Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 6 October 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 today’s reflection. We have only about three weeks before the elections for local government and we know that, at times, tensions can run high between the supporters of different parties, and even within parties. Thus, we should pray especially hard in these coming days for peace. Let us say the Prayer for Peace 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.
In the First Reading of todays Mass, from the Book of Jonah (4:1-11), we hear the Lord speak to Jonah in these words:
And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?
In the Gospel reading of today’s Mass, from St Luke, we hear Jesus respond to the disciples request to be taught to pray – he teaches them the prayer which we today call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”. The people of Nineveh, without knowing the Lord’s Prayer nor the one true God, called upon God with all their hearts and repented by fasting and wearing sackcloth, when they heard through the mouth of Jonah that God was going to destroy the city because of their sinfulness. As we know, God did not bring about what he had threatened because he was moved by their prayer and their acts of repentance. This annoyed Jonah, who had not wanted the job from the start. He was pursued by the Lord when he tried to escape from him, was thrown overboard by sailors during a violent storm, landed up in the belly of a fish for three days and nights which must have been extremely unpleasant, and was eventually vomited onto the beach. It was a lot to go through in order to do what the Lord commanded him. Thus, he resented the Lord’s mercy and he also probably felt a bit foolish after he had proclaimed the destruction of the city and it did not come to pass. He rather self-righteously, and with quite a bit of self-pity, complained to God about the whole matter. God gently chides him, saying that Jonah shows more pity to a plant that had provided shade for him (that was destroyed by a worm) than he showed to the citizens of Nineveh, or the cattle for that matter.
This account, so rich in its teaching on the mercy of God, the power of prayer and repentance, and on rejoicing in God’s mercy shown to sinners rather than resenting it. There is also something more. In his “explanation” to Jonah in which God “justifies” his decision to show mercy, he says that “they do not know their right hand from their left”. These words remind us of Jesus’ words on the Cross when he prayed for his killers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). They were ignorant of their misdeeds and evil. It seems that God found the Ninevites’ ignorance to be a extenuating factor, and Jesus used the same extenuating factor when he prayed for those who had crucified him. The fact is, that when the Ninevites prayed their prayer came from the heart; it was sincere, genuine and honest, and in this they display an openness to truth. There is a difference between wilful ignorance, in other words choosing to remain ignorant, and ignorance that we have as human beings as a consequence of our limited understanding and knowledge, despite the fact that we may be seeking the truth. There are many examples of saints who were “ignorant” at one point of their lives, but who were genuinely searching for truth. St Paul is a prime example who, in his First Letter to Timothy, said, I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance…(1:12-13).
Another example is St Augustine, who tried all sorts of philosophies prior to his conversion and, when he accepted Christ as Saviour, he wrote the beautiful words, Late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there… There are many other saints, and many others who we do not know as saints, who lived a life of sin before their “change of heart”, their conversion. Nothing is impossible for God.
And so, as Christians, our desire and prayer is always that sinners will convert, even those guilty of the most heinous crimes, such as those who traffick human persons. The School Sisters of Notre Dame have a beautiful prayer for the victims of human trafficking that includes the prayer, We ask for transformation of heart for those who inflict pain, anguish and grief on our sisters and brothers.1 It takes a lot of courage to make such a prayer for people who are so cruel and who destroy so much, and it goes against our baser nature and instinct. Yet, that must always be our prayer, for God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). We should want the same.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
All powerful and merciful God, kindly assist all those who believe in you to desire the repentance and conversion of those who do not. May we always accompany those who are sincerely seeking the Truth but struggling to find it. Through Christ, our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.