Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 20 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. On Sunday, we launched the preparation phase for the 2023 Synod on Synodality. In the coming months we will reflect on various matters of importance to the life of the Church in these times, bearing in mind the main themes of communion, participation and mission. We will be praying the synod prayer in every parish. However, we should not forget also to pray for peace in Southern Africa, especially in this period before the local elections. And so I will be alternating the prayers in the coming weeks. Let us pray the Adsumus Prayer of the Synod :
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.
The Scripture reading is an excerpt from the First Reading of today’s Mass, from St Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom 6:12-18):
You were once slaves of sin, but thank God you submitted without reservation to the creed you were taught. You may have been freed from the slavery of sin, but only to become ‘slaves’ of righteousness.
Over the past weeks I have been speaking of sin, the necessity for repentance leading to conversion, and the “putting on the new man” (cf. Ephesians 4:22-24). This teaching is central to the Scriptures – both Old and New Testaments. Nonetheless, we should not forget that Christianity is not so much about not doing something, and is more about what we do. And so, in the Reading we have just heard, St Paul says that we have become slaves to righteousness. He also says, we live by grace and not by law, and we should make every part of our body a weapon for fighting on the side of God. As Christians we desire to live righteous lives. Of course, we should distinguish between self-righteousness, which has the negative connotation of making oneself the final moral arbitrator, and righteousness which acknowledges God as the arbitrator of what is right and wrong. Righteousness always embraces compassion.
We are called to do what is right. That’s an easy statement to make, but its implications are not always that easy. Some things are clear, both in terms of our faith but also common to all humanity – you shouldn’t murder people, for example. Others are clear in terms of our faith but not necessarily common to humanity – keep the Sabbath holy, is an example. Most of life, though, has many gray areas when we are not always sure of what the right thing to do is. How many parents, for instance, have spent sleepless nights and anxious times, worrying as to whether they are correctly handling situations involving their children? We face situations where there are competing values. Do you show your unhappiness of some of the choices your child has made through rejection, or do you swallow your pride and say it is more important to keep the family together and “my child will always be my child”?
Most of life is trying to find the right path in the light of our faith. We are certain in our commitment of wanting to do what is right in the eyes of God, and so be righteous. It is not always possible to have absolute certainty in how we do that when we encounter complicated issues that invariably come our way. We are blessed to have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism and confirmation, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the guidance, wisdom and strength to face such situations with faith. There is always some risk that we will make the wrong decision, but we have the faith that God will guide us. If we make mistakes (and we do), the same Spirit will give us the courage not to despair and to pick ourselves up. For our part, we must, unfailingly, do two things: remain constant in prayer pleading with God to help us to know and do the right thing and, secondly, to remain rooted and grounded in the basics of our faith, the Ten Commandments and, above all, the commandment to love God completely and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
We are all products of our society and the prevailing norms and culture of the community in which we live. Not all those norms, even if civilly legal, are “righteous” in terms of our belief in God. In such matters we need the courage to “stand firm” and to adhere to living the Gospel – just because something is legal it does not mean it is morally right. An obvious example is abortion, which in certain cases is civilly legal, but is contrary to our belief in the Creator God who has given us life and attached to it the commandment that we are never to take life. Other aspects of the prevailing culture may not be legal but are nonetheless endemic – such as corruption. In certain circumstances it becomes more and more difficult for some in the business world, for example, not to be “sucked into” such evils. It’s easy to slip into them and sometimes it seems that they are the norms we have to adopt in order to succeed. Again, in such instances, we have to remain firm in our faith and do the right thing, even though there may be negative consequences for ourselves.
In short, remaining “righteous” takes enormous courage, vigilance, commitment, prayer and perseverance. Thank God for his Holy Spirit, for the Sacraments that strengthen us, for the support of the community, that is the Church, and for the communion we have with God in prayer.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Compassionate Lord, we ask you always to enlighten us as we are faced with difficult decisions. Give us the courage to do what is right. Through Christ, our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.