Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 2 December 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.
We have entered into the new liturgical year of the Church’s cycle and, as with every new year, we are invited to renewal of mind, heart and soul, to renew our energy and zeal in our Christian life and to renew our faith and hope in God. Welcome to today’s reflection. Food in abundance features in both the First Reading of today’s Mass (Is 25:6-10a) and the Gospel (Matt 15:29-37). This is what we hear in the First Reading:
On that day: The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of choice wines – of fat things full of marrow, of choice wines well refined.
I have taken the prayer from the Collect of today’s Mass.
Let us pray:
Prepare our hearts, we pray, O Lord our God, by your divine power, so that at the coming of Christ your Son, we may be found worthy of the banquet of eternal life and merit to receive heavenly nourishment from his hands. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever, amen.
The First Reading goes on to say that the Lord will swallow up death and will wipe away tears from all faces. In the Gospel the crowds had gathered around Jesus, many seeking healing. The lame walked the mute could speak, the blind could see. And Jesus became concerned that the crowds have nothing to eat and taking seven loaves and a few small fish he fed them and they ate and were satisfied – seven baskets of scraps remained. All of these are signs of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of liberation from all that ails us and makes us sorrowful. They are signs of wholeness, of holistic healing and wellbeing.
It is not for nothing that the coming Kingdom of God is frequently compared to a banquet in the New Testament with similar echoes in the Old Testament. For all in Biblical times who lived off the land (as is the case today), being subject to the variations of climate and weather, food was to be appreciated because hunger could so easily and quickly result from droughts or floods. For those in today’s urbanized and globalized world we have – by and large – lost that sense of dependence on mother earth to provide us with the food and nourishment we need for life. But for those who realize their dependence on the earth and climate, to have an abundance of food and to be able to eat rich food from the “fat of the land”, relieved the insecurities of the fluctuations of weather and was a reason to celebrate. And so food – and food in abundance – is used in the Bible to convey a much deeper, holistic reality of the fulfilment of humanity’s most profound needs and longings. It is not only our bodies that needing feeding and nourishment.
The feeding of the crowds in the Gospel conveys this understanding of fulfilment in its fullest sense. There is an abundance of food – seven baskets of scraps remained after all had eaten, indicating a generosity way beyond simply providing for basic needs – that’s the first virtue we learn from this miracle. The second is that the food was shared among people. Sharing conveys a sense of communion and equality among people – and we recall the manna in the desert where no-one had too little and no-one had to much to eat. Sharing among people conveys the sense of a unity that has its foundation in peaceful relationships, where people are able to consider the needs of others, to show empathy to their neighbour who is suffering, who are able to forgive and seek reconciliation, who show abundance in their willingness to be generous beyond the call of duty. Above all, it is about a third virtue. Compassion – to be moved by the plight of others so that we ourselves feel the pain they are going through – and we move to do something about it to support and strengthen them. It was compassion that moved Jesus to feed the crowds – he saw that they had been without food and he felt sorry for them, saying that he did not wish to send them away hungry as they might collapse on the way. The same compassion moved him to cure the lame, blind and deaf, to raise the dead and to nourish his disciples with his words of teaching, a teaching, which in the words of St Peter, is the message of eternal life.
This is the kingdom that we anticipate in this time of Advent as we await to commemorate the celebration of Christ’s first coming in the world, and as we wait in expectation, longing for his second coming. We watch and we pray. We wait and are vigilant. But there is no hint of inactivity in watching, waiting and praying. Quite the opposite: our waiting is characterized by our willingness to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ, and to live even now as citizens of heaven. Learning to live the values of the Kingdom in our lives and relationships so that we may be abundant in generosity, strive for harmonious relationships through our willingness to share, forgive and reconcile. Our waiting and longing for God’s kingdom – which is our final destiny – is not passive but it is to strain forward and endeavour to become that person now, the person God wants us to be. Rather than seek only our own nourishment, as much as we need to be nourished, we seek ways to nourish others, turning to them in their need and heart-ache, giving them our solidarity and support. Then, with the psalmist, we will be able to proclaim, my soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my mouth shall praise you with joy. (Ps62/63).
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your spirit
Lord, without your blessing we can achieve nothing that is good and nothing which is holy. We ask now, Lord, that you bestow your blessing on your people as they anticipate your everlasting Kingdom, that they may be kept safe and free from all harm, and may rejoice always in your goodness and your love. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord, amen.
May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen