“A time for Reflection and Reconciliation”
I find it moving that in these days of mourning the loss and celebrating the life of Mandela we also prepare to celebrate the Day of Reconciliation. It is a day which, in its historical origins, was not about reconciliation, but about the victory of one group over another. Perhaps Madiba’s death at this time and the unveiling of his statue on the Day of Reconciliation will enable all of us now to truly own and celebrate this day in a new way with a deeper understanding of what reconciliation means.
I have been listening to the stories people are sharing in person and on social media about their encounters with Madiba. I have noticed that it is often seemingly insignificant moments of a greeting, a smile, or a very brief exchange in which the person felt truly seen and treated with human dignity; really making a lasting impact on the person. That has given me pause for thought over the past few days as I have noticed how often I fail to really ‘see’ the people I encounter. This past week I found myself having meaningful conversations with many people, including a traffic officer who stopped me at a roadblock and one of the cleaning staff at a local shopping centre. We connected over our shared sadness at the loss of Mandela and I was left feeling that those are the kinds of moments which begin to make reconciliation a reality. In the wake of Mandela’s death, I am left very conscious that every day, in a myriad of tiny ways, each of my actions either contributes to or undermines reconciliation.
Part of not really ‘seeing’ each other is the obvious issue of prejudice and racism. But perhaps it is also that we have become too busy. We are so wrapped up in our own concerns and with trying to keep heads above water. But that means that we fail to slow down long enough to recognise other people’s hopes and dreams and struggles; we need to understand them and respond in some way, however small. These days of mourning – falling as they do in the Advent time of preparation for Christmas and at the end of the year – can be an invitation to slow down and reflect: to discover what within me needs to be reconciled, forgiven and healed so that I may be better able to be an agent of reconciliation.
For some the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Advent may also be a way to open ourselves: to let go of blocks and receive the graces we need to reach out to others in a spirit of peace and generosity. We have an amazing model in the person of Nelson Mandela which we can use to help us to prepare to welcome anew the Prince of Peace this Christmas.