Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 1st July 2020, 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.
Thank you for joining me for this reflection as we continue to struggle through the effects of the covid-19 virus. In the Gospel of today’s Mass we hear this verse from St Matthew’s Gospel:
“And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood” (Matthew 8:34)
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, from Old Testament times you have taught us this commandment – that we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength, and that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. Open our hearts to true love, Lord, that we may selflessly offer ourselves to you by giving service to our neighbour. We make this our prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, amen.
As somebody pointed out to me, the verse from St Matthew’s Gospel that I have just read, is one of the saddest verses of the Bible. The context is that two demoniacs had met Jesus, and the demons within them had cried out “what have you to do with us, O Son of God?” – they pleaded not to be tormented and so Jesus cast them out into the herd of swine which rushed down into the sea. The herdsmen went into the village to tell the others what had happened, and so the villagers came and pleaded with Jesus to leave them.
I’m not sure what their motivation was in asking Jesus to leave. Was it fear of his power over evil spirits? Was it because the pigs had perished and Jesus had destroyed their livelihood? In Jewish culture pigs were filth, an abomination – was it then shame because they were keeping animals that were considered unclean?
Whatever their reason was to plead with Jesus to leave, it is more important for us to reflect on the times when Jesus becomes an uncomfortable presence in our own lives and we would rather he just go away. This could happen for many reasons – when we are about to do something we know is wrong but we are going to do it anyway, are we not telling Jesus to go away – his presence is a reminder that we are going against truth and what is right. Or perhaps it is when he starts interfering in our comfort zones, challenging us to be more faithful disciples and witnesses. Or for the times when we would prefer that Jesus stay put in Church during the week so that we may visit him on Sundays without him interfering in other aspects of our lives. Or perhaps when our faith is dependent on feeling “blessed” because we have possessions, or things are going smoothly in life. And then things go wrong and everything gets turned upside down we feel rejected and let down, no longer feeling blessed. Rather, we feel he is asking too much of us. After all, we might say “I’ve
tried to be faithful to him but now he’s allowing me to be sick, or my relationships to break down, or I’m facing crises in my life”.
Every day we pray in the Lord’s prayer thy will be done. But there are the occasions when we would far prefer our will to be done. God’s will is not always easy for us to accept. Think of the First Reading of today’s Mass from the Prophet Amos, the great prophet of justice, speaking in the name of God: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies….Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream…” (Amos 5:14ff).
It is not that God does not want our worship, our praise, our gratitude – it is when there is a misfit between our prayer and praise, and our practice in daily life. Just as we describe the celebration of the Eucharist as “the source and summit of Christian life”, what we say in prayer is meant to be reflected in what we do in all aspects of our lives. The Eucharist is not an end in itself, but rather an aspect of uniting the totality of our lives and actions with the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. Our prayer, and most especially the Eucharist, is meant to have consequences in life, most especially in seeking justice, mercy and peace for all.
The long and the short of it is that it is no easy thing to really want the will of God to be done. That’s why there will be times when we may wish consciously, or act in an unconscious way, hoping that God would just go away. It is not just pagans, atheists or agnostics that wish that, but there are parts of our own life that we don’t want God to touch, We need to pray hard that God will be especially present at those times, so that we may overcome ourselves, and not to be overcome by our will that God would sometimes just leave us be. That is why we pray that God’s light will dispel the most hidden places of darkness within ourselves.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your spirit
All powerful God, loving, tender and merciful, look kindly on your children and bend our hearts to your will, that no matter how difficult it may be, we will always accept what you ask of us, and submit to you, knowing that you will never harm us or ask us to bear a cross that is too heavy for us. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ R/Amen
May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit R/ Amen