For those interested in this theme, when the letter to the Hebrews presents us with the priestly work of Jesus by which we are saved, the new covenant text from Jer 31:31-34 is quoted word for word (Heb 8:8-12). 

In the liturgy of the Eucharist we recall the words of Jesus in the upper room: “… the blood of the new covenant which will be poured out for the forgiveness of sins”. There is a deep and meaningful significance attached to biblical formulae which we routinely glance over. These formulae functioned as signposts for the ancient hearers and subsequently readers of biblical texts. 

I wish you joy as you prepare to welcome the Word of life into your space at Christmas.

Bishop Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town

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 16 December 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.

It is wonderful to be with you on this public holiday in South Africa. It is named the “Day of Reconciliation”, reminding us of the need to heal relationships and divisions among people, and to strive for unity and harmony through respect and tolerance of the differences that exist among us. It is also important to remember our need to be reconciled to God, that through expressing deep repentance for the times we have sinned, we may be at peace with him. Thank you, so much, for joining me for this reflection on such an important public holiday.

In the Gospel of today’s Mass from St Luke (7:19-23) we hear Jesus responding to the messengers of John the Baptist who had been sent to Jesus to ask, Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another? This is how Jesus responded:

Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offence at me.

Let us pray:

Give us hope, Lord, to steady our steps, for we walk by faith and not by earthly sight. May hope deepen our longing, perfect our love and lead us to your promised rest. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever, amen. 

Jesus taught that a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit, and says that we shall know people by their fruits (Matt 7:17-20). Thus, when the messengers relayed John the Baptist’s question to Jesus, he did not give a direct reply, knowing that the fruits always show the reality. He tells the messengers to look for themselves and to witness the fruits of his ministry among people and the healing that he has brought. Anyone can claim to be something or someone, they can claim that they have achieved all sorts of things, but there is always the possibility that their claims are just “big talk” and lack a foundation in reality. If you can actually witness what they have accomplished, then you will know what they say is true. And so, Jesus encourages the messengers of John the Baptist to look at what is happening – the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news preached to them. That answers their question.

It is of profound importance to Christians, who claim to be disciples of Jesus, to integrate Jesus’ teaching in their lives. Jesus’ most fundamental teaching is to love God and to love neighbour, and we claim to be people who are following that teaching, a teaching that encompasses repentance, forgiveness, generosity, caring, justice and so on. It can happen so easily that our faith and commitment to discipleship is just talk, when we say all the right things and yet our actions do not reflect what we profess with your words. Christians, who are called to be light to the world, can become a stumbling block to the faith of others when their behaviour is scandalous and clearly in contradiction to both the letter and spirit of Jesus’ teaching. And so, it is a lifelong struggle for us to bring our words and our actions into harmony, so that what we profess with our mouths we accomplish, even if imperfectly, in our actions. On this public holiday – the Day of Reconciliation – we could well see it as being a challenge for us to reconcile our words with our deeds.

One practical way in which our actions must match up with our words is to be conscious and responsible in our behaviour at this difficult time of the pandemic, and most especially during this Christmas season when we particularly enjoy being with people. There is no reason why we cannot enjoy ourselves at this time while still being responsible in our behaviour. It simply takes a commitment, and discipline,  to observe all the safeguarding measures that we have been taught. This is true of our Church services over Christmas as well. There could be the temptation to want to relax all the restrictions that we are living with, just for Christmas. But if we gave in to such a temptation we would be putting people’s lives at risk. Therefore we have to make the responsible decision of patiently abiding by the restrictions, knowing that in due course, they will come to an end. A very important part of our Christmas Masses is the singing of carols – the carols help make Christmas the joyful, beautiful feast it is. Yet again, we have to accept the limitations placed on us, knowing that singing in a congregation could become a super-spreader of the virus. Even outdoors, we have to keep observing spatial distancing, masks, sanitizing and allowing ourselves the opportunity to listen joyfully to one or two cantors singing on our behalf. This will be a very different Christmas from other years, but nothing can separate us from the joy of God’s salvation and we can still experience overflowing joy while being responsible in our behaviour.

There are really two ways of looking at the restrictions at this time of Christmas. We can feel sad and frustrated that we cannot celebrate as we would usually like to, and allow those feelings to spoil Christmas for us. Or we could look at the restrictions in a way that enable us to recognize that they can help us appreciate the true meaning of Christmas – the light has come into the world, the Saviour has been born, redemption is at hand, God has blessed the world. If we adopt the latter attitude, there is nothing in the world that will prevent us entering into the true meaning of the Incarnation and immersing ourselves in the love that God has bestowed on us. I hope that we will all be able to be positive this Christmas, grateful to God and full of joy. I hope that we accept the limitations as a light burden that we have to carry, and that we will ensure that we make an extra effort to be caring and conscious of the health of others.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

 Humbly we pray, O Lord, that you will send your blessing upon us as we longingly wait for your coming kingdom, so that we will not weaken in our resolve to serve you and our neighbour with love and compassion.  Through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen

Archdiocesan News 4 of 2020

Welcome to our third interactive edition of the Archdiocesan News, the final one of 2020! Because our churches are still not fully open due to the coronavirus pandemic, this edition will not be printed. Rather, it will be sent out digitally via email and social media. 

This edition is interactive insofar as all hyperlinks (i.e. digital access to other web-based resources and addresses) are available, and are highlighted in blue for your convenience. So where you see text, a website link or an email address in the colour blue (except, of course, for headings in blue) you can access further information to enhance your read of the Archdiocesan News. Some graphics are also hyperlinks (sometimes to download resources), but the text linked to them will indicate where they are.

We ask that you forward this Archdiocesan News as far and as wide as possible on your parish and personal social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp or email, so that as many as possible in the Archdiocese (and further) can read it. It will also be on our Archdiocese of Cape Town Facebook page, so please share it to other pages from there too. Happy reading!

