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 3 March 2021, 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 are living in tough times. Many have been infected by the Corona Virus and many are struggling to come to terms with the death of a loved one, financially or for some other consequence of the virus. Lent inspires us not to cease pleading to God to look mercifully on the world and to bring the present suffering to an end. Let us now listen to an excerpt from the Gospel of today’s Mass, from St Matthew 20:17-28. 

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day”.

Let us pray:

God of might and compassion, you sent your Word into the world, a watchman to announce to us the dawn of salvation. Do not leave us in the depths of our mistakes and sins, but listen to your Church pleading with you. Respond to her trust, and pour out in her the fullness of your redeeming grace. 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.

One of the most remarkable things about today’s Gospel reading is that the disciples of Jesus did not seem to hear what Jesus was saying to them. He spoke these startling and frightening words, not only about his death, but also giving details of horrific suffering that he would have to endure at the hands of men. After he had said this, the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons and asked that one would sit on his right hand, the other on his left, in his kingdom. This does not only come across as being totally insensitive in the light of Jesus’ description of his coming death, but also selfish in wanting privilege over and above the other apostles who, as we hear in the Gospel, were rather indignant at this request.

Had the mother and her sons heard Jesus? Had they listened, did they understand? We do know that often we hear without really listening and sometimes, we listen without understanding. This is true also of the Word of God when we do not take time to read the Scriptures carefully and to prayerfully reflect on what we have read. It is imperative to understand that without Scripture there is no faith. This is how St Paul puts it: “ …for all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then are they to call on him if they have not come to believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him? And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them?” (Romans 10:13-14). Scripture is God’s living word, it is God speaking to us in the here and now. It is not reading from a history book. That is why we refer to the Scripture readings as being proclaimed at Mass. We are invited to listen attentively, not only to hear the words that are proclaimed but to listen and understand what God is saying to us in our particular life-situation. How sad that it can happen that we become distracted and the message passes over our heads, rather than enter into our hearts and minds. We go home without any memory or pondering on God’s Word that was given to us at Mass.

At the celebration of Mass on a Sunday there is a First Reading, usually from the Old Testament, the Psalm, the Second Reading and the Gospel Reading. During the week, unless there is a special feast, there is no second Reading. On a Sunday, the First Reading and Gospel Reading are usually linked by a common theme. We should remember that the Old Testament is interpreted in the light of the teaching, life, passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus – the events of Jesus’ life help us to understand that the Old Testament is the preparation for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Liturgy of the Word at Mass is pivotal to the Celebration of the Eucharist as well as to our lives of faith. The Eucharist itself arises from the Word. The Word of God nourishes our faith and spiritual life, it gives us understanding of the meaning of our existence, as well as acceptance of life’s events for we see the hand of God in them.

Proclaimers of the Word at Mass should be well prepared. In the days and time before Mass they should have read and re-read many times the Reading that has been entrusted to them. They should open their hearts to understanding the message of the texts, and they should proclaim the Word in an audible and dignified way, avoiding the temptation to over-dramatize while they are proclaiming. They should read at a pace that is conducive to enabling the congregation to hear and to understand.

It is not only the proclaimers who should prepare themselves for the Liturgy of the Word. All of us, during the week, or before Mass, should make time to read the Readings. Many have the Sunday or Weekday missal. Even if you don’t, the Mass Readings for different days are easily accessible (internet or parish bulletins). Sadly, not only do some fail to prepare themselves for the Liturgy of the Word but also leave their Bibles to gather dust on the book shelf. Scripture is God speaking to us and we need the light of his word to guide and to lead us, to help us understand, and to live a life of true discipleship integrating the teachings of Jesus into our daily lives and practices. It is wonderful when the family can gather from time to time, to read a passage from the Bible together and to share on how they understand and interpret the reading and the practical implications it has for life. Living with the word of God means that the Liturgy of the Word at Mass will become alive for us and will nourish us spiritually, heal us and will give us peace.

I will continue to reflect on the Liturgy of the Word next week.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Look with favour on your people, O Lord, that what their Lenten observance outwardly declares it may inwardly bring about. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord, amen.

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

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