15 April, 2019

I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice; I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness.

~ Isaiah 42:6-7 ~

Today’s reading from Isaiah reminds me a lot of the reasons why so many South Africans embraced the struggle for democracy, why so many of us voted in the 1994 Election, why we stood for hours in long crowds to cast a vote – for some the first in our lives. Casting a vote in 1994 was literally the victory of justice, the forming of a covenant with each other, and the final step in bringing millions of prisoners of a wicked system out of the confinement of a political dungeon.

Isaiah, who consoled the Israelites exiled in Babylon with God’s promise of renewal and nationhood, would surely have understood what this was about. He would certainly have seen how South Africans felt during decades, even centuries, of repression: exiles in their own country, cut off from meaningful participation in public life, with the terrible temptation that comes with powerlessness to see this as somehow ‘proof’ of their own inferiority. He would resonate with the programme of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s – “Be proud of who you are. Don’t let the System fool you into thinking you’re inferior.” Biko’s message to blacks (and to whites who were willing to listen) was one of mental liberation from the self-limiting beliefs that make people prisoners.

Isaiah, Biko and Jesus share this in common. All three proclaimed that their listeners should first and foremost liberate their minds: from being an exile in one’s imagination; from being a slave to oppressive ideas that the situation was God’s will; from obsession with trivialities. Once a prisoner thinks that s/he is free and lives out of inner freedom, it is only a matter of time before inner freedom bursts out into the material world.

We have come a long way since 1994, since the 1970s, since the Babylonian and Roman empires. But some of us are still imprisoned – in a mentality that passively accepts second-rate services, or believes that we cannot effect change in our communities ourselves. We wait for those in authority to ‘help’ us, rather than act for ourselves to improve our environment. We defer to experts rather than tapping into our inner expertise to make changes around us that will rebuild our communities.

Biko was blunt about it: “You’re either alive and proud – or you are dead.” Jesus reminds us: “The kingdom of God is within you.” While complaining has a place (and when government does not do its job properly we are duty bound to express our complaint through the electoral process), our first duty is to live and act as free people.


Gracious God, help us to see and own our giftedness. May we not allow ourselves to believe that we are trapped or disempowered. Instead may we recognise that we remain free to choose our response and so positively begin to open the way to change in whatever situation we find ourselves. Amen.


Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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