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 9 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.

The time of Advent is a time of joy, peace and hope. As we approach and anticipate the commemoration of the Birth of our Saviour, let us keep hope alive in our hearts, knowing that the fulfilment of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection is drawing nearer. We look to the future and the final accomplishment of God’s Kingdom. Welcome to this reflection.

Jesus spoke these beautiful words to his disciples and to us, recorded in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:28-30):

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, our souls are restless until they find rest in you. Give us peace within ourselves, Lord, as we face the struggles of every day life, most especially as we face the consequences of the Corona Virus, strengthen our hope in you and never let our faith waiver. May we always be willing to share your yoke joyfully so that we may learn from you. 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. 

Just before Jesus spoke these words of encouragement and solace to his disciples, he had addressed his Father in thanksgiving saying, I bless you, Father, Lord of Heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Jesus’ revelation of the Father, and the mysteries of creation and salvation, are not accessible to only a select few. Throughout Christian tradition, groups have arisen that claimed “special knowledge” of God, or that they were more enlightened than others in their knowledge of God. The fact is, God is accessible and available to any person who has an open heart and seeks him sincerely. It is not a matter of wealth, intelligence or status that enables us to know God. It is worth repeating: God comes to those who seek him and seek to do good – and one further qualifier is needed – those with a humble heart. 

For to “learn from Jesus” is to learn humility. While we frequently, and rightly, refer to God as “Almighty” and “all powerful”, it is also true that our God is a humble God, a “little” God. He is not a dominant, autocratic dictator such as those civil leaders that have appeared during the course of history. He is a gentle and humble God who, in the Old Testament, chose the smallest and least of people – the Jews – and chose them to be the instrument of his light in the world. He is the God who rides not a mighty horse when he enters Jerusalem, but a humble donkey. He is the one who carries his Cross and is crucified among criminals. He is the one who says, come to me all who labour and are heavy laden. He looks to those weighed down by the burdens and struggles of life not with oppression, not to control them, but to give them rest and peace.

Sometimes it is hard for us to come to an acceptance of the reality that God really cares for us and that he has a humble and gentle heart that holds a place for us in it. St Augustine recognized that God is indeed a God of solace, and recognized that we can only find our peace in God. In his words, which I used in the opening prayer, our hearts will only rest when they find rest in thee. So much of our time is spent seeking happiness, contentment and fulfilment and yet we search for them in the wrong place, chasing after false lights instead of the true Light. Jesus is the way to the Father, he is the way to true peace. Knowing and believing this is not some sort of  escape from reality, or the “opium of the people”. It does not remove us from the realities of life, nor does it mean that all our struggles and anxieties disappear. We have never been promised that. But it does mean that we are given the strength to meet those challenges, it means that we can find meaning in them, we can find meaning in life and that we are a people filled with hope. It means that we carry the Cross with Jesus – in a small way – for the salvation of the world.

During this Advent we can learn to simplify our lives, to purify our motivation and intentions, and to become “little” like Jesus. We who have received so much help and strength from him, who have had our burdens lightened and lifted from our shoulders, can do exactly the same for those around us. We can help them bear the burdens of life and we can help them find rest in Jesus by our concrete acts of humility and gentleness.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

May Almighty God fill your hearts with happiness and joy, that you may worthily celebrate the coming feast of the Incarnation. May Jesus, who took our flesh, always find a home in your hearts and fill them with peace, love and hope. Through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen

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