Commissioning of catechists 2018



Like we do every year, more than 200 catechists from all over the diocese gathered at Our Lady of Assumption (Cathedral) to be commissioned. Fr Wiseman Nkomo, new catechetical coordinator, shared some reflections with them before Mass on the sacrament of reconciliation (click HERE to read about it)

His talk was followed by the celebration of Mass. The Gospel of the first Saturday of Lent presents Jesus' call to Levi on which I based the homily.

* * * * *

Some years' ago' someone sent me a message via WhatsApp asking: "as the Bible says 'love begins at home', would it be right if I used money I have put aside for the church to help a relative?".

I thought for a short while and then asked: "where is it in the Bible that we read that 'love begins at home'?"

My friend honestly replied: "I don't know". In fact it is not there. It is said in every continent but it is not in the Bible. We sometimes risk repeating things we hear without checking if it is true or not.


It made me reflect on our journey as catechists. We are called to help others to know Jesus. To know him, to love him, to follow him. We should be very careful never to teach something which is not true, which is not in the Gospels. We should, in fact, make them very familiar with God's word following what St Jerome says: "Ignorance of Scripture, is ignorance of Christ"

We should help others become excited about God's Word and to be amazed at what we read. Just think of today's passage. Jesus calls Levi to follow him. Couldn't he call anyone else? Did he have to call Levi out of all people? Everyone knew who he was: a tax collector! Still... Levi was Jesus' choice and Levi left everything and followed Jesus.

At the beginning of the same chapter we also read Jesus' call to Peter. He himself would reply saying: "Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man." but that would not scare Jesus. On the contrary. He said: "Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching".

The ones we journey with should come to understand that Jesus looked for sinners because "It is not those that are well who need the doctor, but the sick". They should never fear Jesus. They should never feel they cannot come close to him because they are sinners.


The passage not only tells us who Jesus called but how they answer to this call. It always touches me that Luke tells us that in Jesus' honour "Levi held a great reception in his house and with them at table was a large gathering of tax collectors and others"
Would that be your choice of people to invite for a meal in Jesus' honour? Probably not but he was indeed right. It was not Jesus who felt uncomfortable but the pharisees and their scribes. They complained to Jesus' disciples about it: ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'
Levi seems to get right two things:
  • having left everything to follow Jesus, he does not feel better than anyone else. He is still surrounded by the same "friends";
  • he seemed to have understood Jesus' heart and that is why he brings to Jesus the sick who need the doctor

I wished we could help others become familiar with this and similar passages so that they can clearly distinguish between Jesus' way and the pharisees'. Wished we could help each other as Church to make choices according to His heart.

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Not like your "new year resolutions"


Two words help us journey through the Lenten Season. Two words give the spirit to the Lenten season we are starting today: REPENT & REKINDLE. You might find others. I just chose these two ones. They are easy to remember and I believe they immediately click in you.

REPENT

Enough for us to remember one of the possible formulas we use today. It could be: “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “repent, believe the good news”. Repent. Change way. Turn back. 
You want to go to Mzimpofu from Manzini. You take the Mbabane road. You are not sure it is the right road. You stop to ask for directions. Someone will tell you: turn back. You have taken the wrong way. You have made the wrong choice or choices.
I remember one evening going to the Pilgrimage in Florence. It was misty. I missed the road on the right. I kept on driving with the feeling that ... something is not right. 
Lent is an invitation to become aware of that feeling... something is not right in us and we need to turn back. 

REKINDLE
When I was a teenager there was a love song (today is Valentine's day by the way) called: You don't bring me flowers. It is a dialogue between husband and wife. It starts: “You don't bring me flowers... You don't sing me love songs... You hardly talk to me anymore...”. Couples might go through those moments in which what used to be so natural, it is no longer there.
It is a great image of Lent. 
We are called to “rekindle our love”. In the book of revelation there is exactly that message to one of the churches. It says: “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:4)
It is not about doing anything wrong but a love that has lots its warmth. It is not the same. It is not natural. It has become cold. We might even do the same things but they are no longer natural or we do just what we have to do to make sure we have fulfilled our obligations.

TURN BACK TO THE LORD
In one way or another, we are called to turn back to the Lord in the words of the prophet Joel in today's first reading: “Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.”
It is a matter of the heart:
“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent.”
and a matter of faith in a God who is all tenderness.
THREE THINGS

Every year on this day the Church invites us to pray, to fast, to give alms. 

