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 14 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.

Peace and blessings on you. It is with great sadness that I greet you today, considering what is happening in our country at this time, and what has happened recently in eSwatini. We must all pray for peace and work for peace. Those who are putting the lives and livelihoods of others at risk, must desist. They are throwing the country deeper into poverty and hardship for ordinary people. While we must identify and eradicate the root causes of what is happening, there can be no excuse for the looting and violence. Those who are inciting people to violence must be brought to account for their actions and held responsible. 

Please join me now in a prayer for peace:

O God of justice and love, bless us, the people of Southern Africa, and help us to
live in your peace.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury; let me sow pardon;
Where there is discord, let me sow harmony.
Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
Seek to be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
To receive sympathy, as to give it;
For it is in giving that we shall receive,
In pardoning that we shall be pardoned,
In forgetting ourselves that we shall find
Unending peace with others. Through Christ our Lord,
Amen.

Welcome to this reflection. In the First Reading of today’s Mass (Exodus 3:1-6,9-12) we hear of Moses’ encounter with the Lord in the burning bush. Moses wanted a closer look at this strange and wondrous sight – a bush burning but not being consumed by the fire. This is what we hear next:

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I”. Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground”. And then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have seen the affliction of my people…”

Moses had been on the run after killing an Egyptian who had been beating a Hebrew, one of Moses’ own people, and he had fled to the land of Midian. He had witnessed the injustice done to his people in Egypt and this had given rise to a burning passion within him which resulted in the killing of the Egyptian. Now, when he encounters the Divine in the burning bush, a fire lights up again in his heart when he hears the Lord say “I have seen the affliction of my people”, “I know their sufferings”. The experience of the burning bush empowers him to take a stand and to respond to the deep impulse that was already in him to do something about the suffering of the Israelites. He is still afraid, he fears the unknown, he is filled with self-doubt and feels inadequate. In fact, the lack of confidence will remain with him throughout. Nonetheless, he takes action. Despite being wanted for murder, he returns to Egypt, despite his self-doubt he approaches Pharaoh and demands the liberation of his people. Even though fearful he perseveres despite frustration and the cruelty inflicted on the Israelites by Pharaoh in retaliation to Moses’ demands for liberation. The experience of the burning bush changed his life, transformed him, not by removing his sense of inadequacy and his fear, but by liberating him from their power.

There are many things that can be said about this experience and the meaning of the burning bush, but I would like to speak of only three. Firstly, I think it is true to say, that the encounter with the Divine helped Moses recognize something that was already in himself. He had witnessed the injustice meted out to the Jews and he wanted to do something about it, but at the same time he fled from doing anything through fear and anxiety. His flight from Egypt was not only a geographical flight, it was also fleeing from something he knew he should be doing but was too afraid to do – he tried to deny the burning thirst for justice and to suppress it. This gives rise to the question that we all need to ask ourselves: Do I feel a stirring in my heart about something good I should be doing, but I’m not doing anything about it? Do I see an injustice but am not doing anything about it?” Sometimes we let fear, lethargy and self-doubt get in the way and we land up doing nothing. The encounter with the Divine lets us see what we already have in our hearts but also that we need to untie the knots that are preventing us from doing something.

Secondly, when Moses approached the burning bush, he was warned by the Lord to remove his shoes for he was standing on holy ground; he was also afraid to look at God and covered is face. This gives rise to two questions. Do we have a deep sense of the sacred and the sacredness of God? There are times when we can take God for granted and we become over familiar with him. It is interesting that in the New Testament, after Jesus had risen from dead, when he appeared to his apostles he would have to say “do not be afraid” and similarly he would greet them with words of peace. The disciples had developed a great sense of awe and recognized the power of Jesus as Lord of the Cosmos and that he sits on the right hand of the Father “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and has put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:21-22). God is mystery and we must approach the sacredness of God with humility, respect and a deep awe. This sense of mystery will enable us to respect the presence of God in his Word, in his Sacraments and, indeed, the mysterious presence of God in our neighbour. The second question we must answer in this regard, is what must we put off (what are the shoes we must take off) in the presence of the Sacred. In other words, what changes must I make in my life to remove those things which do not belong to God and are contrary to the Gospel

Thirdly, despite his awe and fear, there is something that pulls Moses to the bush – he is drawn to it. It causes us to remember the words of Jesus, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). Being “drawn to God” is itself God’s gift. When we are given this gift, as indeed we have been, we must be sure that our hearts are open to receive it, and our will is ready to respond to it. As with Moses, we feel the attraction from God, we feel that we are being drawn by God. At such times, we cannot shrink back in fear, or be too comfortable in our present lifestyle that we draw back rather than be drawn to God. By having the crucified Christ before our eyes at all times of our life we will be drawn to God. Jesus himself said, …and I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32).

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Help us, Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Mary ever-virgin, to untie the knots that bind us and prevent us from being the people we are called to be, so that we will be truly free and enjoy the peace that only you can give. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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

Statement on the violence by the Jesuit Institute

“WHOLESALE DESTRUCTION MOCKS LIBERTY”

Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways!

(Proverbs 3:31)

The continued and escalating violence in South Africa is of grave concern. Violence always begets more violence. Violence causes immediate and long-term suffering to all and will not address the pertinent issues that need to be urgently addressed in this country. 

South Africa has long been on a precipice. What we witness is symptomatic of a number of factors that cannot be ignored. The country’s tragic history, endemic corruption, political infighting, moral decay, disregard for the law, and the unfavourable global economic conditions, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are among them. However, the burning, looting and destruction of property will not bring about change, it will deepen the crisis. 

The words of the great prophet and champion of the oppressed of last century, Salvadorian Archbishop, Oscar Romero, ring true and are pertinent now:

“I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country… All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.”

The Jesuit Institute South Africa urges those involved in violence to stop immediately. It is our own brothers and sisters that we are harming, not the elites or political tricksters who live securely and are shielded from the violence and destruction. They are not affected; they do not suffer. We appeal to you: stop the violence for your own sakes!

Furthermore, we urge that:

·      Politicians from all persuasions stop using this crisis to manipulate people by spewing irresponsible comments and incitements in the media and on social media. You are not showing leadership by being politically expedient and this incitement must be condemned.

·      Those who are inciting people on social media must be held accountable. Social media platforms have the moral responsibility to monitor incitement.

·      There is a return to the rule of law and right processes respected, namely, the Constitution, and the judicial system.

·      Religious leaders, address your followers, and offer direction in this time of crisis

·      The high levels of poverty, inequality, unemployment are not “addressed” but acted upon in a concrete manner.

·      That corruption is dealt with decisively. South Africans are tired of empty promises. Corruption has to be stamped out because this is a strong ingredient in the current crisis.

“The cause of liberty becomes a mockery if the price to be paid is the wholesale destruction of those who are to enjoy liberty” wrote the Trappist monk, theologian and social activist, Thomas Merton. 

The liberty of all is threatened if South Africa responds to the massive challenges we face on the current violent trajectory. Our hard fought for democracy is at stake and will lead to the wholesale destruction of this land. The civil anarchy and mayhem must end. We appeal to all South Africans to stop the violence. Serious problems afflict us, this is undeniable, but violence will never move us forward. 

ENDS

For more information: 
Dr Anthony Egan SJ: 072 938 4553 or a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
Fr Russell Pollitt SJ: 082 737 2054 or director@jesuitinstitute.org.za