Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 30 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.
I trust that you enjoyed a pleasant and peaceful Christmas, despite the circumstances in which the we all find ourselves at the moment. While much of how we may have wanted to celebrate was not possible, there is nothing that can separate from the love of God, and there is nothing that can remove the reality of the Incarnation and the home we have made for Christ in our hearts. Even if we are unable to attend Mass (at least until the 15th January) our communion with Christ remains strong and unshakeable. Welcome to today’s reflection.
In the Gospel of today’s Mass, from St Luke (2:36-40) we briefly meet the prophetess Anna, and hear of her encounter with the Holy Family who had gone to the Temple to present Jesus, their first born son, in compliance with Jewish law. This is what we hear after she had seen the child Jesus:
And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of the Lord was upon him.
We will take the prayer from the collect of today’s Mass. Let us pray:
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the newness of the Nativity in the flesh of your Only Begotten Son may set us free, for ancient servitude holds us bound beneath the yoke of sin. 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.
Previously in Luke chapter 2 we met the righteous man Simeon who recognized in Jesus the light to enlighten the nations. Now, for the only time, we are introduced to the prophetess Anna. For a person who makes a brief appearance in Scripture some surprising details are given to us about her. Her father was Phanuel, she was of the tribe of Asher, she had been married for 7 years (although the name of her husband is not mentioned), and now she was a widow and 84 years old. St Luke writes that she “never left the temple” and served God day and night with fasting and prayer, presumably meaning that she was there for all the prayers and rituals. Whether she was recognized by the Jewish authorities as a prophetess, or whether she was held to be a prophetess by public opinion, we don’t known. What we can gather with certainly is that she was a pious, devoted woman, who expressed her devotion in prayer, fasting and service.
What did she see in Jesus that caused her to “give thanks to God” and to speak of him to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”? She was obviously touched and deeply moved by seeing Jesus and the Holy Family, but what was it that differentiated Jesus from the many babies she would have encountered in her life? We cannot give an answer to that and it is perhaps not the most important question to ask. The more important question is why was it Anna (and, of course the righteous man Simeon) who recognized Jesus as not being just another infant? The answer to that lies in the faith and devotedness of Anna. She “never left the temple” – her life was completely focussed on God. This was now the purpose and meaning to her life – to praise and glorify God through prayer, fasting and service. It was her unencumbered focussing on God that led to this almost mystical recognition of Jesus, and moved her to such an extent that she opened her heart and spread this good news to others. One could almost say that she was the very first apostle, relating her deep experience of encountering salvation.
Anna is such an important example for us. Her experience of God in her recognition of Jesus, a child, small and almost insignificant, was possible because her eyes were opened through her devotedness, making her aware and sensitive to God’s presence and actions. And this is what any disciple of Jesus should be – focussed on God. And it does not matter whether you are educated or uneducated, rich or poor, male or female, married or single, a child, a father or mother – the fundamental vocation we have as Christians is to be disciples of Jesus. I may be a bishop, you may be a mother or father, you may be excellent at your work, top of your field, you may be “well thought of” in your circle of friends, but ultimately none of these things have any true meaning or lasting value if we are not first and foremost disciple of Jesus, striving to live his teachings and model his behaviour, and always having our focus on him. If we have that, then being a father, a mother, a priest, excellent at our work takes on a new meaning because they now become a means to better serve God and his people.
It is not surprising that it was this simple, elderly woman (and the elderly Simeon) was the one to recognize this “otherness” in Jesus. The priests and Levites, the leaders of Jewish society, neither recognized him as a baby nor as an adult. When we become so reliant on our education, status or power, and neglect to understand the fundamental importance of humbly centering our lives on God and striving to change and grow more in his likeness, then we become blind to the presence of God and we cannot recognize his work and activity in the world. If we wish our eyes to be opened, and if we desire to see the signs of God’s salvation in the small, routine, day to day events of life, the answer lies in getting back to the basics of having God at the centre of all we think, say and do..
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your spirit
With deep gratitude for your goodness and love, we pray Lord, that you will bestow your blessing upon us, that your Holy Spirit will give us newness of life to invigorate and enlighten us, that we may always proclaim the Incarnation of your Son for the salvation of the world. Through Christ our Lord, amen. And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen