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, New Year’s Day Friday 1st January 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.

1st January 2021. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Luke 2:16-21.

A happy new year to you and your loved ones. The new year opens up for us new opportunities for peaceful co-existence with the neighbour and with creation. May the blessings promised to the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) be ours so that we may indeed be the children of God.

Today is also the eighth day of the Christmas octave. A few years ago I made a retreat in Bloemfontein during the Christmas octave. The chapel I used each day used to be Fr Claerhout’s studio – a place of great inspiration and creativity. It was converted into a chapel. The front panel of the altar comprised a painting by the late Br Gunter Arndt OMI. Br Gunther was no Picasso but managed to produce a nice, simple representation of the nativity. 

Through the use of a gold colour for the straw in the manger right in the middle of the work, attention was drawn to the baby Jesus. The eyes of Mary and Joseph are fixed on the baby as are the eyes of the two animals in the scene. All this draws the viewer to gaze on the Christ-child. And the Christ-child, in his turn, fixes his gaze on the viewer. This makes possible a wordless connection with the child. 

In the Gospel passage for today we see Mary in contemplative mode. The language of the original text makes that clear. Hers is the prayer of silence and contemplation. This word is applied to Mary four times in the 1st two chapters of Luke. Hers is predominantly the prayer of contemplation. She was completely overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and hers was the highest form of prayer – the attitude of humble silence in the face of the Divine. This is the type of prayer called for by Jesus in the sixth chapter of Matthew. Loud prayers with many words did not impress him at all (Matthew 6:5-6). Contemplation allows us to see reality as it is. When Mary looked at her baby she would have known that he was fully human for she gave birth to him and nursed him. She would have also known that he was divine because of his conception. 

How nice it will be if we could give ourselves to contemplative prayer so that we too can see things as they really are. But a word of caution is necessary here. Contemplation can be dangerous as the reality revealed to us might not be what we would like it to be. The resultant switch in mind sets is what is known as conversion. Right now in South Africa we are faced with more restrictions as we try to flatten the curve. Many people will feel that their freedom is infringed upon as they cannot gather as planned to usher in the new year. Our contemplation i.e. seeing reality as it is ought to remind us that freedom is freedom to do the right thing otherwise we are enslaved – and right now the right thing is to promote life; my own and also that of the neighbour. In this way I can imitate Jesus who came that we might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).

The Health Sciences tell us that there are two causes of disease. One is through a microbe such as the CoronaVirus or HIV. The other cause of disease is behaviour e.g. if I eat too much (and eating is a behaviour), I will get sick. If I refuse to sanitize and wear a face mask during the current pandemic and fail to embrace protective behaviours I can become infected, or worse still, cause others to become infected. We must remember that even if I am not showing symptoms, I could be a carrier of Covid-19. In our current context the most meaningful resolution we can make at the start of the new year is to firmly resolve to promote life.

Let us pray: Father, in the middle of a deadly pandemic we celebrate the birth of life. Help us to do all we can to promote the gift of life which you have given to us and to treasure it. We entrust our loved ones and our well-being to you and ask for your protection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen [Blessing].

I wish you a meaningful start to the year. 

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