Please click on the link below to read it or download it to your computer.

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 11 December 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 11 December 2020. 

Isaiah 48:17-19. Please read the text.

The first verse of the reading is striking: “Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel…” (Isaiah 48:17). In this reflection I hope to show the importance of the title “Redeemer” for our appreciation of the Eucharist.

The opening words of the passage “Thus says the Lord” constitute a solemn prophetic declaration and was a signal to those hearing these words at Israel’s liturgical celebrations to sit up and take note. Immediately after this solemn introduction we are told exactly what we need to be attentive to. God is presented as our Redeemer. This is a word that is often used in religious circles. We hear it at funeral liturgies when Job declares that he knows his redeemer lives (cf. Job 19:25), and at other religious gatherings. Fr John Foley SJ of the St Louis Jesuits composed a hymn called “Redeemer Lord” in the early 1980s where the Isaiah text from the first Sunday of Advent is captured in a most imaginative and moving way. Those who can download it ought to do so as this song captures the essence of who God is for the people of faith. [The title of the compilation by the St Louis Jesuits is “Lord of Light”].

The word “Redeemer” as used in the Bible comes from economic life of ancient Israel, or to be more precise, from the family law of the tribal community. Bearing in mind that Israel had a shame culture, any indebtedness had to be avoided as that would bring shame on the whole clan. Therefore whenever someone fell on hard times, the nearest, dearest living relative would see it as duty to bring redemption by literally paying the price. When God claims to be our redeemer He is in fact claiming to be our nearest kin who will spare us from shame. 

This is what we celebrate in the Eucharist. Our catechism teaches us that one of the main effects of the Eucharist is the forgiveness of sins. In the NT, Jesus is the one who makes the payment – not in silver or gold but with his own blood (1 Peter 1:18-20) and that is what we celebrate in the Eucharist each day. St Paul captures this nicely in Ephesians 1:7 when speaking of the grace we receive through Christ he says: “in whom we have redemption through his blood”. We must also remember the words spoken over the chalice: “Take this all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

Let us pray: God our Father, you have laid claim to a relationship with us whereby you take away our sin and shame. Jesus came to show just how much you love us and has paid the price for our sins. During this year of the Eucharist help us to cherish the gift of the sacrament by which our sins are forgiven. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

[Blessing].

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 9 December 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.

The time of Advent is a time of joy, peace and hope. As we approach and anticipate the commemoration of the Birth of our Saviour, let us keep hope alive in our hearts, knowing that the fulfilment of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection is drawing nearer. We look to the future and the final accomplishment of God’s Kingdom. Welcome to this reflection.

Jesus spoke these beautiful words to his disciples and to us, recorded in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:28-30):

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, our souls are restless until they find rest in you. Give us peace within ourselves, Lord, as we face the struggles of every day life, most especially as we face the consequences of the Corona Virus, strengthen our hope in you and never let our faith waiver. May we always be willing to share your yoke joyfully so that we may learn from you. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever, amen. 

Just before Jesus spoke these words of encouragement and solace to his disciples, he had addressed his Father in thanksgiving saying, I bless you, Father, Lord of Heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Jesus’ revelation of the Father, and the mysteries of creation and salvation, are not accessible to only a select few. Throughout Christian tradition, groups have arisen that claimed “special knowledge” of God, or that they were more enlightened than others in their knowledge of God. The fact is, God is accessible and available to any person who has an open heart and seeks him sincerely. It is not a matter of wealth, intelligence or status that enables us to know God. It is worth repeating: God comes to those who seek him and seek to do good – and one further qualifier is needed – those with a humble heart. 

For to “learn from Jesus” is to learn humility. While we frequently, and rightly, refer to God as “Almighty” and “all powerful”, it is also true that our God is a humble God, a “little” God. He is not a dominant, autocratic dictator such as those civil leaders that have appeared during the course of history. He is a gentle and humble God who, in the Old Testament, chose the smallest and least of people – the Jews – and chose them to be the instrument of his light in the world. He is the God who rides not a mighty horse when he enters Jerusalem, but a humble donkey. He is the one who carries his Cross and is crucified among criminals. He is the one who says, come to me all who labour and are heavy laden. He looks to those weighed down by the burdens and struggles of life not with oppression, not to control them, but to give them rest and peace.

Sometimes it is hard for us to come to an acceptance of the reality that God really cares for us and that he has a humble and gentle heart that holds a place for us in it. St Augustine recognized that God is indeed a God of solace, and recognized that we can only find our peace in God. In his words, which I used in the opening prayer, our hearts will only rest when they find rest in thee. So much of our time is spent seeking happiness, contentment and fulfilment and yet we search for them in the wrong place, chasing after false lights instead of the true Light. Jesus is the way to the Father, he is the way to true peace. Knowing and believing this is not some sort of  escape from reality, or the “opium of the people”. It does not remove us from the realities of life, nor does it mean that all our struggles and anxieties disappear. We have never been promised that. But it does mean that we are given the strength to meet those challenges, it means that we can find meaning in them, we can find meaning in life and that we are a people filled with hope. It means that we carry the Cross with Jesus – in a small way – for the salvation of the world.

During this Advent we can learn to simplify our lives, to purify our motivation and intentions, and to become “little” like Jesus. We who have received so much help and strength from him, who have had our burdens lightened and lifted from our shoulders, can do exactly the same for those around us. We can help them bear the burdens of life and we can help them find rest in Jesus by our concrete acts of humility and gentleness.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

May Almighty God fill your hearts with happiness and joy, that you may worthily celebrate the coming feast of the Incarnation. May Jesus, who took our flesh, always find a home in your hearts and fill them with peace, love and hope. Through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen