Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 19 February 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.
Reflection for 19 February 2021. Friday after Ash Wednesday – Isaiah 58:1-9.
There is absolutely no substitute for the actual reading of the text. Read the text in its entirety – i.e. Isaiah 58:1-16. It is still early in Lent and as we set out on our pilgrimage, the Church gives us this text to remind us what true fasting is all about. It is a sharp reminder that our religion does not occur in a vacuum but in the context of real human relationships. I will deal with two verses: “Is it not sharing your food with the hungry, and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own kin? Then your light will blaze out like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over. Saving justice will go ahead of you and Yahweh’s glory come behind you” (Isaiah 58:7-8).
What the text indicates is that our fast is only acceptable to God if we act with compassion for the marginalized and relate with them as brothers and sisters. Perhaps the following quote from Fr Gustavo Gutiérrez OP will be helpful: “You say you love the poor – okay tell me their names”. This implies that helping the poor is no mere “remote control” giving – we have to relate with those in need and recognize their dignity. Ultimately we have to realize that our contributions to the poor are not only helpful to them – we in fact, are the primary beneficiaries because without the practice of almsgiving our discipleship is not authentic (cf. Matthew 6:1-18 which lists almsgiving, fasting and prayer as key elements of Christian discipleship. Christian faith is more than just a nice feeling – it is meant to change lives!). In today’s first reading the prophet shows us how almsgiving and fasting go hand in hand.
I had the privilege of living in community with Bishop Barry Wood OMI. The parish we worked in, in the Durban South area, had a wonderful outreach to the poor and ran a successful soup kitchen. The various churches ran soup kitchens on different days of the week. Sometimes when people came in search of food (the then) Fr Barry would make them sandwiches himself. He was rather clumsy in the kitchen and was not a skilled sandwich maker, turning out very uneven sandwiches – but I am sure his efforts brought relief to many. He could very easily have said that the soup kitchen is closed or that on that day another church ran the feeding scheme. He was aware that some could not make it during the two to three hours in which the soup kitchens operated. He knew that hunger has no time table. His actions show clearly what genuine giving is all about – and it was not remote controlled. In response to the question posed by Fr Gutiérrez, Bishop Barry would have been able to recite an entire litany of names.
I wish you a joyful Lenten journey as we discover the kind of fasting which pleases our God.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father – over and over again you invite us to imitate your own goodness to your children who are on the margins. Help us to authenticate our Christian faith by a life of service. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing].
Bishop Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town