Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 17th April 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.

Easter Friday: 17th April 2020

This is Friday in the Octave of Easter and I wish you a blessed Easter Octave. Easter this year is most unusual and we have been forced to develop a meaningful notion of Church. The Church exists at four levels. Firstly, there is the Universal Church with the headquarters in Rome. Secondly there is the local Church with the headquarters at the Chancery. Thirdly, there is the Parish Church, with the headquarters at the Parish Office. Fourthly, there is a level of Church that so many people overlook and at times even neglect – the Body of Christ in the home. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus reminds us that where two or three are gathered in his name he is there. And where the Head is, the Body is also there. And where Christ is there too will be the Father and the Holy Spirit. Just by coming together in the name of Christ, we have an opportunity to engage with the Divine. Notice this does not take place in any special destination but on the ordinariness of our lives. Covid-19 has forced us to look inwardly and so we gaze at the Church in the home.

The Gospel passage for today’s Mass is from John 21:1-14 and offers us many useful bits of information that can enrich our meditation on the Church. [Please read the text and see for yourselves]. Peter, impetuous as always decides to go fishing. This was no ordinary Sunday afternoon fishing trip. The word in the original text indicates an on-going activity. He was a fisherman before his encounter with Jesus and now he was going back to his old way of life. And so he gets into his boat with six others. They were afraid of what a cross-centred life meant and wanted to go back to business as usual. Is there any wonder that they caught nothing? Whenever we turn away from what the Lord calls us to do we end up with nothing.

The early Church Fathers used the boat as a symbol for the Church. This was not an apostolic thumb suck, for these people knew the Scriptures. They knew for example that the Hebrew word for Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:14) was the same word used to describe the little basket in which Moses was found on the waters of the Nile (Exodus 2:3). The word indicates the way in which God saves his people. Note that this salvation occurs through water. In the New Testament we read that Jesus got into the boat – and it was Peter’s (Luke 5:3). Jesus sits in the boat and teaches the crowd from there. When a Jewish rabbi sits it is an indication that he is about to announce an authoritative teaching. We still have that in the Church today, for whenever the Pope makes a definitive statement about faith or morals he does it ‘ex cathedra’ i.e. from the Chair. That in fact is the difference between a parish church and a Cathedral. The Cathedral has the bishop’s chair. 

Another interesting bit of information is that in Luke 5, when Jesus instructs them to cast their nets into the deep they catch many fish, so much so that their nets (plural) began to tear. But in John 21, in spite of there being so many big fish the net (singular) did not tear – an indication that in spite of what it seems the Church will not fail. Just as his physical body was torn and bleeding on the cross but not one of his bones was broken, so too with his mystical body; it is torn and wounded by division, lack of fidelity, and scandal but it will always be intact! Also whereas there were two boats in Luke 5, now after the resurrection in John 21 there is only ONE boat and Peter is the captain. Whereas the adjective describing the many fish in Luke 5 indicates many of the same type of fish, the adjective in John 21 describes several fish of different types. Yes indeed, the Church comprises many of us – of many tribes and tongues and peoples and nations. As promised in Luke 5:10, they had now become fishers of people. Lastly, it should not escape us that Peter drags the net ashore. Jesus told him earlier (Luke 22:32) that he had prayed for him and that when he recovered he must strengthen his brothers and sisters. That in fact is the ministry of Peter – to take care of his brothers and sisters. What better way to strengthen them than to take them to Jesus.

I wish you a joyful reflection on the Church of Christ bathed as she is in the light of the Easter candle – even as she battles against the dreaded Coronavirus. 

Let us pray: Lord, we give you grateful thanks for the gift of the Church, and although we cannot worship as we normally do in our Parish churches, you still empower us to encounter you right where we live, to share food, to share love and to share forgiveness. We ask for blessings upon our homes and families, especially those homes that have to cope with the difficulties of addiction and violence. Strengthen us all with the gift of hope. We ask this through Christ our risen Lord. Amen!

+Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town.

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