Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 16 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.
It is wonderful to be with you on this public holiday in South Africa. It is named the “Day of Reconciliation”, reminding us of the need to heal relationships and divisions among people, and to strive for unity and harmony through respect and tolerance of the differences that exist among us. It is also important to remember our need to be reconciled to God, that through expressing deep repentance for the times we have sinned, we may be at peace with him. Thank you, so much, for joining me for this reflection on such an important public holiday.
In the Gospel of today’s Mass from St Luke (7:19-23) we hear Jesus responding to the messengers of John the Baptist who had been sent to Jesus to ask, Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another? This is how Jesus responded:
Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offence at me.
Let us pray:
Give us hope, Lord, to steady our steps, for we walk by faith and not by earthly sight. May hope deepen our longing, perfect our love and lead us to your promised rest. 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.
Jesus taught that a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit, and says that we shall know people by their fruits (Matt 7:17-20). Thus, when the messengers relayed John the Baptist’s question to Jesus, he did not give a direct reply, knowing that the fruits always show the reality. He tells the messengers to look for themselves and to witness the fruits of his ministry among people and the healing that he has brought. Anyone can claim to be something or someone, they can claim that they have achieved all sorts of things, but there is always the possibility that their claims are just “big talk” and lack a foundation in reality. If you can actually witness what they have accomplished, then you will know what they say is true. And so, Jesus encourages the messengers of John the Baptist to look at what is happening – the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news preached to them. That answers their question.
It is of profound importance to Christians, who claim to be disciples of Jesus, to integrate Jesus’ teaching in their lives. Jesus’ most fundamental teaching is to love God and to love neighbour, and we claim to be people who are following that teaching, a teaching that encompasses repentance, forgiveness, generosity, caring, justice and so on. It can happen so easily that our faith and commitment to discipleship is just talk, when we say all the right things and yet our actions do not reflect what we profess with your words. Christians, who are called to be light to the world, can become a stumbling block to the faith of others when their behaviour is scandalous and clearly in contradiction to both the letter and spirit of Jesus’ teaching. And so, it is a lifelong struggle for us to bring our words and our actions into harmony, so that what we profess with our mouths we accomplish, even if imperfectly, in our actions. On this public holiday – the Day of Reconciliation – we could well see it as being a challenge for us to reconcile our words with our deeds.
One practical way in which our actions must match up with our words is to be conscious and responsible in our behaviour at this difficult time of the pandemic, and most especially during this Christmas season when we particularly enjoy being with people. There is no reason why we cannot enjoy ourselves at this time while still being responsible in our behaviour. It simply takes a commitment, and discipline, to observe all the safeguarding measures that we have been taught. This is true of our Church services over Christmas as well. There could be the temptation to want to relax all the restrictions that we are living with, just for Christmas. But if we gave in to such a temptation we would be putting people’s lives at risk. Therefore we have to make the responsible decision of patiently abiding by the restrictions, knowing that in due course, they will come to an end. A very important part of our Christmas Masses is the singing of carols – the carols help make Christmas the joyful, beautiful feast it is. Yet again, we have to accept the limitations placed on us, knowing that singing in a congregation could become a super-spreader of the virus. Even outdoors, we have to keep observing spatial distancing, masks, sanitizing and allowing ourselves the opportunity to listen joyfully to one or two cantors singing on our behalf. This will be a very different Christmas from other years, but nothing can separate us from the joy of God’s salvation and we can still experience overflowing joy while being responsible in our behaviour.
There are really two ways of looking at the restrictions at this time of Christmas. We can feel sad and frustrated that we cannot celebrate as we would usually like to, and allow those feelings to spoil Christmas for us. Or we could look at the restrictions in a way that enable us to recognize that they can help us appreciate the true meaning of Christmas – the light has come into the world, the Saviour has been born, redemption is at hand, God has blessed the world. If we adopt the latter attitude, there is nothing in the world that will prevent us entering into the true meaning of the Incarnation and immersing ourselves in the love that God has bestowed on us. I hope that we will all be able to be positive this Christmas, grateful to God and full of joy. I hope that we accept the limitations as a light burden that we have to carry, and that we will ensure that we make an extra effort to be caring and conscious of the health of others.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your spirit
Humbly we pray, O Lord, that you will send your blessing upon us as we longingly wait for your coming kingdom, so that we will not weaken in our resolve to serve you and our neighbour with love and compassion. Through Christ our Lord, amen. And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen