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 19 May 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.

Blessings on you all. On Monday I was invited to join Archbishop Tutu, his wife Leah and other Faith Leaders to receive the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. It was a moving occasion and I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the health care workers and the efficiency of the process. I do hope that, if you are over 60, you have registered to receive the vaccine – it is an essential step in bringing the virus under control and, the “over 60’s” need to get vaccinated so that the next phase of vaccination can begin to protect the lives of younger people. Please register and please keep your appointment when you get it. 

The Lord has ascended to Heaven. Let us give glory and praise to him, the King of the Universe, and the Lord of the Cosmos. May we never look for Christ above, in the heavens, for he has promised to abide with us always – he is to be found among us and in the ordinary events of every day life. Welcome to this reflection in the 7th week of Easter. I have taken the Scripture excerpt from today’s First Reading (Acts 20:28-28) – it records St Paul’s address to the Ephesians:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, your Son Jesus returned to his place in Heaven through his Ascension, without leaving your people orphaned. Open our hearts and minds, that as we strive to serve his Kingdom, we will never neglect to seek the ways of justice, peace, unity and love in the world in which we live. 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.

Over the past weeks I have been speaking about the Eucharist and its meaning as an essential element of Christian and Catholic life. I have done this because we are celebrating the “Year of the Eucharist” in South Africa as a way of commemorating the Eucharistic Congress to be held in Budapest later this year. I hope that you have also had the opportunity to follow the short, beautiful reflections that are given in the 30 days of preparation for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, presented by a variety of speakers – they are to be found on the Archdiocesan Website. In my reflections over the past weeks, I have focussed on the parts of the Mass, their Scriptural foundation and their rich spiritual meaning. 

To accept and believe in this great miracle of transubstantiation is not always easy. It is a mystery that we accept and believe, without fully understanding, asking ourselves – in the words of Mary – “how can this be”? In St Mark’s Gospel we hear of a father who brought his son, described as having being “robbed of his speech from birth”, to Jesus and said to Jesus “if you can do anything, have pity on us”, and Jesus responded “If you can? Everything is possible for one who has faith”. The father replied, “I have faith. Help my lack of faith” (Mark 9:17-27). Perhaps this should be our constant prayer when it comes to the Eucharist, simply saying “Yes, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief”. In any human way of thinking, the Eucharist is nonsense, it is “crazy”. For Catholics, it remains central and essential to our faith and is something that we cannot live without. 

I have recently been reading a biography on the life of Blessed Carlo Acutis, the 15 year old Italian, known as a “computer geek”, who died of leukemia in 2006. Throughout his life he demonstrated a deep love for the Eucharist and, at a tender age, compiled an exhibition of all the Church’s accepted Eucharistic miracles from around the world. One of his famous quotes about the Eucharist resonates in the hearts of Catholics: The more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on earth we will have a foretaste of heaven. We can’t explain it, it is beyond science and even beyond common sense – but we know it to be true, and we know it to be the life-source of our Christian discipleship. Like Carlo, we recognize that when we stand before Jesus in the Eucharist we become saints. Sinners we are, but the Eucharist beckons us to sanctity and to offer ourselves generously to God in love, allowing ourselves to be the “clay” in God’s hands so that he may mould us and form us into his own image (cf. Jeremiah 18:6).

Primary to understanding and living the Eucharist is “love”. Pope Benedict XVI, as with many theologians and spiritual writers before him, has emphasised the inseparable connection between communio and caritas, that is, between communion and love. Eucharist is our communion with God, uniting us intimately with the Trinity. It is possible only because of God’s inexhaustible love for us. But it requires us to respond in kind, to respond in love – a true, self-sacrificial love, humble and grateful before God. Our love of God is expressed not only in prayer, but in our openness, kindness and concern for the needs of our neighbours, most especially when they are in the depths of suffering. Eucharist gives us, but also demands of us, a heart of flesh and not a heart of stone (cf Ezekiel 36:26) – it gives us a “new spirit”, that is filled with hope and joy, as we rejoice in God who is our Saviour.

The richness of Eucharist awaits us and is available to us. At every Mass we have the opportunity to encounter the Risen Christ and to receive his life in us. As I have said a number of times, it is not just about receiving Communion – it is about being present at and to the great miracle given to us at the Last Supper, as we faithfully and in obedience “do this is memory” of him. Every part of the Mass is a prayer, and at every part we should have God before our eyes. There may be distractions and annoyances. That’s all part of human life, but it is up to us to accept these frailties without losing our focus on God. In fact, they may become the occasion for us to express love through patience and tolerance. The more we take responsibility for our own spiritual growth, and our life of prayer, the more we will be able to experience with communion with God.

The Church, divinely instituted, in it’s human face is imperfect, frail and sinful. That is why we are the Church – we need to be redeemed by Christ and our only hope is in him. We cannot allow the human-side of the Church, nor our own humanity in its imperfection, to be a stumbling block to our desire to be united to Christ and to keep his commandments. Sometime we try to find “perfection” in this world. We will only be disappointed. Ultimately, like St Peter, we humbly say: Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the message of eternal life (John 6:68).

Let us now pray for God’s blessing, based on yesterday’s post Communion prayer:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

We who partake of the gifts of this sacred mystery, humbly implore you, O Lord, that what your Son commanded us to do in memory of him, may bring us growth in charity. We ask this, through him, who is our Savior, amen

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

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