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 2 June 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.

Welcome to today’s reflection. Last Sunday we celebrated the most profound mystery of the Trinity, one God and three persons. Our understanding cannot fully grasp the depths of this mystery, but we do have a glimpse of the unity of God through perfect and pure love. In a broken world, we are called to overcome the barriers that separate people, and to promote unity through love. The First Reading of today’s Mass (Tobit 3:1-11a, 16-17a) is lengthy but well worth reading in its entirety. Here is an excerpt from Tobit’s prayer.

…we did not keep your commandments. For we did not walk in truth before you. And now deal with me according to your pleasure, command my spirit to be taken up, that I may be released from the face of the earth and become dust.

Let us pray:

Merciful and compassionate God, we turn to you acknowledging our sinfulness and failure in living your commandments, and failing to walk in the path of love and truth taught to us by your Son Jesus. We pray Lord that you will heal our brokenness and incompleteness. Despite our shortcomings and sin, we invite you to work through us that we may be instruments of your grace, bringing your light to all those we meet. 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.

Tobit was a righteous man who walked in the ways of truth, a person who showed charity to his brethren, who shared his meal with the poor and who buried the dead while his neighbours laughed at him. One night, after burying the dead, he was blinded when the droppings of sparrows fell in his eyes. He was cared for by his wife, but he did not fully trust her and accused her of stealing from others. In today’s Reading he expresses deep anguish and grief. He no longer sees the point of life and prays to be relieved of it. His prayer, although made in anguish and pleading for an end to his life, is not a prayer of despair, but rather a prayer of faith. He acknowledges, in his pain, that God is righteous and that all his deeds are just and that God’s ways are mercy and truth. There is no loss of faith in God, neither does he call into question God’s justice or mercy.

It is also a prayer of repentance. Although a righteous man, Tobit confesses that God is exacting a penalty for his sins and for the sins of his fathers before him because “we did not walk in truth before you”. But even in his grief and his guilt, it is to God that he turns asking to be released from his distress, by which he means he is asking for his death! God does not oblige, because it turns out, God has a plan.

Later in the Reading we hear about Sarah who lived in Ecbatana, who had been engaged to be married with seven men, all of whom had died before they came to live together as man and wife. Sarah’s servants taunt her, accusing her of being the reason for their deaths. She too, quite naturally, was deeply grieved, and contemplated suicide. The only thing that stopped her was that she did not want to bring deeper sorrow to her father in his old age, and so she resisted the temptation to take her own life but decided that she would also plead with the Lord to take her life. Her prayer is also not a prayer of despair, although made in deep pain. She begins by proclaiming, “Blessed are you, O Lord, merciful God and blessed is your holy and honoured name”. Although she is in anguish, there is no loss of faith in God. As with Tobit, she calls on God as God, and sees herself only as one of his creatures who is in distress. It was at that point, we are told, that God heard the prayers of both of them, and his plan comes together. Later, Tobit’s son, Tobias, and Sarah will meet and get married (unlike the other seven men, Tobias survives the event). They eventually return to the house of Tobit, and Tobit is healed of his blindness. This was all accomplished with the assistance of the Archangel Raphael, who brought about healing on many different levels.

It is a beautiful account of how people of faith can experience pain and real anguish, without losing faith in God and failing to call upon him. It is an account that assures us, despite the darkness and uncertainty of many events in life, God is present, God does have a plan, even if it is not evident to us at the time. It is an affirmation that God does hear our prayers, our words are not wasted, and that he does respond, often in unexpected ways. It also reveals to us that as human beings we are in need of healing, and not just physical healing. We carry within ourselves scars of things that have happened in our lives, events that have not and perhaps cannot be resolved. Ultimately, no matter how many people we have around us, we are individuals and there is always some form of loneliness deep within ourselves. But, just as with Tobit and Sarah, our brokenness can and should lead us closer to God, and not to give up on prayer because that is our life-line, and not to lose faith in God’s love and mercy for us even if we are in anguish, pain and distress. At such times we may be tempted to curse God (just as Job’s wife suggested Job should do), or simply give up on faith. We have to fight such feelings of despair, for we are people of hope. If our hope is only in what the material world can offer us, then we will indeed be disappointed and vulnerable to despair. But if our hope is in God alone we shall never be disappointed and even in our brokenness and in those times of turmoil and anguish, we will be able to recognize God’s presence, his love and his mercy and we will be given the patience to endure such hard times.

Similarly, even though like Tobit, we recognize our sinfulness and the many times we have failed God and neighbour, we place our trust and hope in God’s mercy. It is only through the mercy of God that we will be saved and by no other means. In the meantime, we keep picking ourselves up and endeavour, like Tobit, to live a righteous life by reaching out and caring for our neighbour, especially those who are most in need. Nothing must prevent us from the commitment to live a life of love and compassion towards others. In so doing, we will be able to proclaim: “Glory, praise and honour to our God, whose mercy gives us such hope.”

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Lift the burdens on the shoulders of your people, Lord, and lighten their yoke, that they may always rejoice in your love and cherish the peace that you alone can give. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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

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