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 15 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.

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and today we remember the suffering of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she stood at the foot of the Cross. Today’s feast is rightly called “Our Lady of Sorrows”. Welcome to this reflection, and we will begin by praying 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.

I have chosen a couple of verses from the alternative Gospel of today’s Mass (John 19:25b-27):

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 

Jesus was a humble man. His humility was manifest in the way in which he spoke to others, in his compassionate actions and his openness to sinners in their weakness. This good man died a humiliating death. Raw and brutal power not only sought to kill him, but to ensure that it was degrading death and that he be stripped of all human dignity. Yet he suffered that humiliation willingly and patiently for he knew it was necessary for the salvation of the world.

There is a difference between humility and humiliation, although the two are related. Humility is a virtue that a person chooses to live by. It is expressed through an honest self-appraisal of oneself, neither exaggerating or devaluing one’s gifts nor one’s faults. It is always appreciative of the worth of others and would never “bruise the broken reed or seek to extinguish the wavering candle1”. As a virtue, it is something that grows within us through conscious effort and perseverance. Humiliation, on the other hand, is something imposed on a person over which he or she has little or no control. It is intended to strip the person of his or her dignity, to shame them and to cause them pain. Of course, on occasion we can be our own worst enemy and humiliate ourselves, but that is something for another occasion.

Mary, who shared in the pain of witnessing her Son’s torture and cruel death on the Cross, shared also in his humiliation. In a human sense, she was powerless to do anything to help and was undoubtedly acutely aware of the gloating eyes and enjoyment of some of those gathered to look upon the suffering one. She stood her ground, she endured the painfulness of the situation and bore it patiently, without losing hope or faith. I think it is fair to say that even as she, Our Lady of Sorrows, witnessed the blood and destruction of her Beloved, she was able to see beyond it, in some way, to the light and glory of the Resurrection.

We have all experienced humiliation at some time in our life. It can be very hard to get over such times, and they can haunt us for many years. Mary shows us another way of dealing with the pain and indignity of humiliation. Patiently, humbly and in fidelity, she was able to unite her suffering with the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, without anger, self-pity or despair. She absorbed the suffering and transformed it into hope. Many saints deliberately sought humiliation for two reasons – to unite themselves more fully with Christ’s passion and death, and in order to help them grow in humility.

We are not able to avoid humiliation at some point of our lives. You have only to pause and look around in a busy supermarket, for example, to see how people “look through” the elderly as if they did not exist, how annoyed people can become with them because they are a bit slow, how they are treated as if they have lost their faculties. Old age brings with it a certain humiliation. Again, when sickness strikes, we may lose control over our body which, in itself, is humiliating. Again, we have only to think of the mentally or physically challenged and how they are at times treated as “non-persons” or a drain on society, to realise how common humiliation is and how many people live with humiliation.

Recognizing humiliations as being part of life is important for two reasons. Firstly, we have to ask ourselves whether we have the resilience and the inner resources to deal with it in a way that does not destroy us. Do we have the depth of spirituality to be able to unite our pain of humiliation with the Passion and Cross of Jesus in a way that seeks to allow our suffering to “complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ2”? Can we endure it with patience and hope, absorbing it and allowing it to help us grow in humility and in the depth of our relationship with God. Secondly, and very importantly, do we have the courage and compassion to stand with those who are suffering humiliation for whatever reason? It may be the humiliation of poverty or discrimination, the humiliation of dependence in sickness or old age, or the humiliation of those who are scorned because they are different in some way. In short, are we able to be like Mary who stood at the foot of the Cross supporting her Son and in solidarity with him in his suffering? Ultimately, we should not see humiliation only as an inevitable aspect of human reality, but also part and parcel of our spiritual life as an aid in growing closer to Christ.

Let us now praise for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

God our Father, you willed that Mary, Virgin and Mother, should stand close to the Cross and share in the suffering of her Son, Jesus. In honouring her today, may we too complete in ourselves, for the Church’s sake, what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ3. Through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

1 cf. Isaiah 42:3

2 cf. Colossians 1:24

3 Based on the Collect and Prayer after Communion of today’s Mass