Pray
Prayer makes us one with God. We are therefore asked to see the way we pray (and if we do pray!). Maybe you realise you always ask for what you need but are never grateful. Maybe your prayer is just for yourself and never includes anyone else around you. Maybe you just talk but never listen. The Word proclaimed to you never remains in your heart and never leads you. 

Fast
Fasting strengthens our power to choose. We always make choices. You chose to come. Others chose to stay home. 
We are all aware of the call to fast some days of Lent. We normally hear about fasting meat. Some people always do it because they just cannot afford it. I believe each one of us is called to choose what to fast from during Lent. It could be:
  • giving our cellphones and particularly "WhatsApp" a break so that we can lift up our eyes from the screens and see those around us (just make sure you keep on following the diocesan news on WhatsApp!!!);
  • fasting from our "evil" thoughts about other people and trying to learn to see the goodness in others;
  • fasting from envy... Some people are unable to see God's blessing in other people without being envious

Whenever you go to the doctor because you are see, you might be told to change the way you eat or the way you live and you do it because... you are afraid of dying. Lent invites you to fast from what is hurting you so that you can live more fully.

Give alms

Helping the poor not only makes you closer to them but also make you an expression of the merciful love of God. From the very beginning our church cared for the poorest, particularly the orphans and the widows. 
Our diocese has an amazing number of projects which are also fruit of your Lenten sacrifice:
  • I believe we had more than 700 requests this year of bursaries for high school. Out of these 700, Caritas Swaziland chose 260 to whom we are giving a little help in order to start the year at school;
  • Rain is back but not all over the country and therefore we have been providing water tanks to families who are struggling with water. When water comes they will be able to collect it but if it does not they can buy it and store it at home;
  • We are all familiar with our St Joseph's. Not sure who cares for children with disabilities like our Church does. Society does not and there are times when not even their families care. We are grateful to God we are able to continue running this project.

So...

Two things. 
  • First of all, choose what you plan to do during the coming 40 days. It is your personal journey. I have mine, you have yours. We will support each other during this time. Chose what you plan to do regarding prayer, fasting and giving alms;
  • Second, make sure these choices do not finish like the "new year resolutions" which you probably have already forgotten. It is just for the next 40 days.
Keep your eyes fixed on the Easter celebrations and on God who is merciful, full of tenderness and compassion.
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Celebrating consecrated life


The diocese of Manzini is blessed with the presence of eight religious communities: four male and four female. Some time ago I suggested to their delegates in the diocese to come together once a year and thank God for their call. 

Last January, delegates from the female communities asked me to invite all religious and the diocesan priests for a day of reflection and prayer. The day: 2 February. The place: the bishop's house.
In 1997, Pope Saint John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This Feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples. The celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life is transferred to the following Sunday in order to highlight the gift of consecrated persons for the whole Church.” (USCCB)
Being the first meeting, it was decided to give each community a few minutes to introduce themselves. It could happen that serving in different parishes they do not really know each other's history and charism. At the same time, while most of these communities have been serving for many years, two of them only arrived in 2016: the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales (MSFS) and the Consolata Missionaries (IMC)

Some of our communities have a common spirituality as they all belong to the Servite family: the Order of Servants of Mary, the Mantellate Sisters, the Servite Sisters of Swaziland. They have all been in our diocese for many decades and the Servants of Mary are our "founding fathers".


After the talks and before the celebration of Mass at the Salesian chapel, flowers were given to the women and men who had celebrated a special jubilee in the last year. It was, somehow, the young generation of sisters celebrating the older one.

The Gospel presented the image of Simeon and Anna. I pointed out that we normally see Simeon as an old man probably because of the words that have become our prayer: "Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.’

I then wondered if we are getting older and wiser, older and with a deeper hope or not. 

"We live in a society were it is not easy to be hopeful. Archbishop Brislin was telling me about a visit to Palestine. The young people have no hope of a possible resolution to the conflict with Israel. 

What about our young people? The day before yesterday I heard stories of lack of employment, little income selling vegies and firewood, parents separated, fathers and sometimes both parents abandoning their children, orphans... Things we will probably never experience ourselves. Our life has been secured (and sometimes we still feel it is not enough).

