Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 25 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.
It is wonderful that the vaccine is now available to those 18 years and older. We are on about day 517 of the Covid restrictions and sadly there is no end yet in sight. The vaccine roll out has been slow, partly due to reluctance on the part of some to receive the vaccine. Nonetheless, we are aware of God’s presence and the psalm of today’s Mass gives much comfort and consolation. But first, let us pray for peace in 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.
These are the opening verses of the Responsorial Psalm 138 (139):
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
This most beautiful psalm should be properly understood. For some, it may give rise to feelings of “God the policeman” who is always watching us and waiting for us to make mistakes. This is not what is meant and the way to understand Psalm 138, and I encourage you to read the whole psalm, is in terms of the love relationship we have with God. The composition of the psalm is attributed to King David, a person who was well aware of his faults and sinfulness. He was also a person deeply aware of God’s love and forgiveness, and this filled him with repentance, humility and gratitude. He loved God, and the psalm celebrates God’s love and expresses his love of God.
O Lord, you search me and you know me. Think about that for a moment. If you fall in love with someone, you really want to know them, to know what makes them “tick”, how they see the world, what makes them happy and what makes them sad. It is not idle curiosity or invasiveness, it is a fascination with the person you love. And so God “searching us and knowing us” is not invasive or punitive, it is God’s love for us. In modern society it often feels that we are only a statistic, one of a multitude, anonymous. How lovely it is to be known by someone else. How very blessed we are to be known so personally by God. Hopefully, we can have the same response to God in that we thirst, hunger and desire to know him more and more and to enter the depths of his being, because we love him and wish to love him more. Just as the psalmist says in v.17, How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Psalm 62(63) also captures this desire: O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.
The psalmist invites God to test his thoughts, Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! It is easy to verbally profess love for someone, but how deep is that love? Is it true love or will it burn out when the initial fascination ends? Will I be rejected if I the other really gets to know me? And so, we may want to test the love of the other; not maliciously or harshly, but a little here and there to ascertain whether it really is love or not, and how far that love extends. The psalmist is willing to make himself vulnerable and so invites God to do the same to him, to “try him and know his thoughts”. The invitation is a mark of the genuineness of his desire to love and that, despite failings, his motivation is pure and there is no deceit in his expression of love. We also face circumstances from time to time when our love of God is tested. We are comforted by the words of St Paul in this regard, the God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The important thing about being “tried and tested” is not that God will discover new things about us– after all, “he knows us through and through”. But that testing leads us to know ourselves better, to see ourselves in a different light and to learn new things about ourselves, so that we can improve, correct mistakes and deepen our love to make it more true and authentic. We all have our “blind spots” and, as someone said, lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others. Discovering our true motivation in life is a life-long endeavour. We sometimes couch our actions in philanthropic language which does not reflect a deeper and perhaps even unconscious motivation. For example, we help the beggar at the street corner saying we want to share our resources, whereas we are really doing so as an easy way of getting rid of him. We always need to question and reflect on our motivation, especially for the important decisions of life. God trying us and testing us helps us to see ourselves more honestly.
Finally, the psalmist invites God to “lead us in the way of life everlasting”, because we cannot embark on the journey to our eternal home without God’s leadership, guidance and accompaniment. We cannot do it by ourselves, we need God in our lives and, if we are to grow in love of God and neighbour, we need Him to shed his light into our hearts and onto our thoughts, that the love we profess so easily with our lips will indeed indicate the love we bear in our hearts and which is manifested in our actions.
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Loving Father, in these times of uncertainty we take comfort from the fact that you are never far from us and that, indeed, you search us and know us. Grant us perseverance, Lord, to use the passing things of this world wisely and to place our hope in the eternal truths of your Kingdom. Through Christ our Lord, amen