Reflections 16th July 2017

A Reflection for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mt: 13:1-23 ( )   

In his book Conversations with myself, Nelson Mandela wrote: “Honour belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark and grim, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation and even defeat”.

To honour Mandela, the UN has chosen 2017 to celebrate his birthday. But who was he?

In brief: Mandela was born in South Africa; there he grew up, with an unwavering desire to liberate his people. He freed them before he died, aged 95. To dismantle apartheid in South Africa, the world needed a man of indomitable character such as him.

I have chosen the parable of the seed and the ground in Matthew’s Gospel (13:1-23) so that we may be inspired by his example.  “Christ does not say that the good ground has no stones in it, or no thorns, but none that could hinder its fruitfulness.” (Matthew Henry)

Mandela paid a lot of attention to his inner-life. In the quiet of his solitary confinement he wrote: “Have I really shown sufficient appreciation for the love and kindness of many of those who befriended and even helped me when I was poor and struggling?”

1968 and 1969 were trying years for him. The pain of not being able to bury his mother and his first-born son was surely one of apartheid’s worst damages to him. Writing of the pain he was suffering in being locked up far from his family, he said: “It is only my flesh and blood that are shut up behind these tight walls.” But, after reflecting on what was happening to him and to others around him, he could come out with inspiring thoughts like this, “What matters is not so much what happens to a person as the way such person takes it.”  “To be free” he added “is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”        

Mandela “moved in circles where common sense and practical experience were important”.  His sense of humour was thought-provoking.  “In my country”, he said, “we go to prison first and then become president.” Advising some members of the ANC on the importance of language, he said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head; if you talk to him in his own language that goes to his heart.”

Mandela went to great lengths to explain to people of all colours that overcoming poverty in South Africa was not a charitable task but an act of justice.  Liberation boiled down to:

  1. Making the goal clearer – The fight was against white supremacy.
  2. Firm conviction of success.  – He saw each of those he worked with as a building brick.
  3. Total commitment of all concerned to the task of getting rid of white supremacy. 

A saying goes that “when one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” No wonder Mandela is being honoured by the UN.  Happy Birthday, Mandela!

John Michael Fillie C.S.Sp. – Fr. Fillie is from the Mende tribe of Sierra Leone and from his country’s Diocese of Bo. After studies in Kimmage Manor, he returned to Sierra Leone to work in a teacher-training college. He is currently engaged in hospital chaplaincy in Dublin.