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 20 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.

Blessings on you and welcome to this reflection. In yesterday’s and today’s Gospel we hear about the actions of Jesus which outraged the Pharisees. In yesterday’s Gospel they were angered because Jesus’ disciples had picked ears of grain on the Sabbath and this was considered work. On that occasion Jesus summed up his teaching by saying, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath and so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath. In today’s Gospel (Mark 3:1-6) Jesus was in the synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand. It was the Sabbath. This is what we hear: 

And he said to the man with the withered hand “Come here”. And he said to them “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.

Let us pray:

Loving and compassionate Father, we humbly pray, that you will give us courage when things go wrong. Strengthen us with faith in you, with hope in your promises and with love of your will. 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. 

The third of the ten commandments instructs us to keep the Sabbath holy – that for six days we are to work but on the seventh day we are to rest and dedicate the day to God. Of course, the early Christians changed the day we celebrate the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week. This is the first day of creation, the day of Christ’s Resurrection, the day of Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. It was also considered to be the eighth day of the week by many early Christian writers – a day that does not exist in our present earthly reality but is the anticipation of our entry into heavenly eternity. And so, in fidelity to the third commandment, we keep the Sabbath holy and we know it as the Day of the Lord. The question I wish to pose to you today is simply this: “How well have you done in keeping the Sabbath holy since the lockdown began in March last year?”  While all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cape Town, as with many other places in the world, were freed from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass, it is beyond the competence of the Church to free anyone from keeping the Sabbath holy. I am sure that you will remember that in our communications with you we suggested that you keep the Sabbath holy by having a table covered with a white cloth, a candle, a crucifix, and to dress respectfully while participating in a live-streamed Mass. Prayers were given for making a spiritual communion as well as other prayers to assist people to celebrate the Lord’s Day. Have you managed to persevere in doing this and have you managed to persevere in prayer during these difficult days?

Ultimately, prayer is communion with God. It is creating the space, time and openness to allow God to be present to us while, at the same time, allowing ourselves to be present to God. There are many aspects to prayer – praise, repentance, thanksgiving, intercession and petition, and there are many ways to pray – aloud, in silence, alone, with others, sacramental prayer, prayers of the heart, and so on. An essential aspect of prayer is that it must include listening. It is not our monologue with God, but is both our spoken words to him and opening ourselves, in silence and stillness of heart for him to speak his quiet mysterious word to us. The Sabbath is given to us as that special day of acknowledging and celebrating our communion with God, our relationship of love with him. But the profound teaching of Jesus of yesterday’s and today’s Gospel reminds us that we cannot desire and have communion with God, unless we desire and have communion with our neighbour. Jesus’ actions convey to us that keeping the Sabbath holy is God’s commandment but it does not mean that we can ignore the needs of our neighbours. In fact, our communion with God is irrevocably linked with our compassionate and loving response to the needs of others.  And how can we say that we love our neighbour, or that we are in communion with our neighbour, if we are hard of heart and fail to alleviate the burdens of others when it is in our power to do so. In the words of St James, How does it help, my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that bring salvation? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, “I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty”, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?” (James 2:14-16).

Maintaining a prayer life takes both discipline and commitment. We have to keep praying even when we don’t feel like it, or we feel dry inside. It is both very personal and, at the same time, communal. It is the expression of my relationship with God, my union with him, but even if I am praying by myself, it is communal prayer because I am praying as a member of the Church, of Christ’s Body. When we pray we pray in the name of the Church and for the Church. For our prayer to be true and sincere, it must always contain our desire to remain united with the Head of the Body, Jesus, and to be united with the members of the Body through sincere love and kindness.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

Let the splendour of the Resurrection lighten up the hearts and minds of your faithful, Lord, scattering the shadows of fear and death, and bringing to the radiance of eternity your people.  Through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.