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 8 May 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.

The opportunity inside of a crisis. Reflection of Friday of Easter Week 5.

For various reasons we look at scourges, illness and pandemics as negative experiences and surely they are to a large extent. The Covid-19 infection is deadly and requires extreme caution and a level of sacrifice that we have trained ourselves to avoid. But that is not all there is to this crisis – or any other crisis for that matter. What can we learn from the Covid-19 pandemic? 

In order to meaningfully answer this question we need to see what learning is all about. The author Alvin Toffler said in his book ‘Future Shock’: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. Spirituality, notably that of Fr Richard Rohr, is also of the same mind viz. that in order to be transformed we need to unlearn and then relearn. What is it that we have to unlearn? And what re-learning possibilities does Covid-19 hold for us?

On the level of Church, we needed to see that “we” are the Church – that we have to do the action of Christ in caring and sharing. We do this at this time starting in our homes. We are the Body of Christ in the home. And from there we radiate the love of Christ to others. To some extent we have learned that. Our first phase of feeding the poor came largely through the financial contributions of charitable people and we will again look to the generosity of people and to Parishes as we embark on further phases of feeding the poor. We have unlearned the myth that all I own is only for me – so, we have made a good start. This is remarkably like the early Church viz. the Church in the home and the generous sharing of all they had.

On a deeper level Covid-19 has pressed the reset button in another meaningful way and we are starting to see what is truly important in life. At this time we are making some useful noises in favour of the ecology and are celebrating the return of certain species to their original habitats. We seem to grasp that we need to conserve the earth in order for it to sustain us and all life. Let’s hope that we can take the lessons in in such a way as to unlearn the old selfishness in favour of sharing the earth in a more meaningful way by reducing the carbon footprint for example. In this regard we ought to salute Greta Thurnberg for her prophetic stance. Saluting her is not enough, we need to learn from her and follow her courageous example. We need to unlearn the myth that a schoolgirl has nothing to teach us with our graduate qualifications, our business acumen, and our managerial skills and status.

Another aspect we need to unlearn is the myth that entitlement comes with success. A recent article by Fr Ron Rolheiser highlights the myth that “maturity and wisdom grow out of experiences of strength and success”. The article, using the experiences of psychiatry, shows that wisdom and maturity actually come through breaking down and not being in control. The incapacity and helplessness we experience right now can bring growth. Fr Rolheiser states further: “There is no easy route to Easter Sunday except through Good Friday. There is no route to depth and wisdom except through suffering and humiliation”.

In the Gospel passage for today’s Mass taken from a farewell discourse of Jesus in John 14, he urges his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled. They are invited to trust in him and in the Father. He promises to be back to take them to himself. The word for “take to himself” in verse 3 literally means to receive unto himself denoting not only accompaniment, but also intimacy. But in order to share in that intimacy with Jesus, they first had to undergo separation anxiety. They had to unlearn the limitations of social distancing brought about by his death and relearn merits of deeper union with him paradoxically through separation. To fully understand this, they had to have hope. They had to understand who it was that was talking to them. In this regard it is important to note that the “I am” in “I am the way, the truth and the life” in John 14:6 is exactly the same way in which God introduced himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. He goes on in verse 7 to say that if they had known him, they would have also known the Father. The attentive Bible Reader will know that the word for “to know” in John 14:7 is a word connoting intimacy – and s/he will long for that intimacy. That we do not have it yet is an indication that we need to unlearn the instant gratification mindset that we have become so used to.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, your Son’s desire is that we should be with him in an intimate union – but that union will only come when our love is purified and we become as selfless as he was. Give us the grace of patience as we perfect our love. Give us also the virtue of hope as we contemplate his words in the midst of our crisis. We ask this though him who is our way, our truth and our life. Amen.

Bishop Sylvester David OMI
Vicar General: Archdiocese of Cape Town

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