Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 13 May 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thank you for joining me for this reflection and I wish all God’s blessings on you and your loved ones.
Let’s start with two verse from today’s Gospel, from St John chapter 15:
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, open our hearts and minds to your life-giving Spirit, that we may always make ourselves available to you, willing to do your will. Make fruitful our works, Lord, that we may serve the Kingdom of Heaven and bring your light and grace into the world.
We make this our prayer, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever, amen.
The beautiful teaching of Jesus in St John’s Gospel, that he is the vine and we are the branches, reminds us that our God does not live in the heavens, beyond our reach. He is close to us, his life is in us and our lives are in his. We are united with him, truly in communion with him, a closeness that defies all human understanding. It also reminds us that we are called to bear fruit and to bear it plentifully – but we bear fruit, not by our own power or merit, but because his life is in us. That is why, separated from him, we are not able to bear fruit because we have become “dead wood”, useless and only fit to be cut off. It is therefore imperative for us always to preserve the communion we have with God, even when we fall into sin we hasten to restore our relationship with God through confession and repentance, because we know without him we can do nothing.
Today we also celebrate the feast of “Our Lady of Fatima”. Mary, perhaps even without hearing this teaching of Jesus, knew that the without the life of God within her she was nothing. Thus, in her great song of rejoicing, the Magnificat, she says: “he has looked on his servant in her lowliness, henceforth all ages will call me blessed”. It is an acknowledgement that her blessedness comes not from herself, but because God has “looked on her in her lowliness”. Mary, like John the Baptist and the Apostles in the Acts of the Apostles, never tried to draw attention to herself. Thus, she says at the wedding feast of Cana: “do what he tells you”.
Similarly, her apparitions at different times in the course of history, have always called on people to turn once again to God. The different events of her life are not about her and her merits but about God. The Immaculate Conception is not a teaching about Mary, but about God and his grace and salvific action – Mary is immaculately conceived by Joachim and Anne, not because she merited it, but by God’s will, pre-empting Jesus’ death and his bestowal of grace upon his people; the Assumption into heaven is a practical teaching and consequence of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of resurrection for all those who believe in him, accomplished by God’s power. She is referred to as “the tabernacle of the Most High” at Ngome. The tabernacle is the place of God’s special presence, reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching in St John ch 14 v 23: “Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him”. It is by God’s mercy that she was the tabernacle of the Most High, and by his mercy we too are meant to be tabernacles of the Most High God – just as we are the branches of the one vine.
Mary’s apparitions at Fatima, just over a hundred years ago, offer no new revelation for salvation, despite the “secrets” of Fatima. All revelation is contained in the Scriptures and is accessible to all – educated or not educated, rich or poor, black or white, of whatever nation, people or language. We may not fully understand that revelation, we certainly need to deepen our appreciation of it and it will always be a mystery until the end of time, but it is available to all people not only a few “enlightened” or specially chosen people.
This, again, is testified to in the apparitions of Mary – she chose to appear to the poor man Juan Diego at Guadaluppe, and to the young children of Fatima, not to the great and “mighty”. As we celebrate the apparitions of Fatima we are reminded how these three young children suffered so bitterly because of what they had witnessed. But they, like Mary, never sought a following or to be praised by people. They pointed to the message of the Virgin Mary which, in turn, pointed people to her Son Jesus. Two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta died soon after the visions. Francisco in 1919 at the age of 10, and Jacinta at the age of 9 in 1920 – a hundred years ago. And they died because of the great pandemic of the time, the flu that began in 1918 and lasted two years, killing an estimated number of between 17 and 50 million people. They died in pain and great suffering, but they never lost their faith in God and their trust in the beautiful Lady who had appeared to them. They looked forward to heaven where they would be completely united with God – the God who is the vine and allows us to be the branches.
How much we need to learn from these young saints in these difficult times – we need to learn to be people of deep faith and hope, facing the future not with dread but with confidence and an unshakeable belief of God’s life in us, and our lives in God. We seek their intercession as we face a very similar crisis in the world today, we seek the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima. But we are also reminded that just as we ask them to intercede for us, so we should intercede for others, praying for them and holding them in prayer. We bear fruit by both praying for them and reaching out to them in solidarity, offering consolation, support and comfort.
Let us now pray together:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death, amen.
Saints Francisco and Jacinta R/ Pray for us
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Heavenly Father, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the saints Francisco and Jacinta, we pray for your blessing upon us, our loved ones, the Church and the world. Help us to turn to you, Lord, in this time of crisis, always trusting through faith the promises your Son has made to us. Keep us always as living branches of the true vine, that we may be in communion with you and with each other, and that your life and grace may always be present in us.
We Make this prayer through Christ Our Lord, amen.
May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (+), amen.