Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 11 September 2020, 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.
Reflection for Friday 11 September 2020
In our first reading for today’s Mass Paul speaks about the urgency of preaching the Gospel saying in effect that he would perish if he did not preach it. The word used indicates that he is under compulsion to preach and will be distressed and incomplete if he does not. This sounds like an echo of the prophet Jeremiah who got into trouble whenever he preached and became a laughing stock. He announces that he will not preach again – but with the next breath declares that he cannot not preach the word because it is like a fire burning in his very bones (Jeremiah 20:9).
Fire is an important symbol of Divine presence in the Bible. Moses met God in the burning bush and Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire. When John the Baptist introduces Jesus in Luke’s gospel he refers to someone coming after him who will baptise “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:15-18). Jesus in the same Gospel declares that he came to cast fire upon the earth and he wished that it was blazing already (Luke 12:49). Later on in the Gospel the fire had taken at last – in the hearts of the disciples as they declared: “were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32). Luke, in writing the Acts of the Apostles, describes the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).
This symbol of fire is something the Oblate Congregation is used to. St Eugene de Mazenod, like St Paul, said that if he did not preach the Gospel he should perish. When looking at what type of man he wanted for his Congregation he declared that he wanted men who were on fire with love for Christ. Once a formator in the Congregation reported to him that the novices were good men, but lacked fire. They did have some flickering embers. De Mazenod’s response was: “let them burn brightly or get out. We have no use for smouldering wicks”. This notion of fire has been strong with him. Writing to the Oblates he said: “Your destiny is to be apostles, and so tend within your hearts the sacred fire that the Holy Spirit lights there…” (Eugene de Mazenod, Nov 17, 1851).
For those who are not Oblates you probably wonder what the Oblate preoccupation with fire has to do with you. Well on 3 December 1995 when Pope John Paul II canonized St Eugene de Mazenod he became a model not only for the Oblates but for the whole Church. And that being the case, we might well ask: “what type of men, women and children do we need in the Church of today?” The answer is the same – we need men, women and children whose hearts are on fire with love for Christ. Nothing else will matter, and nothing else will empower us to preach the Gospel in word and in deed.
Hint: You might want to check the internet for the hymn “Are not our hearts burning with us” by the liturgical music composer Carey Landry.
Let us pray: God our Father, at our baptism and at other strategic moments of our lives you placed within our hearts the fire that was lit by your own divine spark. Like the Emmaus disciples we too want to feel our hearts burning within us. Give us the grace to fan the flames of faith which you have placed within us so that we can make the most meaningful responses possible in our homes, our families, and our communities. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.[Blessing]