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 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.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus draws us into the love of God, that perfect and true love which never deceives us. As we continue to honour the Heart of Jesus during this month of June, let us also strive to open our hearts to truth, for true love embraces truth. Welcome to this reflection. I have chosen the Scripture verse from the Gospel of today’s Mass (Matthew 7:15-20).

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? 

Let us pray:

Merciful Father, through your Holy Spirit, grant us a love of truth, that we may live our call to discipleship with honesty, always striving to deepen our love and service of you and our neighbour.  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.

Deception is part of human life. It always has been and, presumably, always will be, until God’s Kingdom is finally established. Sometimes I tend to think that the deception we experience in our own days is far worse than that of previous years, but that is probably not the case. A litany of lies and falsehood among people is recorded from the very first book of the Bible. In a sense this is encouraging, because we realise that deceit is part of the human condition and, despite that, God does not give up on his creation. Sadly, this generation is not unusual in living among falsity, and it exists in every sphere of life – wherever people are to be found.

Deception is often very subtle and can be couched in noble and inspiring words that are designed to conceal reality. Think of the apartheid legislation that was described as the “abolition of passes act” which, in fact, extended the pass laws to females. Wars have been fought and countless lives lost in conflict that are said to be for “justice”, “freedom”, “equality” and the like, whereas the real motivation was more nefarious, perhaps to acquire the wealth of another people, or simply to extend power. Smear campaigns ruin the careers of rivals – such campaigns may contain some truth, but often they are based on innuendo or rumour and are used to obfuscate and muddy the waters. When personal relationships are based on lies they usually end in disaster.

The Church has by no means been free from its own struggles with lies and hidden motives. We have been through very rough patches in our history. In fact, considering what has happened in our history and the depths to which we sunk at times, I suggest that it is one of the greatest signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Church that it still exists and thrives in the present, after 2000 years of existence. Our own era is marked by the rise of countless churches and they continue to spring up all over the place. Some of them are “prosperity cult” churches and are a facade for the enrichment of their pastors and leaders. Their leaders term themselves prophets and promise healing and prosperity, even offering “proof” through dramatic masquerades. They attract people who are desperately trying to find truth and meaning in their lives but who, in the end, land up disillusioned and disappointed. Mostly, such churches skip or sanitize the cruel reality of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus and have little or no understanding of the Christian vocation to share in the sufferings of Christ, and that entry to eternal life can only be through the Cross. 

Falsehood in any sphere of life leads to mistrust, disappointment, hurt, anger, conflict and destruction – physical destruction or emotional destruction. Falsehood inspires disillusionment and cynicism. It causes us to wonder if truth is possible and whether anybody can be trusted. And if truth is not possible, how can love be possible? But love is possible – human experience teaches us that – and truth is possible as well, not in its perfection or fullness due to our human limitations, but both love and truth are as much part of human life as dispassion and falsity. The fact is that the deepest longings of human beings is for love and truth, both of which are aspects of the divine and reflect the divine image that exists in the creation of each person. We have only to think of many of the martyrs and saints – people such as Mother Theresa, Martin de Porres, Aloysius Gonzaga, the martyrs of Uganda, Benedict Daswa – and all the saints and martyrs who have shown their deep self-giving love for God and their neighbour, and who always sought to find the truth and to live the truth. The divine image of God’s loves shines out in them, just as it does in countless “ordinary” people, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, neighbours, who give their hearts over to the truth of generous love.

Our expectation is that we should be able to trust our leaders, but we cannot put our hope in any person. People are always capable of disappointing us, simply because no person is perfect. There are people who may inspire us and we find much to admire in them – it’s good to have role models and even heroes. But the perfection of truth, and the perfection of love, is to be found in God alone. Many leaders, priests, bishops, popes, leaders of nations, in whom we recognize the image of divine truth and love but, ultimately, they are only servants who have responded to the Holy Spirit to make the world a better more caring place. Our focus, aided and encouraged by these servants, must be on God and his love, revealed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus – it is in that heart that we will find perfect love and the fullness of truth.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Protect your people for all harm and evil. We pray O Lord, and bless them with an abundance of good health, joy and peace. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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