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 7 July 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.

I trust and pray that you are observing all the health protocols that will help us manage the Covid 19 virus. As I’ve mentioned many times before, some of the precautions we are asked to take can be annoying and a nuisance, but they are necessary, and ultimately simple to comply with. Welcome to this reflection. I have taken a passage from the First Reading of today’s Mass (Genesis 41:55-57, 42:5-7,17-24).

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.’ So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

Let us pray:

Father, source of all goodness, you nourish us and care for us in every aspect of our lives. You transform hardships and crises into blessings and new beginnings. Strengthen us to place our trust in you even in the most difficult times when things are darkest.  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 story of Joseph is well known to all of us. He was a man of dreams, much favoured by his father Jacob to the annoyance of his brothers, who experienced the discontent of the most torturous of sins, namely envy. It was that burning jealousy that drove them to plot to kill Joseph, but eventually they sold him as a slave – despite the fact that they knew it was a betrayal of their father and that his heart would be broken; it was also a betrayal of their “older brother” responsibility to protect and care for the younger siblings. Joseph landed up in Egypt and also in prison, after he resisted the charms of his master’s wife who tried to seduce him. It was an insult that caused her to seek revenge and ensure that he paid for the snub. All turns out well, of course. Joseph is able to interpret a dream of Pharaoh and is released from prison and given high honour and authority. He is united with his brothers, and eventually with his father when the whole family join the queues of migrants who seek relief from famine and a better life in Egypt. The whole event becomes the forerunner of the salvific Exodus and the deliverance of God’s people.

It is a story of sin and betrayal. As Bishop Sylvester said in his reflection of last Friday, even the best of families have their struggles and quarrels. Jacob was a man chosen by God, his sons would be the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel – but they were also sinners par excellence, who showed great cruelty to their father by telling him that Jospeh was dead, who ate and drank ignoring the pleas of Joseph for mercy and, for money, condemned him to a life of hardship and pain. They then lived their lives keeping this dark secret in their hearts which must have continued to poison their souls.

While we should not romanticize and try to remove the very real and grave sin from this account, it is – in fact – an encouraging and hope-filled insight into the nature of God and his activity in the world. Living in these Covid times we need that encouragement and hope, because like Joseph when he was in slavery, many people are experiencing hopelessness and desolation. For Joseph, the fact that he was separated from his family, that it was his very flesh and blood that had sold him, and that he had to endure a life of slavery, must have caused despair at times. He would have thought himself condemned to that life for the rest of his years. He did not abandon his faith in God, nor did he give up. In time, God transformed all that pain, suffering, loneliness, desolation, darkness and hardship into something good – not only good for Joseph, but good for the Biblical world of the time. Joseph’s understanding of Pharaoh’s dream, and his rise to “power” in administering the Egyptian stores of grain, made him instrumental in saving the world of his time. Impoverished, drought-stricken countries found relief in Egypt because God had transformed Joseph’s life and inspired him. How we pray, and long for, God’s transformation of our present times, that the bitter struggles and frustrations we experience may be changed into something good and beneficial for people. It is our trust that God will do this. But we cannot just leave it to God. Like Joseph, we do not give up, we do not despair, we do not lose faith and we do not allow the darkness to smother our hope. Furthermore, we cultivate and maintain a positive attitude and consciously seek ways of finding good that we can do in these difficult circumstances.

The story of Joseph’s life also encourages us for another reason. Those who found new hope and salvation from God through Joseph included the family of Joseph who had sinned so grievously against him. His willingness to embrace his brothers, after putting them to the test, conveys the dignity and transformative nature of forgiveness. The family was restored, harmonious relationships were re-established, and the dark cloud that must have hung over the brothers was lifted. It is a sign of the unconditional love and compassion of God who is always prepared to forgive those who repent. No matter how burdened we are by guilt because of whatever sins we may have committed, in God we find the abundance of forgiveness which restores us to wholeness.

Finally, these events remind us, too, that there is no such thing as a perfect family – even Jesus’ family had their share of pain. As Bishop Sylvester pointed out, even those especially chosen by God for a special cause experienced the struggles of life in their families. With all the pain that we encounter in the family, coming to us from all sorts of angles, for the disappointments, the hurts, the dysfunction at times, we don’t give up on family, because family is family and it is our place of belonging, of acceptance, of solace and support. Forgiveness is continually needed, sometimes things don’t work out and there is a break-up, but whatever happens we must strive to keep together the family we have no matter how imperfect or far from the “ideal” it may be. Give thanks to God for your family, pray that he may heal what needs healing and that he may keep you together with a love that transcends the imperfections and, to use one of Pope Francis’ favourite words, the “messiness”, of the situations we sometimes find ourselves in.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Lift the burdens on the shoulders of your people, Lord, and lighten their yoke, that they may always rejoice in your love and cherish the peace that you alone can give. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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