The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) plenary session has started. Like every year, our first session is celebrated at St John Vianney (Pretoria). There was though one exception! Last year it was held in Manzini (Swaziland) as the bishops chose to join the Swazi nation as they celebrated the centenary of the arrival of the first four Catholic missionaries in Swaziland.
Nearly all of us are present, together with the - still today - Bishop-elect of Klerskdorp Victor Phalana. His episcopal ordination will take place next Sunday.
Bp Wustenberg (Aliwal North diocese) was supposed to preach at the opening Mass but he is not well and had to remain in his diocese. Bp Sithembele Sipuka, bishop of Umthatha, was asked to take his place.
"From today's first reading we heard these words 'We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfilment of hope until the end'" he said at the beginning of his homily.
After reflecting on this he added: "While talking about this hope may make sense, if it does not translate into concrete hope for dire life situations of people, it remains only a theory."
Then, he pointed out four ways in which this hope is made concrete:
- The first thought is that as a Church the ultimate hope we are called to offer is the union of humanity with God, which is the final purpose of our being as humans. The assistance that Church offers in terms of development, solidarity, support, education, material assistance etc, are only means to this end of being united with God. True to the sacramental principle of material things pointing and leading to the bigger reality they signify, our efforts of offering hope must not be ends in themselves but must lead to God.
- The second consideration about our evangelical efforts of offering hope is that unlike in the past, these efforts are no longer the responsibility of the hierarchy and the religious alone, but also and more importantly the responsibility of the laity. We are busy now trying to establish a laity council department which will hopefully see the laity being significant partners in the Church's task of giving hope to our Church and society today, but there are still problems that we need to face about our laity.
- The other consideration in bringing hope is to work with the government because they manage the resources and formulate laws and policies. In my experience, we have tended to be more prophetic against the government, and sometimes rightly so, than engaging with it. In addition to being prophetic when the situation calls for it, we also need to engage with the government and to commend and support it where it is bearing signs of hope for the country. Did not Jesus sometimes pass endearing comments about scribes and pharisees and told them "you are not far from the Kingdom of God" when they have done well?
- The last consideration in our effort as Church to offer hope is to have a balance between the dogmas of the church and the pastoral needs, between law and mercy. In the Gospel that we have just read from Mark, Jesus while not disdaining the Sabbath invites his audience to consider the Sabbath in the context of his disciples who were hungry. Elsewhere in the Gospel when he cured a sick woman on the Sabbath and got accused of breaking the Sabbath, he confronted his accusers with this question, "and ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day? (Lk 13:16).
Download the homily in PDF by clicking HERE