Hope do we help young and not so young remain hopeful and strong in the Lord?

Because religious life points to Jesus. We are the Simeon and Anna who tells the world: Jesus light and hope of the world is here."


After Mass we were all back at the bishop's house for a fraternal lunch. We hope and pray, our gathering is the first of many and the beginning of a new tradition in our diocese.
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'We are all asked to be committed to the mission given to us'


On Sunday 28 January 2018, the bishops of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference gathered at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes (Archdiocese of Pretoria) to celebrate the 200 years of the Church in Southern Africa. 

Below is Bp Sipuka's homily

* * * * *

Some years ago Archbishop Slattery, then bishop of Kokstad and I attended a SECAM theological colloquium at St. Augustine, with very high-powered figures, Cardinal Pengo, Cardinal Tumi, and other priests theologians from the continent, and he also delivered a paper there.

Unsurprisingly, he started with a story, which I cannot hope to retell with the vividness and the punch that only Archbishop William can, but let me try. There was this man who experienced great floods in his village, so that for the rest of his life and everywhere he went and with lot of seriousness, he told people about these floods of great magnitude. Eventually he died, and at the gates of heaven he met St. Peter, and before Peter could say anything to him, he started narrating this unforgettable experience of great floods, and Peter listened for 2 hours to the story of the great floods, and after he had given Peter 2 volumes of the books he had written on the floods, and was being let in to heaven, Peter said to “look please take it easy with your story of the floods because there is Noah here”. 

 With so many learned people among you about the 200 history of the Church in Southern Africa that we are celebrating today, and with some of you have lived almost half of these 200 years, I will take it easy on the history of 200 of Church in Southern Africa, and share instead on what the readings today might be suggesting for the present and the next 200 years. 

So what are the readings suggesting for this celebration of the 200 years of Church existence in Southern Africa?

Click HERE to download the full text

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God is the chief builder


Bishop Jan de Groef M. Afr presided Mass this morning. Reflecting on today's memorial of St Francis de Sales and the readings (God's words to David and the parable of the sower) he reflected on their message to the bishops

* * * * *

"What could be the message for us bishops both looking at the memorial of St Francis de Sales and the readings of the day?

I will say that St Francis de Sales shows us how to approach people with a different mind set. He encourages an approach of respectful dialogue and not one of confrontation, showing love and mercy. It is this that touches the hearts of people and not just their minds. 

Today's readings invites to be humble and opened to God's plan rather than ours and this is a big challenge.

At times we bishops have been falling into the trap that we can solve all issues concerning family life, marriage, priesthood... We put in place a number of policies and structures, organise workshops and write pastoral letters... We start believing we are called to build a house for the Lord forgetting He is the chief builder. 

We will have to accept that much of our efforts will hardly produce fruits. Even if we pray or preach faithfully the Word of God, much of our words will fall on deaf ears.

That should not discourage us or make us resign to silence. Let us be aware too of the positive things happening in our dioceses and bishops' conference even if at times it comes quite unexpected and not as a result of our work.

Let us thank the Lord at all time because also today he is doing great things and the harvest is rich beyond our expectation."
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Pontius Pilate, a prophet for our time


The first plenary session of this year started on Tuesday evening with the celebration of Mass at St John Vianney seminary. While the seminarians are on holidays, the bishops use their bedrooms and other facilities.

Being in Pretoria, not far from our offices, priests, religious, friends and everyone working at the SACBC is invited for the celebration of the Mass ... and supper! 

Mass was presided by the SACBC president, archbishop Stephen Brislin (Cape Town) and bishop Graham Rose (Dundee) was entrusted with the homily.

Photo: spotlight.africa
Reflecting on the Gospel of John 18:37 where Jesus says: “I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice“ bishop Rose grabbed everyone's attention when he spoke about a prophet for our times: Pontius Pilate! It was him who asked Jesus and is asking us today:  “Truth? What is that?” (John 18:38) 

Reminding us of the reality of “fake news” among other cases, he said: “It seems right now throughout the world that if you pay your 30 pieces of silver the truth can be tailormade for you”

He then prayed that the Spirit give us the courage to raise to the essential task of being witnesses to the truth.


