Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 24 November 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 which will be the last of the Wednesday reflections for this year, but will resume mid-January 2022. The recent crime statistics are a stark reminder that South Africa remains a highly violent country and we are living with that violence continually. Let us therefore pray for peace in Southern Africa, remembering especially South Africa and 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.
As we have reached the end of the Church’s year it is opportune to reflect on who we are and who we are called to be. In a sense, as the Church’s year ends the readings remind us of who we are – people – and not lords of the universe. We are dust and unto dust we shall return. Advent, which begins the Church’s liturgical cycle helps us prepare both for the celebration of the first coming of Christ, his incarnation, and his second coming when he shall come in glory – it turns our focus on who we are called to be.
The prophecies of the end of the world should not frighten us or be a cause of undue anxiety. They simply tell the truth – our earthly lives will end. Indeed, the world itself, as we know it, will end. Our bodies are subject to decay and this is a reality of our human existence. It is beyond our power to do anything about it. We need to be reminded of our mortality from time to time because among us humans there can be a tendency to vanity and pride. We begin to think that we are invincible, that we can achieve anything; and when we start thinking like that we can slip into the error of believing more in the power of technology, science and human endeavours without realising that these are tools given to us for our good and the good of mankind. But that is what they are – tools, gifts, blessings and we thank God for them. But we shouldn’t fall in love with them. They must not become our idols. Think of what we hear in Psalm 135 (15-17):
All our attention should be given to the one who gives breath, who gives life, sight and sound. We rejoice in the wisdom, knowledge and technical know-how that God has blessed us with, but nothing can or will ever replace God, no matter how much we have, how rich we are or how powerful we are. God is God and we remain human beings, the created. When we reflect on the “end of times” we are put in our place and reminded that we are the created and not the creator. We are reminded of how much we are in need of the Creator for new and everlasting life.
While accepting this “realism” we are always a people of hope. The Season of Advent promises that annihilation is not the final word, but that there is a new dawn, a new day, that awaits us. The light has come into the world and “a child has been born unto us” (cf. Isaiah 9:6). There is hope because salvation has come into the world, and we are “called and chosen” (cf. 1Peter 2:9) for a new and eternal existence. We watch and wait patiently, firstly to celebrate with joy the light coming into the world and, secondly, for the final accomplishment of the Kingdom of light. Our “watching and waiting” is not passive, but is filled with the consciousness of God’s presence in our lives and our response to that presence of love with which he surrounds us. It is both in communion with God and in serving God through our neighbour that we watch and wait; and we are able to put into perspective the many different aspects of our lives and our values. It is not through riches nor vanity that we can attain entry into the light. As in the lyrics of the hymn (“Be thou my vision”):
Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise. Thou mine inheritance, now and always. Thou and thou only first in my heart. High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.
In anticipating the “child born unto us” we see clearly the need to simplify and purify our lives, to unravel the knots that are a consequence of the threads of experience and events that entangle and bind us, to let go of what is unnecessary and clutters our lives, and to desire primarily “to be” rather than “to have”. As we celebrate new life, the birth of a child born humbly, we are able to interpret where our true riches lie – not in things, but in the people who surrounded us, our families particularly, our friends, colleagues, associates, our fellow pilgrims who have set their sights on God’s Kingdom. Advent focusses us on simplifying our lives, shaking off the dust and cobwebs that have settled on our tired spiritual clothes so that we are spiritually invigorated and sparkle once again. We simplify our lives to ensure that “Thou and thou only (will be) first in my heart”. In such simplicity we are unburdened and freed from controlling desires that long for what is vanity. We are given the joy and exuberance to rejoice in “God our Saviour”, to rejoice in his mercy and forgiveness, to savour the life he has promised us that is eternal, and to be surrounded by his love and presence.
I wish you all a blessed Advent Season. May it prepare you to receive anew the child Jesus and may his salvation and light enter your heart. Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit
Bow down for the blessing:
Fill your people with your grace, Lord, that their hearts may be filled with the light of salvation, as they place all their hope in you. Through Christ, our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.