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 19 November 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.

Again, we honour this time of the Synod by praying the Adsumus prayer:

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. 

Just to recap – Adsumus is a Latin term meaning a coming together. It conveys the notion of God’s people coming together in response to the call of the Spirit. This, literally, is what the Synod is all about.

Text for reflection: 1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 52-59

As the liturgical year rushes to its closure this reading provides strength to see what needs to be done in order to become more faithful. The first reading of today’s Mass recounts the valiant efforts of Judas Maccabee and his brothers to restore the sacred place and to rededicate it. The Temple and its altar had been profaned through dishonest wheeling and dealing. Both one and two Maccabees show staunch allegiance to the law of Moses. Despite the narrative delving into wars and political intrigue, the perspective of Maccabees 1 is decidedly religious. It is not simply about political power, but about the survival of the faith in a world whose driving force is politics and ideology.

If we take an honest hard look at the world around us, we too will see the same struggle. The ancient story therefore becomes a mirror for our own times and in fact shows what can be achieved when the sacred tenets of the faith become threatened. Judas and his brothers decide to purify the sanctuary and to rededicate it. Purification is to remove foreign elements from the sanctuary and to show a firm allegiance to the deposit of faith. It also included physical repair. Taking care of our sacred spaces is more than just an external attitude. According to I Macc 4:36 it is a part of the process of purification.

Rededication (1 Macc 4:54, 58) implies restoring what had been made unclean. In the time of the Maccabees unclean places were equated with the Kidron Valley which was used as a burial ground (cf. 2 Kgs 23:6); and Hinnom (also known as Gehenna) where Jerusalem’s garbage was burnt. It was also the place where child sacrifices were burnt (cf. Jer 7:31). All told, these places constitute disturbing alternatives to a place consecrated and dedicated to God to bring about purification.

Its all very well being acquainted with these facts but how does it impact on us in the 21st century? I wish to consider two ways. Firstly, our attitudes to our sacred spaces. We have become careless in that even our churches are no longer places of silence. Jesus stated quite clearly that his disciples were to be in the world but not of the world. To be of the world means to be possessed by the world. We sometimes like to think that we possess the world, but in realty the opposite is true – the world possesses us. That is why so many people measure their self-worth not according to Gospel values, but according standards set by the world with its soap operas, and its mediating institutions. 

In these days we have lost our sense of the sacred, forgetting that there is a difference between worship and entertainment. Also, while we do not demand extremely formal dress codes for liturgical celebrations, it is not good to come into the worshipping assembly haphazardly dressed. There is a difference between going to Mass and going to the beach. Our attendance at the liturgy is not meant to be accidental. We prepare for Mass through prayer and recollection. We are not meant to roll out of bed and into the chapel. In particular, for priests there ought to be two types of preparation – a remote preparation during which we allow ourselves to be nourished and transformed by the Word; and an immediate preparation viz. a brief period of silence prior to our encounter with Christ in the liturgy.

The second point I wish to make is that our bodies are also temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor 6:19-20). When the heart nurtures less than noble intentions do not our bodies become defiled? Let us use an example from scripture. In our night prayer once a week (on Wednesdays) we are given the text of Eph 4:26-27 which urges us not to let resentment lead us into sin. The word translated resentment, means anger. There are two types of anger in the bible – one is the righteous anger we show when the innocent suffer for example. Jesus showed this type of anger when he called Herod a fox (cf. Lk 13:32). The prophets did so when they raged against injustice. The second type of anger is a negative force and can be destructive. It is the type of anger which keeps us awake at night plotting the downfall of the neighbour. Resentment is an unhelpful emotion in which we plunge a dagger into our own hearts and expect others to bleed. St Paul urges us not to indulge in this type of anger as that will give the devil an opportunity (Eph 4:27).

Let us pray: Lord give us the grace to respond to our situations in the most life giving ways possible. Help us to purify our motives so that our bodies may indeed be temples of your Spirit in which your divine presence feels at home. Where we have sinned give us the courage to celebrate the sacraments so as to be rededicated to your service. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bishop S. David OMI 
VG/Auxiliary Bishop: Cape Town

Posted in Prayer and Reflection.