Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 3 September 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.

Reflection for Friday 3 September 2021.

I once again wish to start by saying 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 ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Some thoughts on the Good NEWS and on reflective prayer: Lk 5:33-39

In our Gospel passage for today’s Mass, Jesus says: “…nobody puts new wine into old skins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and then run out, and the skins will be lost. No; new wine must be put into fresh skins”. This means that we have to treat the Good News as simply that – something new and not some old hat. God is after all breaking into our lives afresh each day and we are called to be attentive to that.

Some years ago Fr Albert Nolan OP made it abundantly clear is his very-easy-to-read book entitled “God in South Africa” that the good news must be treated as news i.e. as something new. In “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis speaks along the same lines encouraging Christians who are supposed to proclaim the Good News not to look like they have just returned from a funeral. This is why knowing the love of God is so important. It is the basis of Christian belief and helps us overcome our trials and to proclaim the good news. 

What is needed is an attitude which approaches the Gospel with fresh eyes. Easy to say – but hard to do as we have many presuppositions and these tend to clutter our prayer lives and our reading of Sacred Scripture, not to mention our relationships. One example is the attitudes we tend to develop when seeing others. This can be none other than the justification of our own prejudices. In South Africa, it was one of the “gifts” showered on the nation by the fallacy of apartheid. It helped people to tie up entire cultures into neat little bundles which they could manipulate. What happens then is that the vital ingredient of otherness is thrown out and I encounter not a brother or a sister that I can dialogue with – but someone whose motivations I think I know and am closed to the newness which every authentic human encounter can bring. 

The example of Jesus has truly been lost on many people. Jesus demolished artificial boundaries when he healed the foreigners (Syro-Phoenicians, Samaritans and other traditional enemies of the outwardly holy Pharisees such as the untouchables like the blind, the lame and the outcasts). He smashed the gender boundaries when he had a conversation with the Woman of Samaria. A close reading of the text of Jn 4 shows just how revolutionary that was. 

To cut a long story short; what we need is a little newness in our lives. It is only a genuine prayer life – one that seeks a genuine union with God that can help us to achieve this. This calls for availability and a total openness to God and not some perceived personal cleverness that works out our own solutions as that will keep us filling new wine into our old wineskins. This calls for discipline and a generous heart – the two most vital ingredients in authentic prayer. I wish you well in all this. I know from my own personal experience how difficult it can be to sit in inner silence and wait for God – but it does result in a meaningful encounter that can only be described as Real Presence and it is all God’s doing. All I can do is to make myself, my real self, available to God where I do not have to prove any points about how good I am, how clever I am, or even how right I have been all along. 

All our relationships vacillate between concealment and disclosure e.g. I will not say to a casual acquaintance what I say to my Spiritual Director. The one area in which I can truly be most fully myself is in my relationship with God – “and the Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:4, 6, 18). I am reminded of Archbishop Brislin’s faith reflection based on Ps 138 in which he points out God’s intimate knowledge of each of us (cf. ADCT webpage for the reflection on 25th August 2021).

For us priests and religious an hour a day is what is needed. For others who might be new to this kind of life; go easy at first. Try 15 minutes, then 20, 30, etc. But do not give up. If you experience difficulty, start again at the beginning. My own prayer life is nothing else but a constant return to the basics and then with the help of my Spiritual Director and my close friends I see meaning in all this. All the while the relationship with God is deepened – and it is all God’s doing.

Let us pray: Lord teach us to pray. Help us to see that the more we disclose our true selves to you, the more we get to know who we are. Give us the courage to surrender to you the brokenness we experience and to wait in hope for the newness which you bring. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bishop Sylvester David OMI

VG/Auxiliary Bishop; Cape Town