Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 17 September 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.
Let us start by praying for the fruitfulness of the upcoming Synod.
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.
The emptiness of seeking earthly gain. 2 Timothy 6:2-12
Our current pandemic, with all the uncertainties it has ushered in, ought to have taught us a few lessons about what is important and what is normal. The lifestyles we took for granted are no longer possible under the restrictive conditions we have to cope with. People often ask: “when are things going to get back to normal?” They have a longing for the way things used to be. Perhaps a more important question is to examine how we have lived and to ask to what extent has that been normal.
For example, people in the cities are used to having Mass in their Parishes on a daily basis and find it difficult to cope with present situation. People living in rural areas on the other hand have Mass once a month and many others have the Eucharist far less frequently than that. And yet they celebrate the Sabbath faithfully every week. They nourish their faith by sharing on the liturgy of the Word and by praying. Normally these communities have a Catechist and the people themselves take care of preparations for Baptisms, Confirmations, First Holy Communion, etc. Most belong to sodalities and these organisations take care of such things as home-based care for the aged, feeding the poor, and bandaging the wounded. Their entire life is Christianity in action simply because it is characterised by sharing and caring.
In terms of the Christian message which is more normal – our isolated lifestyle or their communitarian lifestyle? Covid-19 has pressed the reset button and has forced us to be the Body of Christ in the home. We have become less independent and a lot more inter-dependent. We have come to realise that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and also that they are our keepers. In 2013 prior to becoming Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio SJ referred to the serious sin of self referentiality and called it a “theological narcissism”. Self referentiality is a technical term referring to an extreme form of independence which screams out that we need nobody and that no one can teach us anything. Well, Covid-19 has rearranged that. The very fact that we expect others to wear masks and to be vaccinated so that we too may be safe, illustrates that we are dependent on the goodwill of others.
The sharing of resources so that the poor were fed when the pandemic first hit our shores was a meaningful exercise in Christian living. Many in the Archdiocese of Cape Town responded in true Christian fashion. I pray that that kind of “being normal” never ends. Nowadays we have other agencies such as Caritas Cape Town, SVP, and other parish based organisations attending to that work of mercy and it must never end. This is where our first reading of today’s Mass is so informative. It teaches us what we ought to have known by instinct but choose to forget – that we came into this world with nothing and that we will leave with nothing (2 Timothy 6:7). In the previous verse St Paul laments the fact that many see religion as a means of making a profit (2 Timothy 6:6). I was watching the News on the morning after the President announced the change in Lockdown Levels and the interviewer asked one of the leaders of a so called “mega church” how the new lockdown levels affected the “church industry”. A slip of the tongue perhaps, but it does betray how people see these kinds of religious operations. Over and above this, St Paul – and this is clearly spelt out in the original text, encourages the servants of the Word to serve even more authentically so as to benefit the community of believers and not themselves.
The passage ends with a special appeal to those who hold office in the Church to be true to the promises (or vows) which were made in public. This is a passage which calls for greater accountability. Accountability according to this passage is not an optional extra – it is an essential dimension of the life of those called to serve – whether as lay leaders, ordained clergy, leaders of government, leaders on sports fields, leaders at schools, in workplaces or any other forum. For the Christian there is only one template and that is “Christ-like” service. In this regard the teaching in Mark 10:45 is most appropriate.
Let us pray: Father, give us the grace of humility so that we may serve as Christ did. We ask this through him who is Lord forever and ever. Amen.