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 June 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.

In the month of June we focus our lives on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, remembering his love, mercy and forgiveness. In South Africa, we celebrate “Youth Day” today, helping us to reflect on our responsibility to young people and how we can guide and equip them to contribute to the community, the growth of human dignity and equality. The excerpt of Scripture is taken from today’s Gospel Reading (Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18):

At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Let us pray:

Loving Father, we pray that you will bless us with honesty, that we may live our life of discipleship with integrity and hope.  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.

Last week, I spoke of Jesus’ “new commandment” – the commandment to love with the same love he has for us. The love we strive to have is a genuine love, a real concern for the good and well-being of others, without any pretence or falseness. Since we have undertaken to follow Jesus we wish our love to be sincere and this is a life-long task. The love that Jesus speaks of is not something that we have or don’t have. It is a journey of learning how to love, of being decisive in overcoming negative emotions in order to grow in sacrificial love and to persevere even though we make mistakes and have failures.

I also said last week that such love is impossible to achieve without God’s grace in us. While it is expressed in our daily activities – love in practice – it is also necessary to be in communion with the well-spring of God’s life, love and grace. In other words, it is necessary to take responsibility for our interior life, our spirituality and communion with God. The two go together, in the motto of the Benedictines it is “to work and to pray”. It is similar to the incident of Martha and Mary, where Mary sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha worked away in the kitchen preparing food (Luke 10: 38-42). Martha, who had opened her home to Jesus, was rather annoyed that she was left with the work while Mary relished simply being with Jesus. We are expected to be both Martha and Mary – to be with Christ while at the same time making our love practical and concrete. It s not a matter of “either or” but it is to be “both”.

In today’s Gospel, a reading that is read every year on Ash Wednesday, we are given ways of growing in our spiritual life. First and foremost, the warning Jesus gives us is that we are not to do this for show. It is not to impress people or to present a false and hypocritical image of ourselves. We undertake the journey to please God and to be of service to him. It is very much about our relationship with God and our desire to conform our lives to his will. 

Then Jesus speaks about giving alms. We are not to sound “a trumpet” when we do this, and we are not to let “the left hand know what the right hand is doing”. This is important, because our assistance to others is meant to arise from a genuine concern, a sense of solidarity with our neighbour who is suffering and the desire to share from what we have, no matter how little it may be.

Next, Jesus talks about prayer. We are to go into our rooms, shut the door and pray in secret. We understand his words to mean – not that we should not pray in the presence of others, such as Mass – but that we pray in the depths of our hearts, even if it is done during communal prayer. It is through prayer that we keep our relationship with God alive. It is an intimate moment when we express our deepest and most honest feelings and thoughts, stripping away all pretence and excuses!

Finally, Jesus talks about fasting, depriving ourselves of food or something else that we enjoy doing. Of course, fasting from food should not be done if it will affect our health, but we can find other ways to fast or to abstain. It is something we should practice regularly because fasting strengthens us and builds up an inner resolve so that we have control over our lives, that we do not follow every fancy and whim that might seem attractive to us. Our emotional life is important and it is essential to be “in touch with” and to understand our emotions. But, at the same time, we cannot be ruled by them, we must learn to master them. We can transform this time of Covid into a form of fasting, allowing it to change and soften our hearts to become more like the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

We are tired of Covid and wish it would go away. But we can still put this time to good use by working on ourselves and developing our inner life, with genuineness and through charity (alms giving), thinking of those who suffer more than we do, through prayer and through understanding this time as a type of fasting. The hardship of the restrictions can make us better people. For the many, many people who are struggling simply to survive and who are facing devastation, this may be a luxury, and that puts a greater onus on us who have greater blessings to reach out and make a difference in their lives.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Enlighten your people, O Lord, with the light of your truth, that they may rejoice joyfully in serving you in the daily activities of their lives and that, through them, your Kingdom may grow among people. Through Christ our Lord, amen

May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (+), amen.