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 30 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.

Peace and blessings to all of you. On Monday I had my second shot of the Pfizer vaccine. It was an easy and efficient process and the staff were extraordinarily helpful and caring. I hope that, it you are over 60, you are registered and that you will have the vaccine. It is really important for all of us to do so. Thank you for joining me for this reflection. The love of Jesus, as his Sacred Heart reminds us, is a liberating love that frees us from fear, sin and eternal death. In the Gospel Reading of today’s Mass (Matthew 8:28-34), we hear the remarkable account of the two demoniacs who recognized Jesus and asked him “What have you to do with us?” They requested that if he was to cast them out that it be into a herd of pigs. He acceded to their request and the pigs rushed into the water and drowned. This is what happened next:

The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs, and behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.

Let us pray:

All powerful God, cast far from us everything that binds us and prevents us from following your Son, Jesus, with a fully free and generous heart.  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.

This event of the casting out of these demons is remarkable for a number of reasons. The demons recognize Jesus and his power – in many other situations those who encountered Jesus did not recognize him for who he was. It is the demons who address Jesus directly and they raise the issue of being cast out – in most other miracles it is the afflicted person who pleads for healing, or others who intercede on the person’s behalf. But that is not the case in this miracle. The demons make the cryptic comment, have you come to torment us before our time? Presumably, the forces of evil believe that they have full sway on earth until the end of time. Then, the demons are brave enough to make a request of Jesus – that they be cast into the herd of swine – and, surprisingly, he grants what they ask. One may well feel sorry for the pigs that then embarked on a mass suicide and, indeed, for their owners who could not have been too pleased about the loss of their herd. And what were pigs doing there in the first place? They were considered to be unclean animals and their meat not to be touched.

Most remarkable was the response of the citizens of that city. They came out en masse and were united in begging Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. There was not a word of gratitude that the two demoniacs – who were so fierce that nobody could pass their residence in the tombs where they lived among he dead – were liberated from the demonic power and, presumably, everyone would now be free to pass there without fear.

And yet, their desire to get rid of Jesus is understandable in a way. In ch 8 of Matthew’s Gospel, this miracle is in the context of a variety of miracles: Jesus cured a leper, he healed the centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother-in-law, there were a number of other healings and casting out of devils without any details given. He had calmed the storm at sea in response to his disciples’ plea “save us, Lord, we are going down”. All these miracles demonstrate the enormous power of Jesus. He had power over what is unclean, he has power over disease, he commands the winds and the sea and, yes, he has authority and power over evil and demons. He is “all powerful” over the world, the universe and the cosmos. We can surely understand that for these citizens to hear the account of such power was frightening. It is just a pity that they did not take time to get to know Jesus better, for they would have recognized that his power was the power of perfect love, gentleness and forgiveness.

Even for ourselves, Jesus can be frightening. The more we encounter him and allow his light to enter deeper into our being, the more we see ourselves as we are – and it is not always pleasant when the excuses, the rose-coloured spectacles and the images we have made for ourselves are stripped away. Perhaps our greatest fear, as we encounter Jesus more and more, is that we will have to change, to leave our comfort zones and the habits we have grown accustomed to and which make us feel safe and secure. It is no wonder that at times it is “safer” to relegate Jesus to be closed up in the tabernacle or to going to Mass on Sundays with a few prayers during the week. Among the miracles recounted in chapter 8 of St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples that there is a cost to discipleship” “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”, and “leave the dead to bury the dead”. Perhaps it is this innate fear of what Jesus may ask of us, and the changes he would like us to make in our lives that cause us to be reluctant at times to welcome him fully and unconditionally in our lives – it feels safer to say “thus far, Lord, and no further”.

When we recognize that there can be this frightening aspect to the encounter with Jesus, and we recognize that at times we can be fearful of what it means to belong to Christ, we need to reflect deeply on the dominant message of the Scriptures and what is so clearly visible in the life of Jesus: God is love. Our fears can only be overcome when we trust in what has been revealed to us – God is love, he wishes to embrace us with his love, he wants no harm to come to us, he longs for the sinner to return to him, he desires to make us whole and to share his life with us, he has prepared a place for us for there are “many rooms” in God’s house. God forgives the repentant, he heals the sick and broken-hearted, he is gentle to those who have been hurt. It is all summarized in those few words: God is love. When instinctively we wish to allow God to come into our lives only to a point defined by ourselves and to allow him to go no further, let us not be like the citizens of Gadara and ask him to leave. Rather, in trust, let us surrender to him and give our lives totally to him, so that we may be enveloped by his love and transformed more and more into his image. 

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Almighty and compassionate God, look kindly on your people and free them from fear and anxiety, that they may trust you in all they say and do, knowing that you are with them at all times. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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