Before the final blessing the bishops recognised in a special Fr Barney McAller's generous service to our SACBC. He led the department of evangelization for many years and is now actively involved raising funds for the “SACBC Foundation” created by the bishops to support the work of the Church.
Fr Barney joked saying: “When I was in the department of evangelization bishops were working for me, they were my field workers. The wheel has turned and now ... I am working for them!”

He has just gone through a serious heart operation in Ireland but could not wait to be back in South Africa. “He loves our Church and the people of this country (...) He is a clear example of the joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis speaks about in his first apostolic exhortation” said Archbishop Slattery as he introduced the presentation of the award. “Thank you very much. We appreciate all that you do and have done for the Church. Evangelization has been the theme of your life which you always presented as 'a poor man showing another poor man where to find bread'”


In her vote of thanks Sr Hermenegild Makoro, SACBC secretary general, thanked Bp Rose for reminding everyone that “had Pontius Pilate listened to his wife things could have been different”. She hoped the Church will listen more to the voice of women.

This year the Catholic Church celebrates 200 years of the official presence in Southern Africa. The SACBC celebrated 70 years of existence in 2017
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Wise women and men


On 6 January 2018, the Servite Sisters of Swaziland celebrated two golden jubilees, one silver jubilee and a first profession. 

Below is the text of my homily

* * * * *

Every year the Servite family gather on this day to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. It is “their” feast. 

This year, the feast the marked by the celebration of a first profession, a silver jubilee and a golden jubilee. The feast is marked by vows to be made today or made decades' ago. The feast is marked by the celebration of religious life.

I believe the feast of the epiphany is a great image of what religious life is. We have these “wise men” from the East leaving behind every possible security they could have in order to find “the newly born King of the Jews”. 

No cellphones. No maps. No GPS. No precise indication of the place. No physical address. No name. No surname. No nothing.

Religious life is about leaving behind what to other people seems normal: deciding on their own lives, financial security, getting married and building a family... 

Religious life has that challenging dimension in the eyes of so many:
    • What? You don't have a wife / a husband?
    • What? You don't have a bank account on your name? You don't have personal money?
    • What? You don't decide...? You have a superior?!

It is always interesting to see how many times people and even pastors would come quoting the Bible trying to justify why they should have money, power, a family of their own. They would cleverly ignore any other text that might support the choice being made by religious sisters, brothers and priests.

Like these wise men, these “wise men and women” believe that nothing is greater than Jesus and they are ready to give up everything to be with Him, to follow Him, to tell the world about Him. Religious life points to Jesus in a very special way. 

Maybe two images should be underlined today:
    • Religious sisters, brothers and priests are like the wise men as they look for Jesus;
    • Religious sisters, brothers and priests are like stars guiding others to Jesus with their lives.

It is all about Jesus. That should be noted. That should be clear.

Religious life has its challenges though:
  • One might get tired. One might forget why he / she has started this journey. Nothing moves him/her anymore. One then become like the leaders of the people who hear the news of the newly born King of the Jews but do not move a finger to look for Him. They do know the right answers but are not really touched by them. Religious then become “professionals”. They dress as religious sisters, brothers and priests but nothing moves them anymore;
  • One might forget Jesus is at the centre of their call. Once you forget that, you replace it with something else. It all becomes “me, myself and I”. Money becomes indispensable. Personal accounts. Secret accounts. Obedience? Sure. Everyone should do as I say. Even the superior. They become Herod. Herod could not accept that anyone ... not even Jesus! ... could be at the centre. The love of Jesus that should be at the centre disappears and we start killing each other like Herod would do.

Today we might not be celebrating wise men but we hope we do have four wise women! We do hope we have many more than four. 

We need religious life in our diocese. We need people ready to tell us with their lives that nothing and no one is more important that Jesus. 

We need people ready to fool Herod and not to be fooled by him. I love the image at the end of the Gospel when the wise men fooled Herod. He keeps on waiting for them to be back and then realises he has been fooled by them. 

Fool Herod! Fool all those who tell you Jesus can wait. Fool all those tell you Jesus can take second place. Keep them waiting.

One more thing. In English we say: “Blood is thicker than water” to imply that family relationships are always more important than friends. Show everyone that faith is thicker & stronger than blood. 
Lead us all in the way of love. 

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