12 March, 2019

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

~ Matthew 6:9-10 ~

It was a prayer prayed on all sides. It was a prayer we all firmly believed in, but none of us understood it fully.

From impromptu prayer groups among guerrilla cadres in camps across southern Africa, to stiff and formal church parades attended by grumpy conscripts. From protest meetings held in township halls and churches, to meetings in government offices. From services in suburban churches, to the last words mumbled as the condemned mounted the gallows in Pretoria Central. The prayer of Jesus has been the prayer of Christians from every part of South Africa.

For Christian activists the words that resonated were probably ‘Kingdom’ and ‘earth’. We believed that the Struggle would usher in nothing less than God’s kingdom on Earth! Our opponents, the ‘system’ and those who did not share our this-worldly sense of salvation simply were using ‘heaven’ to distract and fool the people into giving up their rights.

We were right, of course. And wrong.

We were right in believing that the kingdom of God was not some future spot on a cloud playing a harp in a celestial orchestra or jazz band. But we were short-sighted in imagining that the reign would come in our time, and by our actions. What we can say now is that the great changes we saw, and to varying degrees contributed to, in 1994 offered us flawed and partial glimpses of what God’s reign might be like.

We still see today deeply flawed and fleeting glimpses of what we’d imagined: equality as a principle, the end to racism, government based on the rule of law, mechanisms for people to have their say. The socialist vision, even among those still on the Left, has all but disappeared in the face of more sober understandings of economics and, less happily, a culture of self-enrichment.

Twenty-five years after our ‘kingdom’ came, we feel perhaps that it’s a case of kingdom deferred. This does not excuse us from action. Now, with a sense that the kingdom is not all about us, about our political movements or leaders, we are able to ask ourselves the question: what must we do really to make our existing society better? How do we keep up the good initiatives, dump the failed programmes and bad leaders, and once more seek the common good: less exciting than the kingdom, but more achievable?

Meanwhile as we continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer, we continue to ponder what it means for us now, how it calls us beyond ourselves and this present time to a future only God knows.

It is a prayer prayed on all sides. It is a prayer we all firmly believe in, but none of us understands it fully.


Give us

a renewed

sense of your



as we look

toward the

next election.

Give us

humility in

our judgments,

and realism

without cynicism

in our




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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