Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 27 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. In these last few days before the local elections, let us pray that they will be conducted peacefully and without incident. We also remember to pray for peace in eSwatini:
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 Scripture verses comes for the First Reading of today’s Mass (Romans 8:26-30)
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
At the moment, apart from the book I am using in my morning meditation, I am reading a historical novel on the emperor Constantine and his times. It gives a historical account and yet also enlightens life in the present. There are two things which have struck me particularly (not for the first time, but they have brought home to me these realities again).
Firstly, I am reminded that we are not only products of history, but we are part of history. In the words of Isaac Newton, If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants. The saying, in one form or another, probably goes back to the 12th Century, but it captures the idea that we are who we are because of those who went before us, and that what we achieve is simply building on what others have achieved – in short there is progress in the world in terms of ideas and understanding – it can be referred to as gradualism. Of course, this does not rule out that there can also be regression rather than progress! The point is that we are all links in this historical chain, uniting us right back to the very beginnings creation and with the future culminating in the final eschaton, the accomplishment of the Kingdom of God. This is an awesome and humbling reality, as well as an awesome responsibility because we shape not only the present but also the future. Knowing that we have a role both of building positively on the past and of responsibly paving the way for the future, should change how we understand life and its purpose.
The second reminder I’ve had is that much of “real history” gets lost in the recitation of major historical events to the neglect of the many minor events over many years which led up to those momentous moments and helped form them. For example, we all know something of the history of Constantine and how he changed the course of our Christian faith by ending the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire and establishing Christianity as the official religion. A historical novel tries to fill in the gaps of the history of events describing, even albeit in a speculative way, what has formed and caused people to act in the way they did, the influences they experienced in their lives going back even to childhood. While these may not be historically accurate, what is for sure is that decisions and actions do not just happen out of the blue. In our Christian understanding we see all these formative events, many of them small, as the movement and working of God’s Holy Spirit. Both great and small events unfold the history of salvation. We can see it also in terms of how Christians – saints, theologians, martyrs – have influenced not only Christian life and teaching but also on culture and world events. For example, how their teaching and witness has built on and made concrete the Scriptures in terms of the dignity of the human person, on human rights, on the meaning and purpose of life . Their impact has extended far beyond the audiences they were writing for, and far beyond the Christian faith itself. We too should know that every small deed of goodness and kindness has its influence.
The point I’m trying to make takes us back to the Scripture verses I read at the beginning which refer to the Holy Spirit whose “sighs are too deep for words” and who “searches the hearts of men”. The real history of the ages, of the present and of the future, is in God’s Holy Spirit working through nature, through ordinary everyday events, through touching and transforming the hearts of individuals, through creating the desire, the thirst, for human completeness and fulfilment. We know the events of history, the speeches, the actions that have brought about changes in the direction of the world. What we do not often see or recognize is the silent, ever-present action of God’s Spirit that has always been, and continues to guide, to lead and to create. As is written in Psalm 19(3), There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth. Even in the most chaotic times, God’s Spirit is present and moving, as the world is guided to its final destination. How glorious this is, and how privileged we are, to be part of this global and universal , unseen and unheard, movement of the Spirit which we recognise and know through Christ’s promise to us “I will be with you until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).
Before we make our “X” on the ballot paper when we vote next week (and it is our duty to vote), let us pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the “mind of God” to make the best choice possible that will serve the growth of God’s Kingdom. Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Father, look kindly on your people that they may always have the mind of God. May they always be encouraged by the knowledge of your Holy Spirit working in the world, and open their hearts to always co-operate with your Spirit. Through Christ, our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.