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 4 August 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 all who are joining this reflection. Today is the feast day of St John Mary Vianney who is the Patron Saint of Parish Priests, and so I take this opportunity of wishing all priests a blessed feast day. My prayer for you is that you will experience deep joy and happiness in your vocation to the priesthood. In these difficult and uncertain times, let us begin by praying for Southern Africa:

O God of justice and love, bless us, the people of Southern Africa,
and help us to
live in your peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury; let me sow pardon;
Where there is discord, let me sow harmony.

Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
Seek to be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
To receive sympathy, as to give it;
For it is in giving that we shall receive,
In pardoning that we shall be pardoned,
In forgetting ourselves that we shall find
Unending peace with others. 

We ask this through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

I have taken the Scripture excerpt from today’s Mass, from the Book of Numbers (13:1-2,25-14:1,26-29,34-35)

At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Par’an, at Ka’desh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large.

We all know that, after leaving Egypt, the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land, the land flowing with ‘milk and honey’. We are reminded in the First Reading of today’s Mass that they could have gone into the Promised Land much sooner, but some members of the group that had been sent to “spy out the land” were fearful and so they gave an evil report of the land and stirred people up against entering into it. The Lord heard their complaint, turned them back, said that for every day that the reconnaissance group had spent in the Promised Land, the Israelites would spend a year in the desert. Since the spies had been away for forty days, the Israelites were to spend 40 years wandering in the desert. Furthermore, the Lord decreed that not one of them 20 years and older who had complained against the Lord would reach the Promised Land but they would die in the desert – the only exceptions ere Joshua and Caleb who had been honest in the report they gave.

We can understand this event and its consequences in two ways. We could think of it as God punishing the Israelites for their lack of faith in him and the fact that they were always complaining against him. Or we could see, not as a punishment from God, but as a natural consequence of doubting and succumbing to fear. I tend towards the second understanding. I think that we humans are so often the cause of our own misery, and the masters of our own unhappiness. We tend to blame fate, other people or even God when things go wrong. Often, though, things have gone wrong because of the choices we have made and for which we are responsible. The amazing thing about being human is that we do have a choice, even when terrible things have happened to us, we have a choice as to how we respond and also whether we are going to allow those terrible things to have continual power over us and our happiness. Sometimes we live with things that happened years ago and which still cause us upset and hurt. We may need support and accompaniment in getting over such things, but a lot also depends on whether we choose to let go.

The Israelites gave in to fear. Fear can be a life saver – if you meet a tiger escaped from the zoo in your back garden, fear is an appropriate response and will prevent you from giving into the temptation to pat the tiger on the head – it might well save your life. The problem only arises when we allow fear to govern us and to determine our actions, preventing us from doing what is right. St John teaches us that love drives out all fear (1 John 4:18) and when love rules us we will be able to choose the right course of action even when we feel afraid. Love was the motivating force for the martyrs and saints who continued to do good in the face of opposition and persecution. Our love must ensure that, when it comes to doing what is right, we do not become paralysed by fear.

The failure of the Israelites to enter the Promised Land at the time led to great hardship and suffering for them. Ten of the twelve who had been sent to spy on the land gave in to the fear and they gave a negative and exaggerated report on the land. In a way I find it comforting to know that fake news is not something that has just started happening – it has been around since time immemorial. But we do see the consequences of fake news and learn from it – even today, fake news can and does divide people, instills unnecessary fear in people, and causes them to react negatively. The propagators of fake news find it easy to manipulate people for their own purposes and, just as the ten lying spies did, to cause a sense of mass terror and frenzy.

The event of the first arrival of the Israelites at the brink of the Promised Land is a wonderful account with many rich lessons. It emphasises the need to have faith and trust in God, even in the most difficult of times, and allow ourselves to be led by him. It calls us to respond to the Lord’s injunction to “stand firm”, as he will do the fighting on our behalf. Again we respond to his words, “be not afraid”. It reminds us that hardship and unhappiness often comes to us through the choices we ourselves make, rather than as a punishment from God, or because of other people’s mistakes. It re-affirms our belief that truth is the only way to real progress, justice and peace. Adopting falsehood will only divide people, cause them to act erroneously and will result in increased suffering. Finally, this event reminds us of the power of love which conquers fear and negativity. We open our hearts to God’s love and offer our love to him. In the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, “Love Him trustfully without looking back, without fear. Give yourself fully to Jesus. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His Love than in your weaknesses.

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, we thank you for the priests who minister in the Archdiocese of Cape Town and we pray for a special blessing on them today. Bless, too, all your people, Lord, that like St John Vianney, they will persevere in faith no matter what obstacles they encounter and that they will always be faithful to you. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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

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