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 6 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.

I wish you all a blessed and grace-filled New Year. As we begin this year, battered by Covid-19 and its consequences, we pray that the Lord will be close to lead us by the hand, so that we may have the strength to face with faith whatever challenges we meet. Our trust and our hope is in Christ our Saviour. Thank you for joining me for this reflection.

In the Gospel of today’s Mass from St Mark (6:45-52) we hear that, after the miracle of the loaves, Jesus instructed his disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of him to the other side, while he went to to pray on the mountain. This is what we hear next:

And he saw they were distressed in rowing, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw and were terrified. But immediately he spoke with them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear”. And he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. 

I will use the collect of today’s Mass for the opening prayer.  Let us pray:

O God, who bestow light on all the nations, grant your peoples the gladness of lasting peace, and place into our hearts that brilliant light by which you purified the minds of your people in faith. 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. 

Most people are in agreement that 2020 was a terrible year – some have been saying “get lost” 2020, good riddance. There is no doubt that 2020 was a tough and challenging year, but simply to dismiss it and hope to forget it is a wrong approach. All the suffering and hardship of last year will be in vain if we do not learn what we can from it and allow it to help us understand life more fully.  In all its horribleness and the enormous suffering it has entailed, we have to find Christ in it and to learn to “read the signs of the times”. The Gospel reading we have just heard teaches us the profound lesson that Christ is to be found in the storm, and not by ignoring the storm. The disciples did not initially recognize Jesus as he walked on the water, thinking him a ghost. In terror for their lives, as the wind and waves bashed their boat, they called out, and immediately as they called out to him Jesus responded with words of consolation and strength, Take heart, it is I, have no fear. Even when he got in the boat and the wind dropped, they remained astounded for their lack of understanding, St Mark mentioning specifically that they had not understood the miracle of the loaves which had preceded this event. It’s always easy to see the hand of God in the spectacular, the comfortable, those things which satisfy us and bring us a sense of peace. It is much more difficult to see God in hardship, suffering and in times of terror.

Last year must teach us the most fundamental lesson of the need to change. It is a lesson that if we continue on the paths that we have adopted over the past years, we are heading for destruction. All our relationships need to change, our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves.

Our relationship with God needs to change. The pandemic has taught us not only the fragility of human life but also the fragility of human constructs, such as the economy. It has taught us that having received the great gifts of science and technology, they do not contain all the answers to life, and they do not ultimately have the power to save. We are grateful for the blessings of intellect, science and technology and the progress and advancements they bring to human life. But they come with a temptation, in fact the most ancient of temptations – arrogance and pride, as “Man” begins to believe that he is capable of anything, that he does not need God. 2020 has certainly brought home to us the frailty of human advances and our need for God.

Our relationship with others needs to change. The pandemic has brought out the very best in people and there are many examples of astounding sacrificial love, of acts of bravery and courage. We think of the frontline workers who are willing to risk their lives for those they serve, who work long hours and who face the consequences of stress and burnout. There are many others too, who have shown such sacrificial love. But there are some who will not even wear a mask simply because it’s “uncomfortable”, who cannot delay parties or social events because they are obsessed with instant gratification. 2020 has made it clear to us the interdependence of life, that the health and wellbeing of others is dependent on my responsible and thoughtful behaviour; it has taught us with great clarity that we cannot serve God, who is Life, unless we serve the life of those around us. We should also have learnt that interdependence is not only about our relationship with other human beings, but our relationship with the whole of creation, and the urgent need for us to become more respectful and caring of nature and other forms of life, indeed of the very earth itself.

Finally, there is a need to change our relationship with ourselves. Do I really understand what faith is all about, or am I like the disciples in the boat who did not recognize Jesus in the storm and who did not understand the miracle of the loaves? Do I recognize that my faith is not only about comfort, consolation and the spectacular actions of Jesus, but that the road to resurrection and life is always through the Cross? Have I accepted that the Cross and the Resurrection are irrevocably intertwined, there is not one without the other? In times when we experience the Cross, such as in this time of the pandemic, does my faith in resurrection and life remain unshakeable? Can I see, despite the uncertainty and anxiety of this time, the presence and action of Jesus? Can I take to heart with faith and trust, his words,  Take heart, it is I; have no fear? Let us pray that we, and all the world, will accept the change that is required of us.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

 May God, who has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, pour out in kindness his blessing upon you and make your hearts firm in faith, hope and charity, so that you too, may be a light to your brothers and sisters.  Through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen