Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 8 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.
Today we celebrate the birthday of Our Lady. In doing so, we remember that each and every person is willed by God, and that our births are not accidents. Welcome to today’s reflection and let us begin by praying 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.
The reading is an excerpt from the alternative Second Reading of today’s Mass (Romans 8:28-30):
We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love him, with all those he has called according to his purpose. They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son…1
Fundamentally, we believe that God has love for each and every person and is willing to co-operate with anyone. Sadly, it is not everyone who has love for God and thus he is rebuffed and rejected, a blockade is erected in their lives to prevent his grace from entering in and so conversion is resisted. It is worth noting at this point that love of God is achieved primarily when we know him, have encountered him and are able to respond to him by seeking greater communion with him and by serving him through good works. However, there have been many instances of God working through those who do not know him but who, nonetheless, are people who seek to do good and have chosen to live their lives according to values which correspond to the values of God’s Kingdom. For example, Cyrus in the Bible, was a pagan king and yet allowed the Jews to return to Israel and facilitated the re-building of the Temple. Another is the widow of Zarephath or Sidon who offered shelter and the last of her food to the prophet Elijah. Today such people are what the famous theologian, Karl Rahner, would refer to as “anonymous Christians”. This is why it is beyond our competence to put boundaries on God’s grace or to decide who he will work through or who he will save. We cannot dictate where God’s Spirit will blow.
God has given us life through his love and, from the time of creation, has entrusted humankind with the responsibility of caring for all he created. Furthermore, at the time of his Ascension, Jesus extended the trust that God has in us, by giving us – his disciples, the followers of Jesus – a share in his mission of salvation and restoration of Creation. He invites us to embrace our first innocence, the innocence of Adam and Eve before the fall, and, in so doing, to allow Christ to draw people to himself for the sake of their salvation. The mission of the Church, in which we the baptized all share, is to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. The good news that, not only our sins are forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ, but that Creation is restored to what it was intended to be from the beginning.
This is the common purpose we have as the baptized – to humbly serve God’s Kingdom of love, unity, inclusion, peace, harmony and justice. The evangelical mission of the Church is not simply to tell others about Christ or to instruct them – it is about living the Gospel ourselves. It is when we live in love of God and neighbour, that the goodness of Christ becomes manifest to others and, working through us, Jesus will draw people to himself2. There are certain requirements on our part. Firstly, we commit ourselves to submit to God’s will in all things. We respond, with Mary, saying “Be it done according to your word”. Secondly, while we know our relationship with God is very personal, it is also communal. We belong to the Church, the community established by Christ, and so there is no room for egotistical behaviour. We work together as one. Thirdly, there will always be differences of opinions and perceptions – wherever people gather that will be the case and we have to accept it. The consequence is that we always have to be a listening community in order to understand the differences of perception. Above all, we have to discern and listen to what God is asking of us and where he is leading us, and not allow ourselves to become entrenched in any obstinate or fundamentalist ideology. Fourthly, it entails opening our hearts to God’s Holy Spirit through prayer and by keeping God’s commandments, not simply the letter of the law but the spirit of the law.
Mary’s birthday reminds us of the meaning and purpose of our own lives. As we rejoice in the birth of the new Eve who, in submission to and by the grace of the new Adam, co-operated with him in restoring creation to its first innocence, may we too seek that innocence in the complexity of life, and give ourselves wholly to God living for him in service of his Kingdom.
Let us now praise for God’s blessing: The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Loving Father, we thank you for the gift of life, and most especially today we thank you for the gift of Mary, the Mother of the Church. Through her intercession, may our hearts always burn with love of you and our neighbour, that through us you will draw all people to yourself. Through Christ our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
1 Jerusalem Bible translation
2 John 12:32