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 23 September 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.

Peace and blessings to you. May this day be a day of closeness to God, as we celebrate the feast of St Padre Pio, St Pio of Pietrelcina. We recall one of his most famous sayings, pray, hope and don’t get upset. Anxiety serves no purpose. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.

Let is begin, as usual, with a verse or two from the Readings of today’s Mass. The First Reading is from the Book of Proverbs (30:5-9), and we hear these words from the prayer of Agur, probably referring to King Solomon:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die; Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.

Let us pray:

Merciful Father, may we always pray to you, as did St Padre Pio, that you will be close to us. Without your love and strength we easily become overwhelmed by the uncertainties, anxieties and disappointments of life. And so Lord, we pray with all our hearts, be close to us to lead, guide and enlighten us, that we may see our way, and come eventually to the fullness of life and light that is only found in you. We make our prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, amen.

In this short, and to the point part of the prayer from the Book of Proverbs, the author pleads with God not to put him in a situation that might cause him to sin. If he has “riches” and more than he needs, he might think himself self-sufficient and not in need of God.  If he is in poverty and does not have enough, he might give in to crime and steal. So, he prays that he will be given just enough in case having too little or too much may cause him to sin.

 At every Mass, and frequently in our private prayers, we pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer,  lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. There is certainly doubt as to whether the Lord would ever lead us into temptation, but certainly we are praying that he does not allow us to fall into temptation. We know that the Lord never allows us to be tempted beyond our capacity to resist. St Paul writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians (10:13), No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. We have the strength to put up with temptation but, in our weakness, we do not always have the will to resist. And so it is right and important that we do pray that we will not fall into temptation, but the prayer itself must be accompanied by action to avoid temptation;  such avoidance is not running away from reality, but rather a wise and prudent decision. And so, we must always be aware of the need to avoid the occasion of sin. One form of an act of contrition commits us to that by ending with the words: I resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the occasions of sin.

What does it mean to avoid the occasions of sin? There are two types of occasions of sin – remote and proximate. Remote occasions of sin are those things we encounter, together with other people, that could potentially lead us to sin but while the possibility is there for sin, it is not that likely. We are not obliged to avoid remote occasions of sin and it is probably not possible to do so because we always exposed to such temptations. But the proximate occasions are different. These are the occasions that, if we think about it for a moment, we know that such situations could well lead us to sin against God and neighbour. Most often our experience has taught us what the proximate occasions of sin are for ourselves – and they differ from person to person. So, for example, one person can easily have a few drinks with his buddies and have a pleasant evening. For another, having that drink may lead him to all kinds of bad behaviour, such as violence against one he loves. It is incumbent on every Christian to avoid those occasions that he or she knows may weaken their defenses against sin and where there is an increased likelihood to sin.

To be able to avoid the occasions of sin can only be achieved through prayer, the Sacraments, examination of conscience and vigilance. Through prayer and the Sacraments we are strengthened by God’s grace and so we can follow the advice of St James (4:7):   Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. In all our prayers we commit ourselves to doing God’s will and so commit ourselves to resisting those occasions that can lure us away from God. Examination of conscience enables us to look honestly at ourselves, and to search deep within ourselves, to identify the occasions that play on our particular weaknesses and that are the forerunner to us giving in to sin. Through vigilance we put all this into practice and, before we give in to our weakness, we take ourselves out of the situation before things go any further.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                              And with your spirit

May God, who has given us the saints as an example of Christian life, through the intercession of St Padre Pio, strengthen us to be constant in prayer, and faithful in our service to you, Lord, and to our neighbour. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord, amen.

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

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