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 19 August 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.

Reflection 19th August 2020

Greetings and welcome. We heard the wonderful news on Saturday evening that yesterday the country would move to level 2 of the lockdown. While this is very good news, we must be vigilant not to become complacent and careless. The Covid-19 virus is still present among us and so we must continue to take all the precautions, such as washing or sanitizing our hands, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. We have a responsibility to do so in order that the virus may be managed until such time as the danger has passed, which is going to take some time yet. We are told that we will probably have to continue wearing masks for at least the next 12 months and this part of the “new normal”.  Accepting such responsibility is implied in the first Reading of today’s Mass from the prophet Ezekiel ch.34. We hear him speak these words:

Thus says the Lord God: Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

Let us pray:

In your kindness, Lord, look upon your your people. Grant us an abundance of love and mercy that we may be transformed into your likeness and so be strengthened to serve you through serving your people. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who live and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, amen.

Through his prophet Ezekiel God is speaking to the leaders of Israel – those who are responsible for the care and well-being of the people. It has always been one of the greatest temptations of leaders to slip into bad ways, to give way to greed and self-interest. We often see it in political leadership, regrettably we hear of it in our own country where there are even allegations of the gross misuse of funds dedicated for the health of people in these times of Covid-19. 

But it is essentially true that these words of the prophet should cause a chill in the hearts of priests and bishops, who are entrusted with the spiritual well-being and wholeness of the people in their pastoral care. Sadly, throughout history, there have been faith leaders who have not taken their responsibilities seriously and have used their positions as positions of power, and not authority, and have placed their own interests above those of their flock, feeding themselves while disregarding the welfare of others. The message of Ezekiel must always be heeded by the shepherds of faith and cause us to deeply examine our consciences in the light of them, questioning ourselves whether we are meeting up to the expectations God has of us in how we live our vocation and meet our obligations.

But Ezekiel’s prophecy can, I believe be extended to all those who have responsibility for the well-being of others. Fathers and mothers too, are shepherds of their families and they have been given the responsibility of nurturing, loving and guiding their children. All too often we hear of those who neglect this beautiful vocation of parenthood, either by not caring about their children and ensuring that their needs are met, or by allowing their children to live their lives without guidance and without imparting Christian values to them.

In an even broader sense, we can apply these words of the prophet to our role in society, in the work place and our involvement in different societies or organisations. Ultimately, the challenge for us is to give servant leadership, and to model our lives on the life of Christ who came to serve and not to be served. For a disciple of Jesus, we do not understand our activity in society as being purely for our own advantage or advancement. We regard it as being for the good of our neighbour, and for our striving to build a just, harmonious, peaceful and prosperous world.

It is all about making Christ the centre of our lives, the centre of our words and actions. Today we also celebrate the feast day of the French saint, St John Eudes, who encouraged and promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The heart is regarded as being the centre of the body, the life-giving source. As we reflect and gaze upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus we are trying to make Jesus the centre of everything we do and undertake, the centre of our words and thoughts. To deepen our lives as servant leaders we must have Christ at the centre of our commitment and willingness to serve him. We must turn to him as the life-giving source, the source of all grace, in order that we may be faithful to the common vocation that we all have as disciples, to be servants of each other.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                  R/ And with your spirit

Almighty ever-living God, who have restored us to life by the blessed Death and Resurrection of your Christ, preserve in us the work of your mercy that we may have a life unceasingly devoted to you. Through Christ our Lord, amen.

May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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