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 1 September 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 and welcome to this reflection. Today, the 1st September, is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and so I will open with the special prayer for creation:

All powerful God, 
you are present in the universe and in the smallest of your creatures. 
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. 
Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. 
Fill us with your peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. 
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. 
Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. 
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. 
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. 
We thank you for being with us each day. 
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle, for justice, love and peace. 

In the Responsorial Psalm of today’s Mass (Ps 51: 10-11) we hear these words;

I am like a growing olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the goodness of God
for ever and ever.

Olives and olive trees are mentioned many times in the Bible. One of the best known references is in the Book of Genesis where we are told that Noah released a dove from the ark and it returned bringing a freshly picked olive leaf (Genesis 8:11). In the Book of Judges a story is told of the trees looking for a king to rule them. First and foremost they requested the olive tree to be their king, but the olive tree responded, must I forego my oil which gives honour to gods and men, to stand and sway over the trees? (Judges 9:8-9). God refers to his chosen people Israel as a Green olive-tree covered in fine fruit (Jeremiah 11:16). St Paul uses similar imagery in his letter to the Romans where he refers to the wild olive being grafted on to the cultivated olive to share its “rich sap” (Romans 11:17). We know that Jesus frequented the “Mount of Olives” and and went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before his betrayal. “Gethsemane”means an “olive press”, and Jesus was indeed to be go through the press and be crushed in his torture and death, the fruit of which is redemption.

The olive tree was an essential part of the life and economy of Israel, as in a number of other countries. But more that this, it became a symbol of peace and reconciliation, renewal and revival. It is a symbol of beauty and abundance. It is also a symbol of the righteous person, as we heard in today’s psalm. It is a symbol of life and blessing (Your children round your table like shoots of an olive tree – Psalm 128:3). Oil symbolises healing (Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him – James 5:14), of being chosen and consecrated (Aaron and his sons were anointed with oil and were consecrated priests – Exodus 30:30). It also symbolises light since oil was used for lamps, such as those of the ten virgins. The olive tree is a sturdy, hardy tree that takes a number of years to grow and bear fruit. Reputedly an olive tree can live for 1,500 years and the average life span is 500 years. Thus it is also a sign of permanence and rootedness.

We can readily see the depth of the imagery of the olive tree, not only for the life of Israel but also for our own Christian discipleship. It is interesting to note that the use of olive oil is still prevalent in the Church and that the three holy oils are blessed every year at the Chrism Mass, namely the oil of Chrism (used in baptism, confirmation and the ordinations of priests and bishops), catechumens (used for those entering into the Christian faith as a protection against evil and the oil of the sick used as the sacrament of God’s healing. 

As with the olive tree we Christians are meant to have deep roots in faith, to be resilient in our belief in God and living a Christian life even in the face of adversity, to be able to weather the storm and persevere our whole life through. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and his mark of ownership was placed on us in Confirmation when we were anointed with Chrism. We are meant to bear fruit – for the benefit of others, not our own – and to gladden their hearts and bring them joy, to be healers and bearers of the light, reconcilers and peace-makers, to help others recognize the beauty of what God has given us, and to be upright and righteous people, drawing from the “rich sap” which is God’s grace.

An olive tree is not much to look at, but the richness and benefits it brings, and what it symbolises, are profound and abundant. I may not feel that I am up to much and that I’m rather ordinary, but the olive tree tells us that no matter how ordinary we may look or feel, it is within our power to bring richness and goodness into the world through the grace and mercy of God.

Furthermore, the olive tree serves as a reminder to us of the richness God has blessed us with through his creation. God created what is good for the benefit of mankind. He has entrusted creation to us. Sadly we have failed dismally to care for creation and to use it wisely. We have given way to exploitation, greed and selfishness and through our own fault this has resulted in a threat to our very survival, since our earthly life is dependent on the earth and creation. We have destroyed so much over the centuries. The question is now urgent: what can I do to reverse these destructive attitudes towards the environment – how must I change and what can I do to bring about understanding and change in others? 

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

O God, from the very beginning of time you commanded the earth to bring forth vegetation and fruit of every kind. You provide the sower with seed and give bread to the hungry to eat. Grant your people, enriched by the gifts of your goodness, to use these gifts wisely and praise you unceasingly now and for all ages unending. Through Christ our Lord, amen

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

Spirit of Contrition, spirit of humility, spirit of charity and a spirit of joy is what gives people happiness and peace within themselves – St Francis.

Posted in Prayer and Reflection.

One Comment

  1. Lovely reflection on meaning/ symbolism of olive tree / oil… Thank you, Your Grace!

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