Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 22 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 peace on all who are joining me for this reflection. May God continue to be with us as we face the difficulties of our time. 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.
I have taken the Scripture verses from the First Reading of today’s Mass, from the Book of Ezra (9:5-9).
Oh my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.
Ezra was a priest and scribe, skilled in the law, and was a great leader of the Jewish people at the time of the great Babylonian exile which lasted 70 years. He was an intercessor for the people of Israel, imploring God’s mercy for his people. Furthermore, he called on the people to return to the Law, the Torah, and so do what is pleasing to God. The exile ended when the king of Persia, Cyrus, not only allowed the Jews to return to Israel and re-build the Temple, but also encouraged others to donate and facilitate the project. God had moved the heart of Cyrus to look kindly on his people, and the Jews recognized in this the mercy of God who finally brought to an end their period of enslavement. The exile had resulted from and as a consequence of their sinfulness and that of their forefathers who had disobeyed God’s law and gone after idols.
We too are subject to a type of slavery – the slavery of sin. Each and every one of “falls short of the glory of God” (cf. Romans 3:23) and, in our human weakness, we separate ourselves from God. We try to be faithful to the law of God, but fail in many respects to “love God with all our heart, and soul and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves” (Matthew 22:37-39). To have a sense of our sinfulness, a sense which needs to deepen as we deepen our Christian life, should never result in any sense of self-hatred, despair or abandonment of being willing to try again. While we may kick ourselves when we fail again, in one aspect or another, and while we may get annoyed because of our weakness and failure, we rejoice in the fact that it is precisely because we are incapable of saving ourselves that Christ became incarnate and took on our flesh. He continually opens before us the possibility of conversion and re-establishing our relationship with him, through his grace and mercy. For that reason we do not give up on ourselves (because Christ has not given up on us), nor do we give up on striving to do better in the future. The appropriate response, when we have fallen into sin, is to repent, call on God’s mercy and forgiveness, and pick ourselves up, yet again, with the firm resolution that we are going to fight off the temptations that will come our way in the future. We assimilate penance into our lives, doing regular penance through prayer, fasting (if we are sufficiently healthy), abstaining and by sacrificial acts of love towards others.
It is Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection that gives us hope, and thus to give in to despair is the worst thing we can do, since it means that we have no hope in the gratuitous gift that Jesus offers us, the gift of salvation. There are many Biblical texts that encourage us in our fight against sin – think of St Paul’s saying: where sin increased grace abounded even more (cf. Romans 5:20), and, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability and will provide a way of escape that we may endure (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13)
The Gospel reading of today’s Mass also enlightens us in this regard. The disciples were sent out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, but they are to take neither staff nor haversack, nor bread, nor money, and no spare tunic (Luke 9:1-6). In other words, they are to depend entirely on God’s providence, his grace and mercy, mediated to them through others who would provide for their needs – just as God returned the Jewish exiles to Israel through the king Cyrus. It is this attitude of complete dependence on God which helps us overcome sin, and helps us come to terms with our sinfulness. It reminds us that we have to continually plead with God for his mercy, forgiveness and help, to pray continuously and to express our dependence on his love.
How blessed we are, as Catholics, to have the Sacrament of Confession. It enable us to humbly approach God and vocalize our confession to him through the person of the priest. Genuine humility will reflect our genuine repentance, our desire to change and grow more in the likeness of God, our willingness to make amends, as far as possible, for the wrongs we have done, and to accept a penance in reparation to God. It is a joyful and life-giving Sacrament, re-building our relationship with God, showering us with his grace and pouring his love into our hearts. Let us just take a moment to express our deep thankfulness to God for his forgiveness and for the Sacrament of forgiveness, Confession…….
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Heavenly and gracious Father, we thank you for the love you have always shown us. We are sorry for the times we have sinned against you and against our neighbour. With the help of your grace we will sin no more. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.