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 21 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.

Welcome to today’s reflection. We will begin by praying the Prayer for Peace in Southern Africa:

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. We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord, 
Amen.

For this reflection I have taken a few verses from the First Reading of today’s Mass:

…all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, “Would we have died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill the whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day…”

Recalling the Israelite’s time in the desert is helpful in these days of the Covid pandemic. Many of us feel that we are in a wilderness of confusion, frustration, loneliness, economic hardship and uncertainty. The road forward is not clear and is unmarked. The troubles we are going through in South Africa at this time have made things even worse. Like the Israelites, it is quite possible that we will go round in circles as we try to find the way. And like the Israelites, who longed for the fleshpots of Egypt even though they had been liberated from slavery, many of us long to “go back” to “normality”. We also speak of a “new normal” which holds out promise of some type of normality, just as the Israelites moved towards the promised land which promised milk and honey. Hopefully, unlike the Israelites’ experience, we will not have to endure forty years of the covid pandemic. In fact, we have good reason to hope that by this time next year we will not be as restricted as we are now and that much of the danger shall have passed.

It has been brought home to us many times that the “normality” of the past is gone for good – we are not going to return there. Perhaps, as time goes on, we will recognize that the so-called normality of yesteryear was not normal at all. Perhaps we will begin to see many abnormalities in the things that we took for granted and thought were normal. And perhaps in recognizing those abnormalities, we will be able to correct them for our benefit and the benefit of all, so that we grow as human beings.

The 40 years of the Israelites in the desert were not wasted years. It is in those years they learnt of God’s providence for them. He provided daily bread for them in the morning, and an evening meal of meat. They truly ate “bread from heaven”, the “bread of angels”. God quenched their thirst with water from the rock, as they drank from the well-spring which is God himself. In the desert they received the ten commandments, a blessing given to them by God, as we hear in Psalm 147 (vv19-20), He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. In other words, they learnt what pleased God, and how they were to live in order to respect both God and the rights of their neighbour. In the desert they learnt repentance after their unfaithful hearts had sought a false god, and they experiences the forgiveness of the Lord. They had to contend with the bites of snakes as a consequence of their lack of gratitude and their mumbling and grumbling against God and his servant Moses. In facing the might of other nations, they learnt to overcome their fear and to courageously abide by what God told them to do – it took a long time but they reached the promised land in the end, better peple for the time spent in the desert.

Our time during our journey through the wilderness brought on by the pandemic should also help us to reflect deeply on God’s presence. Just as he never deserted his people Israel and, in fact, was the one (through Moses) leading them to the promised land, so we are not deserted by God today. We must have the faith that he is leading us to a place or state of life that is better and more “normal” than the one we’ve had until now. This is a time to reflect with gratitude on God’s providence for us – yes, we are enduring hardship and uncertainty, and yet we have so much to be grateful for. We can long for those things we don’t have, we can long for the good times of the past – but wouldn’t it be time better spent to be grateful for the good times of the past, and to be satisfied with what we have now. It might not be the “fleshpots”, so to speak, but we are blessed and are beneficiaries of God’s bountiful generosity.

It is a time to reflect and accept the need to repent, just as the Israelites had to learn that hard lesson, for the times when we have gone after “false gods”. The “false gods” are those times when the values we live by are distorted and disfigured from the will of God. We know all the “right” values, we can talk about them. But what are the values that we have been living by and that have been determining how we live our lives. What are the values that I want to live by in my life – and do they correspond to the 10 commandments and, most importantly, to the commandment given to us by Jesus, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind, and to love my neighbour as myself. In short, what can I learn to become a better person and a more sincere and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ? If we don’t ask these questions, our time in this Covid 19 desert will be wasted.

It is hard. It’s understandable if you feel insecure, frustrated, anxious. You are not alone – we are all experiencing these negative consequences to some extent or another. Most importantly, you are not alone because Christ, the rock that followed the Israelites and quenched their thirst in the desert(1Cor 10:4), is still with us so that we can draw from the deep well-springs of his grace. It is hard because we are separated from the physical reception of the “bread of angels”, our daily manna, Holy Communion. And yet, Christ continues to nourish us and comes to us spiritually. Through our faith, he gives us the resilience to walk this journey, always conscious of the hope of the dawn of a new day that he will open before us. In the meantime, we journey together, as his people, supporting and accompanying each other, learning to be grateful and resisting the temptation to complain.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Bestow your peace on our country, O Lord, and protect us from all harm, that we may seek to serve you through serving our neighbour and may glorify your name by walking the paths of truth and justice. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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